On a very long list of things Minnesotans don't need to hear this weekend, during the worst blizzard to hit the state in nearly two decades ... this is probably still far down on it. Restoration of basic services, clearing roads and making sure their neighbors don't freeze to death in sub-zero post-storm temperatures, likely worry them more than whether the Vikings are able to stay in town.
Then again, it has to be hard for them to get their heads around the images of the Metrodome roof sagging, then ripping, then funneling an avalanche onto the stadium floor Sunday morning. The building named for political icon Hubert H. Humphrey has been called a lot of things during its 28-year-long life. But the one thing everybody agrees it can be called today is "unsafe.''
It's an awful, and potentially tragic, reason for seeing the Vikings go after 50 years. But it's still leverage to owner Zygi Wilf and the supporters of a publicly-funded replacement for the Metrodome -- and for the NFL, which still likes new stadiums that its owners don't have to pay for even after the stadium-roulette boom of the last decade or so subsided. The NFL also likes the Los Angeles market, even though it doesn't even have a stadium in as good a shape as the sunken 'Dome.
No, it's not even remotely fair that the city, state and the Vikings faithful are in this position. A once-in-a-generation storm that has humbled even the most blizzard-jaded locals took its toll on the Metrodome. Roy Terwilleger, head of the Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "It was an extraordinary situation involving Mother Nature that the Dome's roof couldn't handle," and there was no way to dispute him.
The familiar inflatable Teflon-fiberglass roof -- once the stadium covering of choice in Indianapolis, before it built Lucas Oil Stadium with a retractable roof -- might not be pretty. It unquestionably is outdated, given the aforementioned Indianapolis example among many others. But it has handled the Twin Cities' worst with relatively little damage over the years, none of it incapable of fixing. They played a Super Bowl and two Final Fours there without incident.
Unfortunately, this near-disaster -- thankfully with no injuries, just riveting video -- left the city with these options:
• Repair the roof again, or replace it. One early estimate Sunday said that a new roof could cost $100 million -- and who would pay for that?
• Build a new stadium. See previous question. The Vikings have pushed for a new stadium for years; voters keep turning them down. (The sports commission's website boasts that the 'Dome is "the only public stadium in the country that does not rely on a continuous tax subsidy.'') The commission also says that the building is in use some 300 days a year, signifying the blow not having a usable one inflicts on the local economy.
It took a dozen years to get the voters, politicians and the Twins together enough to build $566-million Target Field; that opened this year, as did a stadium for University of Minnesota football, for which the state paid for 48 percent of the $288 million price tag, according to the school.
Put that together, and you get a population that simply has never warmed up to giving money to billionaires to build their stadiums for them. And the billionaires have tried. The long, national nightmare that is Brett Favre's final few seasons has routinely been tied to the quest for a new stadium, via the excitement the Vikings hope to spark with a Super Bowl run that would energize the hard-core and sway the undecided. (Which makes Tarvaris Jackson even more of a pawn than he's already been the last two seasons, which is another column entirely.) It almost worked, until Favre and his body aged about 40 years overnight.
That brings the final option:
• Move the Vikings out of Minnesota.
Understandably, the powers-that-be on the Vikings, in the NFL and elsewhere on the Minneapolis stadium issue had stayed silent as the area recovers and the 'Dome officials ponder their next move toward reinforcing and re-opening the building.
But Vikings fans should feel entitled to some pessimism. The idea of using a natural disaster as cover to spirit a franchise out of town is not exactly new (as Saints fans would like to forget in these heady post-Super Bowl days, five years after Hurricane Katrina).
Mother Nature may have made the decision for everybody -- sealing the deal that Father Time couldn't.
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