We have arrived in a vortex of circumstances that will thrill some, annoy others and frighten a few. Monday night, there will be an outdoor NFL game in Minnesota for the first time in 29 years. The conditions will be right out of NFL Films archives.
A weather front has already moved in to the Twin Cities area, and new accumulations of up to five inches are expected by the 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. The game-time temperature will be 25 degrees, with wind chills dipping into the single digits by the end of the night.
We've discussed most aspects of this scene over the past eight days, beginning with the Dec. 11 collapse of the Metrodome roof. ESPN.com's blog editors have created a handy filter for those posts. So as we await Monday night's kickoff, here are a few random thoughts I've had:
There has been a surge of old-school mindset from former players who routinely worked in wintry weather and on frozen fields. The general message to the players who will take the field Monday night: Suck it up. I don't doubt that a game can be played in these conditions. I just question whether it's necessary, especially on short notice. I equate frozen fields with a house that has no air conditioning. You can certainly survive it. But what's the point? Quality of life is better in A/C, and the quality of the game is better on a heated field. Snow and ice might be an initial draw for television purposes, but I doubt for many of the participants.
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe walked the plank Sunday by insisting the field at TCF Bank Stadium is unplayable. None of his teammates, and no one from the organization, has backed his claims. Kluwe can be a bit flaky at times, but I can't fathom a motivation he would have for fabricating his observations. The field was frozen as of early this week, and never has it been thawed in the manner vaguely outlined by University of Minnesota officials. At the very least, the Vikings and NFL took a substantial leap of faith in expressing confidence that it be thawed and safe throughout the game.
There is no doubt that some of the players' public complaints arose from a perceived hypocrisy within the NFL, which has fined players up to six figures this season for illegal hits in the name of player safety. I think we can agree that a hard field isn't a friend of concussion prevention. And let's not forget that the violence of impact in the NFL is substantially higher now than it was 29 years ago. Just as the NFL believes players have a choice in avoiding illegal hits, the league and the Vikings had a choice in deciding to play this game outdoors. A number of domed stadiums around the country were available and willing to accommodate the game.
The process for de-icing the field has been kept pretty well under wraps. But has anyone else noticed that the use of an unnamed chemical to start the process suddenly disappeared from the daily updates? When it's all said and done, it will be interesting to find out whether it was actually used.
It's been funny to listen to Vikings officials speak of preserving their home-field advantage by playing at TCF Bank Stadium. It's true they lost their advantage over the Giants last Monday night at Ford Field, but they should probably check their recent history before considering a game in these conditions to be a sure-fire advantage. The last time the Vikings won an outdoor game in December or January in a cold-weather environment was a January 2005 playoff victory at Lambeau Field. The time before that? December 1999 at Giants Stadium. Over an extended period, and for good reason, the Vikings are at their best in a dome.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has campaigned for an open-air stadium to replace the Metrodome, but most observers considered it a strategy to compel the state of Minnesota to pay for a roof. Regardless, Wilf and his brother Mark plan to sit in the stands Monday night, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. I'll be interested to see if the experience enhances or changes Wilf's mind on the issue.
TCF Bank has been the big winner this week. The local institution is paying a relatively modest $35 million over 25 years for naming rights to the stadium. According to Bloomberg News, the bank has already reaped $7.5 million worth of exposure from this episode -- and that's not counting the numerous mentions it will get during ESPN's national broadcast.