Schnepf: Plenty of change to embrace for Vikings fans
Fargo — If you are one who appreciates a fresh, new look every once in awhile, then you are going to like this year’s Minnesota Vikings.
When your beloved “Purple” arrive in Mankato today for the beginning of training camp, you’ll see new head coach Mike Zimmer, who will install a new defensive scheme. Say goodbye to the Tampa-2.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be there. Say goodbye to Christian Ponder dump passes for a more down-the-field aerial attack.
Speaking of passing, we could see a new quarterback in rookie Teddy Bridgewater. That’s if Matt Cassel imitates Ponder’s inability to throw farther than 15 yards.
Say hello to a new back-up to Adrian Peterson. So long Toby Gerhart, now with former North Dakota State coach Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Say hello to Jerick McKinnon, the Georgia Southern dude whom the Bison found nearly impossible to tackle in the Fargodome a couple of years ago.
There will be a new pass rusher, to be determined at a later date. Say adios to Jared Allen, who will be performing his hog-tying show with the Chicago Bears this season.
It’s the new — and what many hope to be the improved — Vikings. But perhaps the biggest change isn’t so much who, but where.
Let’s not forget that for the first time since 1981, the Vikings will be playing all their home games outdoors. So long Metrodome. Hello TCF Bank Stadium — the 50,000-seat outdoor venue the Minnesota Gophers call home and what the Vikings will call home for the next two years before their Taj Mahal Metrodome replacement will be ready for use.
That’s two seasons of outdoor football — something Vikings fans fell in love with for two decades. From 1961 to 1981, they would put on their snowmobile suits, tailgate in the frigid parking lot that is now the Mall of America, and watch their Vikings use the cold, arctic air as one of their weapons.
“When Minnesota lost the old Met, I thought they lost the character of who they were,” former Chicago Bear great Mike Ditka once said.
Da cold. Da wind chills. Da home-field advantage that saw the Vikings post a 7-3 playoff record at the old Met. Da memories, and there are plenty.
Did you know the first NFL game played at the Met was in 1959 when the Chicago Cardinals played two of its regular-season games there? From 1956 to 1960, five NFL preseason games were held at the Met.
It wasn’t until Sept. 10, 1961, when the Vikings first played at the Met — a 21-17 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Their first regular-season home game was one week later when they beat the Bears 37-13.
The Met — which held a Beatles concert in 1965 and attracted 49,000 fans to watch Pele and the New York Cosmos play soccer — became known as “The Ice Palace,” so dubbed by legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell. Teams were terrified to play in Bloomington in late December or January.
Vikings head coach Bud Grant made the cold his team’s friend. While Grant refused to place any heaters on the sidelines, many bare-chested fans could be spotted in the Metropolitan Stadium bleachers.
“There would be snow stacked up on the sidelines,” former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said. “That was Minnesota. That is what the Vikings were all about.”
So is this what the new Vikings will be about — for the next two years anyway? Doubtful. The TCF Bank artificial grass field, after all, will be heated — unlike the frozen TCF tundra the Vikings played on in 2010 when they lost to the Bears 40-14. It was a game moved outdoors after the Metrodome roof caved in to heavy snow.
And don’t expect Vikings fans — who have now become accustomed the 70-degree comfort of indoor football — to act as wildly as their counterparts did after the Vikings’ last outdoor game at the old Met.
During the final minutes of a 10-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Vikings fans started dismantling seats and bleachers. The goal posts came down. Pieces of sod were dug up. Some fans scaled the scoreboard taking out light bulbs and speakers.
It was as if Vikings fans were protesting the move indoors. Thirty-three years later, welcome back to outdoor football.
Schnepf is the sports editor of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.