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Willmar notebook: The teams that came in from the cold

Tribune file photos by Rand Middleton Met Stadium on Dec. 20, 1981, the stadium’s finale with the Minnesota Vikings playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Quite a few fans would leave with a piece of the 25-year-old home to the Twins and Vikings, perhaps a folding seat, letters from the scoreboard or a chunk of sod.

The last football game at 25-year-old Met Stadium was played on Dec. 20, 1981. It was cold — 20 degrees with a 4-degree wind chill — and overcast. The Minnesota Vikings’ 10-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was just as dreary.

When the game ended, all hell broke loose. Fans stormed the field. The goal posts went down and were carted off. Some climbed the huge scoreboard and removed letters. Seats were wrestled from their anchors. Pieces of frozen turf were dug up and carried off.

Slightly over 41,000 fans had shown up for the stadium’s “funeral.” AP reported “Thousands of fights” breaking out and hundreds of injuries, mostly minor. Security had been increased threefold but stood little chance against the mob.

Met Stadium was built in 1956 for $4.5 million in Bloomington to accommodate the Minneapolis Millers, top farm club of the New York Giants baseball team. But the aim was to land both a major league franchise and an NFL team.

In 1961, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro welcomed both the Vikings, an expansion team to combat the budding AFL, and the Minnesota Twins, the former Washington Senators.

The old Senators were a bottom-dwelling American League franchise, but by 1965 Met Stadium, now with a seating capacity of 49,000, would host both the All-Star Game and the World Series (Twins vs. Dodgers). In between, on Aug. 16, 25,000 saw a Beatles concert. Fans paid a whopping $4.50 for a ticket.

Playing outdoor football for outdoorsman Bud Grant, the Vikings would proceed to four Super Bowls. But the Viking management grew restive. The Met, after all, was a baseball stadium, and revenue streams were limited.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, laid out for football but able to accommodate baseball, opened in April 1982. The Big Top came in at $55 million.

The first baseball game was played April 3. It was even colder than the Met’s final football game — 10 degrees with a 20-below wind chill.

At the moment, indoor baseball seemed a pretty good idea. The Philadelphia Phillies were in town for two exhibition games. That Saturday evening, Pete Rose, a week shy of his 41st birthday, got the first hit in the Dome, a single to right in the first inning.

But it was a homegrown rookie from Bloomington by the name of Kent Hrbek who stole the show with a pair of home runs in a 5-0 Twins win before 25,252 fans. The Phils won the next day 11-8 before just 11,000 in the 55,000 seat stadium. Two days later, in the season opener, 52,279 showed up to see the Twins fall to Seattle. At Milwaukee, the Brewers’ opener at County Stadium was postponed due to snow.

Unlike the Dome, the Vikings’ new stadium, projected to cost a little shy of $1 billion, will allow a “connection to the outdoors” through a clear roof and the “largest glass pivoting doors in the world that will open to the [two acre] west plaza.”

So, Minnesota and time marches on from a smallish baseball stadium built in a pasture in 1956 to the most modern of sports cathedrals 70 years later.

The final game at Mall of America Field is noon Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Police presence will be doubled and uniformed security increased. Hacksaws and ratchet sets must be checked at the door. 

However, each fan will receive a free commemorative pennant.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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