MINNEAPOLIS -- The hair in your nostrils freezes when it's minus-9 degrees, as it was Sunday morning here at TCF Bank Stadium. You hear strange noises, like the crinkle of a synthetic parka. Car engines groan. Your lungs won't accept a deep breath. Even the Minnesota Vikings' legendary Gjallarhorn, sounded before every game, cracked in two pieces.
The USDA's recommended temperature for your freezer is zero degrees. But even as the temperature at kickoff (minus-six) made this the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history, a near-capacity crowd turned out for Sunday's wild-card playoff game between the Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. It's the first outdoor playoff game in Minnesota since 1976 and likely the last; the team will move into the indoor U.S. Bank Stadium next season after a two-year stay here on the University of Minnesota campus.
A trip through nearby parking lots before the game revealed a hearty if smaller-than-usual contingent of tailgaters. Allie McCabe drove to Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon from her Nebraska home with a full truck's worth of gear and equipment.
"We wanted to make this fun," McCabe said.
To do it, she wore five layers on her lower body: leggings, yoga pants, jeans, pajamas and ski pants. Her upper body was protected by six layers, including three jackets. As she cooked pulled pork in a hot pot and kept coffee warmed on a camp grill, McCabe laughed. She is studying to be a doctor -- a family practitioner -- and agreed, "I'm not sure I would recommend this to many of my patients."
Across the lot, two men who identified themselves as Jordan and Jerry were throwing a football about 30 yards apart. Jordan's full beard was frozen. They both wore Vikings jerseys over their hunting gear.
"How are we going to stay warm today?" Jordan said. "You're looking at it. Keep moving around, wear a bunch of interlocking layers. Hopefully this works."
Not everyone was taking such chances. Many fans arrived on campus holding flattened cardboard boxes or pieces of Styrofoam. The Vikings had suggested in an email to ticket holders that they could minimize the effects of sitting for three hours in such temperatures by putting a layer between their feet and the concrete ground of the stadium.
Some had to improvise. Two season-ticket holders who identified themselves as Stacey and Jennifer were quite a sight: They raced to a heated tent sponsored by a local restaurant with a box of Pampers tucked under their arms.
"Notice they're size 7s," Stacey said. "So, who knows. Maybe we'll end up using them in the game."
Said Jennifer: "We're longtime season-ticket holders, but we can't say we've ever tried this before. Hopefully it works."
Not everyone was willing to brave the cold. The university opened nearby Mariucci Arena, home of the school's men's hockey team, as a warming house for (sane) fans. True to Minnesota tradition, a hockey tournament was underway inside.
About 90 minutes before the game, the first players jogged onto the field. The Vikings took their spot on the sunny side of the field, a spot that didn't seem significant earlier in the season but could make a difference for players on the bench in this game. Steam, well, streamed from their mouths. The Gjallarhorn was miraculously prepared. And what could prove to be the coldest game in state history, and one of the 10 most frigid in NFL history, approached fast.