Metrodome: Greasy, noisy stage for history

It stands, at least for a few more weeks, as a monument to sports’ unvarnished past, when stadiums were less about modernistic flourishes (Club seating! Craft beers! TV monitors in every seat!) and more about the games played inside them.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was built first and foremost to house a lot of them -- it is the only U.S. venue to host a Super Bowl, a Final Four, an MLB All-Star Game and a World Series, and in 1989, it was home to three professional teams and a college football team. It had the utility, and the feel, of one of those giant retailer warehouses where you can stock up on jumbo rolls of toilet paper, buy a box of frozen pizzas and find a new set of tires for your car. Its best structural thrills were cheap -- exiting the stadium with a rush of wind at your back as air from the pressurized roof left the building, and watching baseballs ping-pong off the plastic, right-field wall nicknamed "the Hefty Bag" -- but damned if the Metrodome wasn't going to show you a noisy, greasy, rollicking good time.

It managed to do that mostly because of the moments it staged for 31 years. The Fab Five’s first Final Four happened here, five months after Jack Buck immortalized Kirby Puckett’s 1991 World Series Game 6 walk-off homer (“And we’ll see ya ... tomorrow night!”) and Jack Morris threw a 10-inning shutout the next night in Game 7. Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway saw his first baseball game in August of that year, and won a Big Ten championship with the Iowa Hawkeyes 11 years later, when the team’s fans tore down the goalposts after a win against the Minnesota Gophers -- and tried to make off with them through the Metrodome’s revolving doors.

“We’re good at winning games, but not smart enough to open the doors,” Greenway quipped.

And in 32 seasons, some of the NFL’s most remarkable plays happened under the Dome’s Teflon-coated roof. Tony Dorsett ran for an NFL-record 99-yard touchdown in the Metrodome’s first “Monday Night Football” appearance on Jan. 3, 1983. Adrian Peterson broke the league’s single-game rushing record with 296 yards on Nov. 4, 2007, the same day San Diego’s Antonio Cromartie ran a short field goal back 109 yards for a touchdown. Gus Frerotte hit Bernard Berrian for a 99-yard touchdown on Nov. 30, 2008, and just two months ago, on Oct. 27, Cordarrelle Patterson set a NFL record with a 109-yard kickoff return against the Green Bay Packers, giving the Dome one more historic play in its final season.

I was born in the Twin Cities, and have been watching games at the Metrodome since I was 8 years old and my parents moved our family back to Minnesota after four years in San Diego (that's right -- my dad willingly chose a job transfer out of the finest weather in America and back to a city where it snowed in eight consecutive months from October 2012 to May 2013. As trades involving Minnesota go, this one was only slightly less perplexing than the Herschel Walker deal).

My first trip to the Dome was for a Twins game in August 1991 -- a day before Greenway's, it turns out. The outfield seats were cheap, if not particularly good; we needed binoculars to see home plate, and in that game and many others, my sister would commandeer the binoculars to look for the guy selling the $2 malt cups once the game got out of hand.

The years to come brought trips to the Dome for different reasons. During my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, a couple buddies and I each bought full-season, upper-deck Twins ticket packages for $160 (binoculars not included), and made regular pilgrimages to the stadium for Dollar Dog Night, which, for three college freshmen, was both a bargain and a venue for competition. We saw the Atlanta Braves come to town for the first time since the 1991 World Series, and watched the Twins beat them in what felt like Game 8 -- Cristian Guzman doubled off the Hefty Bag with two out in the 15th inning, and sloth-like catcher Tom Prince scored all the way from first to beat a tag at the plate, sending the three of us out into the pouring rain, taking off our shirts and whipping them above our heads as we sprinted back to our cars. But I was already wet before our euphoric exit from the building; the same deluge outside caused the roof to leak, which meant I spent the 14th-inning stretch with drops of rain falling on my head.

I saw Dwyane Wade and Brandin Knight trade coast-to-coast drives in a wonderful Sweet 16 game between Marquette and Pittsburgh in 2003, sitting with my cousins and my uncle in seats that initially belonged to Ray Romano (it's a long story). And while the Vikings are warning fans not to lift souvenirs from the Metrodome on Sunday, I've already got one, courtesy of the Gophers' collapse during the first game of Tim Brewster's disastrous tenure as the football coach. I had a hunch Brewster was nothing more than a slick-talking salesman, and when the Gophers lost in overtime to Bowling Green on an elementary, flood-right play, reality hit my friends, too, and one of them took it out on the plastic cupholders affixed to the seats that were only pulled out for football games, stomping on it until it broke off.

The Vikings memories are vivid, too; mustering up the courage to talk to Emmitt Smith when I was a stringer for the Associated Press in college, sitting in the auxiliary press box and watching Randy Moss flip a no-look lateral over his head to Moe Williams for an incredible hook-and-ladder touchdown in 2003, and covering the climax of Peterson's remarkable 2,097-yard season, when he ran for 199 yards in the Vikings' season-ending, playoff-clinching 37-34 victory against the Packers a year ago.

A few of these memories, I suppose, have something to do with the Dome and its idiosyncrasies, but most of them are about the great players who competed there and the drama they created on the field. That will always be true of sports stadiums, no matter how fancy their accoutrements or how many first-of-their-kind boasts their architects can make. Someday, too, the Vikings' new $975 million palace will be out of date, marked for extinction by the people who are now pining for its grand opening. And in the end, probably sometime in the middle of this century, all that will be left from that place are the memories of grand performers and unforgettable moments.

The Dome got that, on as deep of a level as an inanimate object can. It stood on ceremony for no one, welcomed everyone, and let them witness a little bit of everything -- some good teams, some bad teams, some odd moments and some historic ones.

On its best nights, the Metrodome didn't just send you out its doors with a rush of pressurized air; it urged you out with a rush of adrenaline, spilling you into the streets buzzing about what you'd just seen.

Old or new, that's the best our stadiums can ever do for us. Fans in Minnesota will be lucky if the Dome's successor does that half as well as it did.