Desktop Sportsman (10/07/2009)Desktop Sportsman writes about the U's new TCF Bank Stadium
By: Sean Scallon, Pierce County Herald
You can watch the last-ever game the University of Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium back in 1981 against Wisconsin, or at least a part of it anyway, (the good part if you are a Wisconsin fan) on You Tube.com (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiUCcdLa6EE).
It’s fitting that the Badgers were the last outdoor Big Ten game at old Memorial and the first outdoor Big Ten game 28 years later last weekend at the sparkling band new TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. When the Gophers moved into the Metrodome after that year, I doubt if anyone thought about things like “atmosphere” or “revenue streams” and “stadium buzz,” the kinds of things a UW fans takes for granted around Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
No, back then, the only thing that mattered was how cheaper it would be for the U to move into the Metrodome rather than spend millions renovating Memorial Stadium. Indoor football would also supposedly bring in recruits from warm weather states who would be willing to play indoors rather than in the November rain, chill and snow, as you see in the grainy video from that ballgame.
As it turns out, even players from Florida and Texas, which dot the rosters of both schools, will play up North if someone offers them a scholarship, dome or no dome. The question is not the players but the Minnesota fans themselves and not just for the Gophers but also the Twins and eventually the Vikings too. Having spent at least two generations indoors, are such fans now going to be used to sitting outside in less than ideal conditions?
It’s still an open question after last Saturday’s exciting ballgame. The rainy, cold and windy weather that marked much of the contest no doubt kept some fans away from what was supposed to be a “sellout” (as did bogus claims of hard-to-buy tickets which probably kept a lot of Badger fans in the Indianhead away too). It also reportedly kept those who did turnout inside the wide open and spacious concourses where they could watch the game under cover. Such was also the case along fraternity row on University Ave. I was looking forward to seeing all the outdoor parties and decorations of the frat houses that were so much a part of the “atmosphere” of old Memorial Stadium. Yet only a few souls could be seen outside on the decks. The weather drove most of the parties inside even though, as one would say, it wasn’t as bad as it could be or will get.
Just as the fall of communism in 1989-1992 didn’t create overnight capitalists in Eastern Europe, so too will outdoor stadiums not necessarily lead to outdoors fans, at least not right away. It’s not a switch you can just turn on again. A Packers fan knows from the time he or she is practically born that it gets cold in Green Bay and you dress accordingly to stay warm. It’s been a long time since Vikings fans have had to experience outdoor football in December here in the Upper Midwest. Many such fans have died since then. Many such fans have been born only used to the Metrodome. When the first Twins’ home game is held in April or in early October and the weather is lousy, will fans stay away or stay underneath just as some Gophers fans did last weekend? Probably. It’s something they have to gets used to once again and there’s no easy way to do so, unless you wish to spent a night outside to be reacclimated to your own climate.
It’s easy to say, after last weekend’s weather, that such teams should stay indoors. But there’s no doubt in my mind the Gophers and Twins have done the right thing asking and lobbying for stadiums of their own. Their situations and monetary needs are unique and trying to cram all of the state’s outdoor teams into one generic domed stadium may have seen like a cost-saving measure, but it only begged to have new stadiums eventually built for all of the outdoors teams (Vikings too at some point). Jammed in together one building, neither teams could make the money they needed to compete nor could they avoid the Metrodome’s limiting features. The multipurpose design ruined the sightlines for baseball. The distance from campus, the lack of money and virtual third class citizenship the Gophers endured for nearly three decades hurt the program. Because tailgating was banned in the Metrodome lots, because everything was inside, the “atmosphere” that so defines the college game was missing from the U.
Last weekend the first thing you notice right away walking around TCF Bank Stadium was how many tailgaters there were, their flags fluttering in the breeze and the aroma their outdoor grills gave off that enveloped the area. That fragrance, more than anything, is what defines college football.
When the Metrodome opened, they didn’t even bother to put air conditioning in the building just so they could get it under budget. Talk about doing things on the cheap. There’s nothing cheap about TCF Stadium however. It’s as well constructed and beautifully designed and put together as one would expect for something so new. Even if you can’t get ticket for a game, if you don’t mind standing, you can peak through the gates at the open ends of the stadium and watch the game on the Jumbotron screen from across the field. Talk about being open . But that’s what TCF Stadium is all about, an opening up of Gopher football to Minnesota sports fans once again.
The question is, now that it’s open, will the fans come in? New stadiums don’t guarantee success as the Pittsburgh Pirates can tell you. All they can do is put you in a better position to win than you were before. What you do with that added strength is up to you. Hopefully the Twins will find it easier to keep talent like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Hopefully the Gophers will find it easier to keep talented in-state players at home instead of wandering off to Iowa City or Madison or South Bend in search of real college football “atmosphere.” No doubt the atmosphere in and around TCF Bank Stadium was as real as the Metrodome was artificial. But the Gophers will need to do more to win Paul Bunyan’s Axe one of these days than just open a new stadium, just as the Twins will need to do more to win a playoff series than playing outside.
After Saturday’s game, I walked over stood in front of Cooke Hall on the U’s campus, right where the endzone of old Memorial Stadium once was. I was trying to visualize what gameday was like way back when. No doubt back during the Golden Gopher glory years one did not think about atmosphere in this place. It was there with every title won. Ultimately what makes any stadium or arena special is the winning that takes place in them.