Ian Summers knows that the Metrodome is a dump, but that doesn’t mean that he needs to forget about it when it’s gone
It’s been a memorable week for Minnesota sports fans. On May 11th the state legislature finally signed off on a landmark $975 million stadium project that will keep the most popular team in the state for the next three decades. To use a football metaphor: unlike their beloved Vikings, the Wilfs and their political allies managed to put together a successful drive and pull off their biggest victory in the waning seconds when the stakes were highest. The plan is for the Minnesota Sports Complex to open in 2016 and with negotiations almost settled with the University of Minnesota to make TCF Bank Stadium a temporary home, the Vikings will be gone from the Metrodome no later than the 2014 season, possibly much sooner.
Other members of the Viking faithful have already given their thoughts about what the new stadium will mean for them as a fan. Although many have astutely pointed out that the new facility won’t magically alter the course of a franchise known for tormenting its fans with decades of playoff failures and middling results from upper management, it will mark a new chapter in the life of the franchise. It also means finally saying goodbye to a place that Minnesotans have known simply as “the Dome.” Although it has been lambasted by various owners and lampooned on late night television, it is inexorably tied to an entire generation of Minnesota sports fans who know it as their only home.
Orono, Minnesota became my new residence in the summer of 1998 when I was 12 years old. I moved around more than the average kid – I was born in Orange County and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex—but even then I thought Minnesota was a strange place. I remember our first day there it was around 60 degrees and I was freezing my ass off, thinking that was the warmest it would ever get. My school was a fraction of the size of my old one, and seemingly everyone had that damn accent. Everyone also loved the Minnesota Vikings. It was the same year the team had their magical 15-1 season, and I jumped on board as a way to fit in. Although Gary Anderson would break our hearts, giving me an early introduction into what being a Vikes fan was all about, I was hooked. My first Vikings game was in 2000 against the Cardinals. I remember the guys behind us heckling Jake Plummer all day and thinking it was the funniest thing ever. At that point, I became a Minnesota sports fan. My parents were divorced and I had no real connection to the teams they followed—dad was a fan of the Detroit franchises, mom the Bay Area ones—so embracing the local teams during my formative years made sense. With that, the Dome became imbricated with my identity as a sports fan.
Besides the Vikings, the Dome was where I saw the Gophers blow a big lead to Michigan, the Twins finally become relevant again, and my high school contend in various state championship tournaments. It wasn’t just a place to go to as a fan; it was seemingly the only place. The Target and Xcel Energy Centers were there too, of course, but they lacked the history and diversity of teams necessary to make them comparable to the Dome. The Dome was like the first apartment or duplex you moved into after leaving home. Sure, it was an unsightly piece of crap, but it was your unsightly piece of crap, with your memories and your personal investment in it. Becoming a sports fan of its local teams played a big role in me identifying myself as a Minnesotan at that time. The Dome, much how it sticks out in the Minneapolis skyline, was smack dab in the middle of my sports consciousness, and I know I’m not alone. For fans of my age group, you watched your beloved local teams play in the Dome more than any other location. Kirby Puckett spent his entire career there. Even If you weren’t old enough to have seen or remembered the two most recent major championships for Minnesota, the ’87 and ’91 World Series, you damn well knew about the Twins going undefeated at home both times and the power of the Homer Hanky.
Recent years have not been kind to the Metrodome, though. It was a convenient punching bag for whichever tenant was seeking a new stadium. It’s been ranked as the worst overall venue in sports. It gained a reputation for piping in crowd noise. The infamous roof collapse of 2010 was a fitting metaphor and a sign that its days were numbered as it suffered the modern double horror of becoming a YouTube sensation and the butt of lazy, Leno-esque jokes on social media. Yet, even though I’ve been carefully taught for the last decade or so that the Dome is a dump and ought to be discarded, a part of me is still going to miss it. That’s what places do to us. It’s not the location itself, but the memories associated with it that gives us a sense of emotional investment and meaning. So, while a rational person would gladly kick that ugly, inflatable mattress of a stadium to the curb without a second thought, my irrational self feels like I’m saying goodbye to what was such a formative part of my emerging identity as a sports fan. Even though your friends and family may have finally convinced you to leave that dump of an apartment behind, you still have fond remembrances of it.
I’m not sure what will become of the new stadium. I don’t live in Minnesota anymore, and likely never will again. Already, the new place has somewhat of a tainted feel to it. Even though we’re told this is supposed to be a time for celebration, it still feels like everyone lost out in some way: although the Wilfs are getting a sweetheart deal, they were unable to build their new stadium in some godforsaken exurb like they wanted but rather on the very site that they claimed for so long was unworkable; fans will likely still have to deal with a paucity of parking and tailgating options even though the site will ostensibly have a bigger footprint; and Minnesotans are forking over an almost unprecedented amount for the Vikings to not leave for a city whose only viable stadium options are either nowhere close to being approved by local authorities or lack any sort of real funding.
Unlike the Dome, which ended up being a good deal for taxpayers, the new Minnesota Sports Complex will likely be a footnote in the inevitable march of yet another city succumbing to election-year pressure and subsidizing an extravagant stadium for wealthy owners. Even though it’s the latest in a string of new sports facilities built over the last decade in the Twin Cities, the price tag seems decidedly un-Minnesotan for a culture that prides itself on Lutheran modesty and thrift. If anything, blowing a huge amount of cash the state doesn’t have for an item it doesn’t need to survive seems very much like something a person from, ironically, Los Angeles would do. Regardless, the fierce debates will likely be mostly forgotten when the new place opens up. Unlike the Dome, its legacy will be tied almost solely to the Vikings – and perhaps Major Leagues Soccer – which may be more of a telling sign for how it will be remembered than anything else, and should give cause for concern for its biggest proponents. It will create its own memories and house its own narratives for the next 30 years. But before we get to that, however, let’s look back on the Metrodome and give it the proper remembrance it deserves. Even though its latter days weren’t its best ones, it was still our home, holding our memories, for our beloved Minnesota teams. It’ll be soon gone, but I doubt it will be fully forgotten.
Photo by ConspiracyofHappiness/Flickr