For one thing, I’m a big fan of all four major professional sports. I follow baseball, football, basketball and hockey with equal interest. Fortunately, I’ve met a few others who are just like me. Those people quickly became some of my closest friends, but we know we’re a rare and dying breed. We’re great pals, but we might as well be a support group.
The “Northland” may actually be one of the worst places to be this type of person. A fan of all four? Folks just don’t take too well “to my kind” in these parts. Try convincing a hockey fan in Minnesota that basketball can be a fantastic sport or vice-versa. Try telling someone in Wisconsin that hockey matters at all. Anything not named football for that matter. Your opinion will be about as popular as Mother Nature is in this area.
As a die-hard fan of most teams with the word “Minnesota” associated (not so fast, Gopher hockey), allow me to share another wildly unpopular opinion: I’ll miss the Metrodome.
Will I miss the actual stadium? Not really. I thought I would, until I went to the first game ever played at Target Field. The Minnesota Twins have an absolute palace for a home, and it certainly appears that the Minnesota Vikings will be able to say the same about a new football stadium in just a few years. The ‘Dome is stale, outdated, and does not exactly provide a fan-friendly experience. Some patrons have even nicknamed it the “Metrodump.”
I don’t necessarily disagree with that assessment. However, (for lack of a better phrase) it was my dump. Whether or not it has become an eyesore is irrelevant. After the Vikings play their final game on Sunday, and the ‘Dome is eventually done away with — I feel like a piece of my childhood is leaving too.
I was born in 1979. The Metrodome was “born” in 1982. Yet it wouldn’t be until 1986 when we would first meet. At the age of seven, I had begun to show all the signs of a sports fanatic, and my family seemed to take notice. I remember my godfather giving me a calendar that was a poster of the ‘Dome, and on each month it showed scheduled games for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers (football). I practically memorized each schedule. I remember when my father came home one day and told me that we had tickets for back-to-back games on a weekend in August — to see the Twins battle the Oakland Athletics. The only thing better than the anticipation, was the actual outcome.
Kirby Puckett hit for the cycle and Bert Blyleven notched his 3,000th strikeout in the first win. Mike Smithson tossed a shutout in the second. I was all smiles the entire time. When could I go back to this “House of Fun?”
It would happen later that same year. On October 5, 1986, my dad and I headed to the ‘Dome with another father and son tandem from our neighborhood. We arrived before the gates even opened, and were in the stadium hours before the first pitch. This became my dad’s way of attending games. We would leave insanely early for the 150-mile trip. We would sing and play “Name That Tune” for most of the way down. He would ask out loud to any car that passed us — knowing that nobody besides those in his car could hear — “Going to the game, eh?” I still tease him about it, and he’s changed his ways, but I have to thank him as I look back.
Arriving early on this particular day would pay off. The Twins were facing the Chicago White Sox, who were managed by Jim Fregosi. Fregosi was wandering the field and we half-heartedly yelled a greeting from our “nosebleed” seats. He spotted us, and had an expression as if to say, “Why on Earth would anybody be here already?” He signaled to us that he would return shortly. When he did, he had a handful of baseballs and began throwing them to us as souvenirs. It became the first of many baseballs to make a home on my bedroom shelf. The Twins went on to win that game 3-0, and Greg Gagne hit two inside-the-park home runs that day. A rare and memorable feat. Yet I’ll also remember how torn we were that day as we watched the game. We enjoyed the baseball, but we also tried to monitor the score of the Vikings-Bears game being played that day in Chicago. Again, nobody said it was easy being a multi-sport fan.
My first Vikings experience came exactly two weeks later. I remember being so excited that I was singing the Vikings theme song while getting dressed that morning. The Vikes were hosting those same Chicago Bears who had just done the “Super Bowl Shuffle” all the way to a title the season before. The boys in purple were huge underdogs, but I had faith in my favorite players Tommy Kramer and Anthony Carter. Surely, they could overcome Jim McMahon (who ended up injured), William Perry and Coach Ditka’s crew!
The star of the day, was unknown running back Alfred Anderson. The Vikings crushed the Bears 23-7. The cheerleaders wore sunglasses and headbands mocking McMahon. The fans were also given headbands as they entered the ‘Dome. I was going to need my headband to help keep my head from spinning. This was the loudest most exciting experience of my life!
The “first” memories are always the best, but I had the pleasure of being there for so many others. I was there for the “Brett Favre Miracle” against the 49ers. I was there for the Randy Moss and his over-the-shoulder lateral against Denver. I was there for an overtime win on a safety against the Rams. I was there for memorable “Monday Night” games like Favre against Green Bay and Daunte’s big win over Tampa Bay (we should have lost, but Mike Alstott fell down on a perfectly executed fake field goal). I was even there for “Frerotte to Berrian” — the longest play in Vikings history. The unforgettable moments are just too many to list.
Yet for me, it’s not necessarily about what the game meant in terms of team or national sports history. It’s about being with family and friends and experiencing something I love. I remember a Scott Leius walk-off home run during a random August game in a terrible season for the Twins. Why? My dad and I were there with friends. I remember being close enough to throw my glove to Kevin Tapani and Jim Kaat (then a Twins announcer) to have them sign it. I remember getting to chat with Tom Kelly from those seats, and how funny I thought it was when my dad’s friend (like a second dad to me) who looked and sounded like “TK” conversed with him.
I remember as I got older, doing “kids stuff” still stayed important. I loved to take friends to games with me regardless of what age we were. In our early years, we would make signs — no matter how ridiculous it seems now. I remember a Vikings-Raiders game where my best friend (who was recently the best man in my wedding) and I made a sign that said: “Hey Raiders, ever heard of Raid Spray? We pour it on you!” It was a major stretch, but at our age, we thought we were hilarious. That same friend and I made the “Jumbotron” doing a ridiculous dance some ten years later. It was during a meaningless late-season game that was A.J. Pierzynski’s debut with the Twins. Nobody knew how to say his name, much less who he was — so we danced.
The following year we tried to make the big screen again doing a one-row wave in a group of six. It was late in a 50-10 blowout win for the Vikings. It didn’t work but we didn’t care. The ‘Dome was a big part of our friendship, and we felt we had become friends with the ‘Dome.
As a fan, I could go on about the Metrodome forever. Heck, my role didn’t even stop there. I announced a football game (and went winless) for both Winona State and St. Scholastica in that building. I worked two games as a reporter for KBJR-TV, and saw my “minority status” help me out a great deal. Following a playoff win for the Vikings over Dallas, players and staff for both teams seemed to notice my disability and provided me with amazing access. Dennis Green went out of his way to meet me. Deion Sanders had a conversation with me, and Troy Aikman held a door for me to walk through. Almost everyone else said hello. Maybe players are nicer to the media than we think, it just depends on which media they deal with. Obviously this was another unique experience associated with the ‘Dome.
Fans will exit for the last time on Sunday, and each one will have a unique set of memories. Maybe it will be the crowded concourse, the uncomfortable seats, or the over-priced and mediocre cuisine. Maybe it will be the numerous underachieving teams that played there in recent seasons. Perhaps it will be the actual exit itself. I remember the wind pressure that blew fans out the door when leaving. In that sense, the Metrodome gets credit for me learning that my canes can actually tap dance.
In my ‘Dome history, I saw more Viking wins than losses, and far more losses than wins for the Twins. I remember jokes that would surface if the Twins were in a pennant race. Friends would ask my dad and I not to go to games. We would practically dance in the aisles if the Twins came to bat in the first inning and the game was still scoreless. Yet, all jokes aside, I owe the Metrodome a big thank you. Thank for you for hosting so many amazing events, both locally and nationally. Thank you for letting three of my favorite teams (Twins, Vikings, Wolves) call you home at some point. Thank you for the only two men’s professional championship teams that Minnesota has ever had. Thank you for making me the sports fan I am today.
Thanks for giving this “minority” a majority of positive memories.