Civic Pride and Outdoor Football!

“Outdoor football!” was my exclamation upon exiting the Metro Transit Green Line train last Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. When I saw the forecast last week for the possibility of subzero temperatures on Sunday, I knew I had to attend what appeared to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was two years old the last time the Minnesota Vikings played an outdoor playoff football game, and even though I’m no longer a fan of the team, how could I not go!?

The pregame hype was a mix of reminiscing about the good old days for those older than me and curiosity among those who are younger. Regardless of the result, the game turned out to be a full-fledged embrace of Minnesota pride, if only fleeting; a wonderful civic event held in bracing conditions.

Below zero in the Frozen North, Outdoor Football!

Below zero in the Frozen North, Outdoor Football!

Three columns have appeared on the Star Tribune opinion page in the days since Sunday’s game. But two of them weren’t so much about the game itself, but the novelty that it was played outdoors in the cold. One of the columns reflected on the beauty of the frigid game, and the other was written by someone who watched the game at a bar in Key West, but did a great job of explaining the mystique created simply by playing outdoors.

I couldn’t agree more. Even coach Zimmer hinted that he’ll miss the outdoor conditions. It was beautiful. Too bad the mystique is already gone (again).

On the way to the game, the Green Line train was packed, mostly with layers of coats, scarves, bib overalls, pieces of cardboard and blaze orange, but also some fans sweating profusely under all those layers. There was much talk about the team, but also giddy chatter about the weather. After all, the buildup to this game was rooted in those old stories of Vikings games back in the day, when the Purple People Eaters ruled the gridiron and the elements. Fans of both teams knew they were witnessing something special, and former Vikings coach Bud Grant taking the field as honorary captain for the coin toss wearing a short-sleeved shirt confirmed it. More than a few tears froze on cheeks of fans who were present, whether their blood was running purple or merely red.

Green Line Train Filling With Fans and Warm Clothes

Green Line Train Filling With Fans and Warm Clothes

The game time temperature was minus six degrees (-6), the coldest Vikings game of all time! (The third-coldest game in NFL history!) Despite all those legendary games at the old Metropolitan Stadium before my time, here I was at the coldest Vikings game ever.

From my vantage point, I could see every breath that every fan exhaled. Punts averaged only 25 yards. Stadium staff handed out hand warmers. The little rubber pellets kicked up by players on the field turf seemed to be white with frost. A crate full of sodas had all frozen in their bottles by the time they were delivered to the concession stand. Even the Vikings’ Gjallarhorn shattered from the cold before the game. (A bad omen? I think so.) Luckily, the team had a spare, a fact that is pretty funny when you think about it.

We all know the Vikings lost the game, but they also lost a fleeting moment of mystique and ‘lore. Adding insult to injury, we need only look across the border to find a team that thrives in the frozen tundra. Whether the Packers win or lose, Lambeau Field has mystique, and although some of us embrace it more than others, you cannot deny the civic pride outdoor football brings to Green Bay and Wisconsin overall.

If there is a silver lining it is that at least some sports are still played outdoors in Minnesota, even if football returns to a soulless controlled climate. I’ve watched a number of English Premier League games lately, many of them played in the rain, and I look forward to braving the elements at the new soccer stadium at Snelling and University. I’ve been to a Twins game at Target Field when it was 33 and snowing at the first pitch, which is among my top five baseball memories (championships help, too).

After the game ended in unique yet entirely believable fashion, I sat for a while in the bitter cold, high on the north side of the stadium. I had to put my feet up to get them off the cold concrete (I should have brought cardboard), and I watched as stunned fans slumped in their seats and shuffled home, sports reporters interviewed happy (and equally stunned) Seahawks players, and a couple players traded jerseys on the frozen field. Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” played on the PA. My gaze moved beyond the stadium to the Prospect Park water tower (the “witches hat”) and various buildings pumping out steam on this wonderful, frigid, sunlit day. I remembered Dave Moore eulogizing the last outdoor baseball game at the old Met (starts at 2:26 on the video). At my feet a frozen beer had erupted from its can. Outdoor football!

Frozen Beer and Frozen Memories

Frozen Beer and Frozen Memories

I decided to beat the crowds and walk through campus and across the Washington Avenue Bridge to catch a Blue Line train home. Besides, I needed the long walk to restore feeling in my toes. The postgame stroll gave me time to think. I had always wondered, in a state that that embraces winter so completely with civic events like the Winter Carnival and Lakes Loppet, how we ever decided that indoor football was a good idea. Now I understand. It isn’t.

So good luck, Vikings. I sincerely hope you win the big one some day, but you’ve made a deeply misguided mistake (again) by not building an outdoor stadium. Sunday’s game was a reminder of what civic life in Minnesota has been missing since 1982, and that is profoundly sad.

Still, I’m proud, as a former fan, to say I was there at the last home playoff game played outdoors in the frozen “north” of TCF Bank Stadium. Some day I’ll tell my grandchildren my little piece of Minnesota Vikings ‘lore. In the meantime I can’t wait to watch some more games at Lambeau Field.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is

21 thoughts on “Civic Pride and Outdoor Football!

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    go Pack go! I couldn’t agree more. The same holds true for skyways and indoor malls, btw, both of which were invented or championed here. We need to embrace winter again, not try to escape it through expensive but reductive technological fixes.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      The skyway comparison crossed my mind as I wrote this, but I chose to keep the focus on football!

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    You’re crazy. Sunday was a great example of why outdoors would be a mistake: bad football in front of an uncomfortable audience.

    Were the seats even full?

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      It was basically a sellout. And I was very comfortable. OK, technicality – the seats were empty because who would want to sit on a metal bench? Most stood the whole time to stay warm. Personally, I paced.

      I’d say it was a very good game. Honestly I was hoping the Vikings would win, but the type of play and resulting score made sense considering the temperature. Maybe it was just more fun to be there than watch on TV.

      Very memorable.

    2. Joe

      Are you kidding? That was a great game. Low-scoring, sure, but back and forth culminating in a highly memorable ending. The weather and the ending (which was influenced by the weather) will make that game way more memorable than the last times we lost in the wild-card round.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Call me crazy, but I prefer a game where the setting doesn’t cancel out the abilities of the participants.

        They could have played a close game and lost on a missed field goal (hm… sounds familiar) inside too.

        It will be memorable as a rarity. That’s a good thing.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          The setting and participants are always in a dynamic relationship. That’s one cool thing about baseball, is that the fields aren’t uniform. The Red Sox playing at home are at an advantage w/ their RH hitters, for example. Park effects, weather effects, all part of the game.

    3. Dave

      From the second article linked, from multiple fans that were there:

      “The mood of the crowd was fantastic”
      “the game easily the best he’d ever seen”
      “more fun than I’ve ever had at a game”
      “a sense of camaraderie because of the cold”
      “the absolute most fun I have ever had attending a game”

      and on and on…

      If you don’t like to embrace the cold, that’s fine, but the stadium was full of people who had far more fun and a far more memorable experience than inside.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Embrace the cold. Even more general that that, embrace the weather. I always enjoy watching a game much more if the weather is impacting it in some way. Even from the comfort of my home, games are more interesting in the elements.

  3. ACS

    The Wilfs wanted the new stadium to be open air like Lambeau and Soldier Field. However, the state lawmakers wouldn’t agree to it unless it could host the Superbowl, so it was either enclosed or retractable roof and enclosed won out.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        I wouldn’t make too much sense from a revenue perspective. It seems like for all the tickets you might sell for a really cold weather game, you could sell more for more money for an indoor game. So my guess is owners prefer indoor stadiums – yet most NFL teams play outside. Besides, seat licenses and luxury boxes make all the money, so a little lost revenue when the weather gets cold probably isn’t that big a deal to owners.

        If anything, governments footing the bill for stadia often balk at the cost of an indoor stadium or retractable roof, which is one of the reasons Target Field is open air (thank god!).

  4. Monte Castleman

    On the forums I brought the idea of having an outdoor stadium with parking and tailgating in Arden Hills, and then keeping our investment in the paid-for and structurally sound Metrodome for other events year-round. I guess though the numbers don’t work out compared to replacing the Metrodome with Ziggy’s yacht.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      I agree. From a perspective of “enjoyment of football, competitive advantage in the NFC North, it’s the way the game should be played,” an outdoor Arden Hills stadium would have made sense. The Metrodome would have worked well for those year-round events.

      But remember, if US Bank stadium wasn’t built, we never ever would have been able to redevelop the Star Tribune blocks with Wells Fargo and that shiny new public park.

      It’s not just Lambeau. Weather can make games in Denver a lot of fun to watch, too. Even Chicago, the Fog Bowl!

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Luckily you don’t have to worry about it. But remember, even after the Gophers and Twins moved out, the Metrodome was used quite a bit beyond the 8 Vikings games per year. High school baseball and football tournaments, roller skating, etc. How many days per year? A lot. All those things could have continued with the Vikings gone and at minimal cost. And my understanding is the new stadium will host many of those events as well, so that’s a silver lining.

        So regardless of whether it was actually blight, the five Star Tribune blocks could have been sold and been made available for redevelopment even without a new stadium. Something needed to happen for those dominos to start falling, it just happened to be the new stadium.

  5. Linda Feltes

    Winter biking chic weighing in here. I find the best way to get through winter is to play outside: bike, ski, sled, watch football, play broomball. On my tv screen, it looked like the crowd was doing well, having fun and standing up the entire game–my fantasy for a healthier population.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I’m all for being active in the winter cold. It’s not even that cold!

      But I’m not for being still and watching sporting events in the cold. I’ve done it enough for one lifetime.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        OK, just to be clear, when I get a bunch of seats for a road trip to Lambeau Field next December (we’re biking, of course), you DON”T want a ticket, right Adam? Just checking….

        Actually, this is all kind of funny because I hadn’t been to a football game since 2002, and come to think of it, this was the first time I ever paid for a ticket.

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