Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: 10 Worst Moments
Number 10: Tore up from the floor up
When the Dome hosted the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1989, officials were eager to make a good impression in the hopes of landing the Final Four within the next few years.
Instead, it was a near disaster. On the morning before the game was to begin, NCAA reps were having a look-see on the condition of the temporary court installed for the tourney. What they saw wasn't good.
"The varnish on the court was coming up all over the place, peeling like an onion," says Lester. "We mopped it with just about any substance we could find. I don't think it helped much."
The games went on—with nary a mention of the floor problem—but NCAA officials were reportedly disappointed with the way the Dome and the U of M handled the event. In the end, though, the ill will dissipated, and the Final Four indeed came to the Metrodome three years later.
Number 9: The Sweatrodome
In a moment of true Scando-Minnesota frugality, the Dome opened without air conditioning. While attendance was already nose-diving during the pathetic 1982 Twins season, the notion that fans would have to sit in what amounted to a Teflon sauna didn't help ticket sales.
By July 1983, air conditioning came into use, leading to an endless supply of conspiracy theories that the staff flips a switch to benefit the home team: blowers on when the opposing team bats, blowers off when the Twins are at the plate. "There have been these theories and studies to show that we help the Twins," says Dennis Alfton, who has served as the Dome's director of operations since day one. "That was not the case. We wouldn't ever be able to get to that point of trying to change the outcome of a game."
Number 8: Burning Man
During its second year of operation, the Dome was already holding monster-truck rallies and tractor pulls, but nothing quite like the Motocross event that saw a man catch fire. "There was this kid from Argentina who was going to do a major jump over something, off a ramp," Lester says. "They were going to light him on fire and send him through the air."
Unfortunately, crews had built a safety wall out of cardboard boxes and hay. "So he goes to the top of the ramp, gets lit, makes the jump, crashes right into the boxes, which catch on fire, everything's on fire," Lester says. "They put it out, and he was fine, but they were going to have him speak to the crowd afterward, and all he could really do was wave a little bit and say, 'I gotta go.'"
Number 7: Gophers' less than golden moments
With the exception of some Wisconsin and Iowa rivalry games, Gopher football at the Dome has nearly always been a losing proposition—both on the scoreboard and in the stands. But one moment during the disastrous second season stands out. The Number one-rated Nebraska Cornhuskers came to the Hump and squeaked by our Goofers by the razor-thin margin of 84-13.
Nearly 20 years later, the 2003 squad started the season 6-0, giving fans a reason to believe that the chronically underperforming Gopher football program was finally on the rebound. Then Michigan came to town. Initially, the Gophers were on the march, building a 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But in the biggest gridiron meltdown in Dome history, the Gopher defense gave up 31 fourth-quarter points, eventually ceding victory to the Wolverines 38-35. The Gophers dropped two more crucial games and ended the season 10-3, leading no less a Gopher apologist than Sid Hartman to concede that the staggering loss prevented "the Gophers from creating the interest needed to fill the Metrodome and stop fan apathy."
Number 6: Dylan and the Dead
It had all the makings of a historic show: Two of the biggest names in 1960s rock, pairing up and coming to the Dome for the venue's inaugural concert in 1986. To top it off, Dylan was backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Problem was, nobody thought much about the acoustics of the stadium. As it turned out, unless you were on the field directly in front of the stage, all you could hear was screeching, gelatinous noise.
"Oh God, after the complaints about the acoustics, we didn't think we would ever have a show here again," Lester recalls.
The venue, of course, has gone on to host some of the biggest names in rock, including the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, U2, Van Halen, and Metallica—all with varying degrees of sonic success.
Number 5: Vikings stink up the field, Dome stinks up the stands
The debut of Coach Brad Childress came to an anticlimactic halt at the end of the 2006 season with a loss to the St. Louis Rams. Then the Dome registered its displeasure: The toilets in one men's room backed up.
"Not only did our team complete the season with 8 out of 10 losses in an uninspiring pounding by the Rams," says Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president for public affairs and stadium development, "but there was a flood in the concourse where water was running into and down the steps of the press box, and into the suites on the east side of the Metrodome, including the owners' suite."
Number 4: Tear down that wall
At one point, home runs were so frequent that the stadium became known as the Homerdome. Part of this was the rarified air, of course, but another factor was that the facility was really designed for football. Outfield walls were built short to provide better sightlines of a rectangular field.
To remedy this, Dome staffers have tinkered with various incarnations of a right-field wall—raising it, lowering it, cursing it. For a few years in the early 1990s, six-foot-high Plexiglas ran atop the left-field and part of the center-field walls. When the Twins hit a weak period in the 1990s, displaying a team-wide lack of power, the Plexiglas came down.
The right-field wall is still doctored, of course, with what is disparagingly known as "the Baggie." The only thing more dispiriting than watching a long fly ball ricochet off Plexiglas is watching it sink into a giant plastic tarp.
Number 3: The deflations
All told, the Dome has collapsed three times. The first was on November 19, 1981, six weeks past its official "Inflation Day" and after a 10-inch snowstorm. Following the initial "deflation"—as operations director Alfton calls them—the Dome again sagged in December 1982. "Actually, a snow melt meant that snow slid down and pulled the fabric away from the structure," recalls Lester. Then the following April, a tear caused the roof to deflate. "That was one where we had guys up there shoveling, and they moved a piece of ice and it tore a hole in the thing," says the Dome's director of engineering, Steve Maki, adding that a heating scheme has been implemented to melt snow as it falls on the Teflon. "We very rarely have people up on the roof anymore."
Number 2: Dave Kingman's Dome-rule double
On May 4, 1984, the Oakland A's Dave Kingman hit a monster pop-up high above the infield. Twins fielders watched it, and waited, and waited, and waited...for a fly ball that never came down. In a one-in-a-million shot, the baseball got lodged in a drainage hole in the Dome's roof. Umpires chatted for several minutes before ruling that Kingman be awarded second base, as a sort of "Dome-rule double."
Baseball purists scoffed, but the next day, wacky Twins utility player Mickey Hatcher rigged a scheme whereby a Metrodome worker would dislodge the ball from the roof, and Hatcher would catch it for the out. Hatcher, of course, dropped the ball, and the Kingman rule stood. Though some insisted at the time that Hatcher was using the actual ball, others believe it was never found, and it could very well be stuck in the roof's fabric to this day.
Number 1: Vikings take a knee
It's not as if Vikings fans weren't used to having their hopes dashed—four Super Bowl losses gave the franchise a perpetual "wait 'til next year" complex. But there was something special about that 1998 Vikings team: remarkable talent, a will to dominate, and the most potent NFL offense to date. All that translated into a 15-1 season and an expectation that the team would bring its first championship ring back to Minnesota.
The NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons will be remembered for many things—a key interception dropped, the Vikings yielding a touchdown within the final two minutes, a missed Gary Anderson field goal that allowed Atlanta to tie the game in the waning moments. (This after Anderson had been perfect all year long.) But the real turning point was when Vikings coach Dennis Green opted to take a knee and run the clock out to let the game go into overtime. In O.T., Atlanta scored a game-winning field goal, making the final 30-27, and evaporating all the magic of that promising season.
The disappointment wasn't so much that the Vikings were heavily favored, which they were, but that Green and company essentially pulled the plug on their own powerful offensive party. They choked, they quit, they ran out of flash. "What was this?" wrote former Strib sports columnist Dan Barreiro, summarizing the thoughts of chagrined Vikings fans everywhere. "The high-flyin', record-settin', long-ball-throwin', spit-in-the-face-of-convention-believin', riverboat gamblin', cornerback abusin' Vikings, possessors of the Offense of the Century, were taking a knee?"
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