From the start, it has been difficult to accept official claims that the field at TCF Bank Stadium would be properly thawed and maintained for Monday night's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
University of Minnesota officials had outlined a vague plan to make it playable, suggesting they would use a chemical to melt a sheet of ice and then heaters and tarps to keep it warm. NFL and Vikings officials had expressed confidence that the field would be playable, but in reality we wouldn't know if the plan worked until some relatively independent observers got a look at it.
That happened Sunday, when the Vikings held a brief walk-though practice at the stadium the Vikings chose to replace the damaged Metrodome for this game. The practice was closed to the media. But shortly afterward, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe issued a series of tweets that made clear he thought the field fell far short of expectations and implied it would be dangerous if in the same condition Monday night.
Kluwe tweeted that the field is "unplayable" and added:
"The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.
"I find it interesting that the NFL can claim an emphasis on player safety, and then tell us the field is fine. It's beyond hypocritical
"I can only hope, however unlikely, that no one gets catastrophically injured at the trainwreck that's about to take place tomorrow night."
Kluwe typically takes a sarcastic tone on Twitter, but on Sunday wrote: "To everyone -- that was a totally serious post on the field conditions. It is like walking on concrete. They took the tarp off at the same time they'll take it off before the game. The problem isn't heating it, it's retaining that heat."
Kluwe later tweeted he had been asked to stop speaking publicly about the issue, but his reaction will provide a stern test for school, team and league officials. Kluwe has been outspoken about the issue all week, but I don't see an upside for him in exaggerating the conditions for rhetorical purposes.
On their website, the Vikings posted a quote from interim coach Leslie Frazier, who said: "It really seems to me that there are going to be safe conditions. It’s not something that our players have to be concerned about. We can just go out and play football, so it should be good for both teams."
Of course, Frazier is hoping to be named the team’s permanent head coach and isn’t likely to speak out on this issue.
And to be fair, the field could be further thawed if warmed for the next 30 or so hours. But if Kluwe's theory is right, it will re-freeze shortly after the tarp is removed for pregame warm-ups. Weather forecasts calling for 3-6 inches of snow Monday afternoon and evening in the Twin Cities surely won't help matters, either.
To my knowledge, the only other Vikings player who has tweeted about the field is tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. On his Twitter page, Shiancoe was generally complimentary about the state of the field but added: "Only thing.. there are random patches of hard and slippery field." He posted a picture of one of those areas here.
The shotgun plan to play at TCF Bank Stadium, rather than moving to a neutral location, was both ambitious and risky. If all goes well, Monday night's game will be a nostalgic tour through the Black and Blue division of yesteryear. But if the field is frozen and even borderline unsafe, it will be an embarrassing pock for both the team and the NFL -- especially considering how prominent the playing field issue has been all week.
I'm not sure what could be done at this point. The timing of the stadium readiness plan left the Vikings past the point of no return when they took the field Sunday afternoon. No matter what condition it would be in, they wouldn't be in position to shift venues and still play the game Monday night.
As always, stay tuned.