NFC North: Metrodome
Sorry. I'm overdosed on "The Simpsons" episodes.
Anyway, as you can see, construction workers Wednesday morning successfully inflated the newly installed roof at the Metrodome. The event ushered in the final stages of a $23 million project to replace the building's original roof, which was destroyed during a December snowstorm. The costs were covered by insurance.
It includes some new features, among them panels to improve acoustics and more transparency for maximum sunlight. But the most important news is the building remains on track to open when the Vikings are scheduled for their first preseason home game on Aug. 27.
The photo above also shows workers removing plywood from the playing surface. One of the biggest remaining tasks of the project is to evaluate the surface, which was installed last summer, to see if it is playable or needs to be replaced again. If so, that $600,000 project would begin next month.
And now, 1500ESPN.com has posted a full photo gallery of the damage.
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Metrodome’s Teflon roof collapsed overnight. Multiple local media outlets have posted video and photographs, but as you can see here on kare11.com, the roof is completely invisible at eye level and is probably hanging close to the field as we speak.
We don’t know yet how this episode will impact Monday night’s scheduled game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. The roof has collapsed at least three times before, and the key will be whether the roof is torn or whether the weight of the snow simply caused it to collapse. The former is a more difficult fix than the latter.
For those who are interested, the roof is kept inflated by fans at the top of the structure. When it snows, Metrodome operators heat the building to more than 80 degrees to melt away any accumulation. In extreme situations, workers are stationed on the roof to remove snow with fire hoses and hot water. (I’m not making this up.)
That process was halted Saturday night due to high winds and concerns for the safety of the workers. A little after 6 a.m. ET, the roof collapsed.
This is going to take a while to sort out. When tears were found after a 1982 collapse, four days were needed to repair it. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday morning that the league will address the issue “ASAP.” Options include moving the game to the New Meadowlands Stadium. For those of you asking, I don’t think baseball’s Target Field could be retrofitted for football. But I guess the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium could be an option. Stay tuned.
As you can see in the chart below, teams that play their home games in a dome are 1-11 all-time when playing a championship game on the road. I suppose that doesn’t bode well for Minnesota, which will travel to New Orleans’ Superdome this weekend.
But if you look closer, you can see that only one of those 12 games were played in another dome. That instance came at the end of the 1998 season, when Atlanta upset -- yes, -- the Vikings at the Metrodome.
My own opinion? The Vikings were 4-4 on the road this season. But in relative terms, they are in position to minimize many of the Superdome’s inherent advantages, including the jarring claustrophobia. The facility also has the same FieldTurf playing surface as the Metrodome.
Judy Griesedieck//Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesThe Vikings were 8-0 at home during the 2009 regular season.
The Vikings, for their part, were 8-0 at home this season and are 14-2 there in the past two seasons.
But some of us who sit in the Metrodome’s open-air press box have noted long stretches of relative silence from the crowd, depending on the Vikings’ most recent set of plays. It can also be jarring to hear the volume drop off when stadium operators turn off the sound effects. (NFL rules prohibit artificial noise after the play clock starts.) Finally, the Vikings, without question, squandered some of their pregame hysteria when they stopped introducing players individually to the crowd.
So how big of a hurdle will the Cowboys face Sunday? With the help of my friends throughout the statistical world, I poked through the numbers Tuesday. Here’s what we found: Since the Metrodome opened in 1982, the Vikings have the NFL’s third-best home record during the regular season. In the playoffs, however, it’s been about a 50-50 proposition.
In the chart below, supplied by Vikings public relations guru Jeff Anderson, you see the Vikings have won about two-thirds of the 221 regular-season games at the Metrodome.
Most teams play better at home than on the road, but the Vikings have one of the more lopsided ratios in this regard over the past two decades. I reached out to NFC North friend Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders on this issue.
Bill looked at the 15-season period between 1994-2008 and determined the Vikings had an average point differential of 8.45 between home games and those on the road. In the Vikings’ case, they averaged 5.29 points more than their opponents during home games over that period. They had a losing record on the road over the same stretch, scoring an average of 3.16 points less per game than opponents.
According to Football Outsiders, the differential ranked No. 3 in the NFL:
St. Louis: 8.66
Kansas City: 8.49
Not unexpectedly, the postseason is a different story. Opponents are more skilled and battle-tested. The Cowboys, for example, advanced to the playoffs in part because they soundly defeated New Orleans at the Superdome last month.
The Vikings have lost four of their past seven home playoff games, dating back to 1992. Overall, their playoff record is 6-5 at the Metrodome. In other words, they’re about a .500 team since the stadium opened 27 years ago.
So what does all this mean? As usual, it puts us somewhere in the middle. We can’t minimize the impact of playing in the Metrodome over an extended period of time. And we can note that the Cowboys have two players -- offensive tackle Flozell Adams and tight end Jason Witten -- who have combined for 12 false start penalties this season. That would make them exceptionally susceptible to crowd noise.
But I also think we should be careful not to overestimate the value of this dynamic, especially in the postseason. Opponents are usually better equipped to handle such obstacles if they advance to the second round of the playoffs. This game will be won on the field, not in the stands.
So while I mentioned Thursday morning the team’s rejection of an offer to extend their Metrodome lease, I wanted to give you a better flavor of the sharply-worded letter owner Zygi Wilf released Wednesday night. More than anything, I think it speaks to Wilf’s growing impatience with what he writes are “political games” from state leaders.
Wilf writes that he is “shocked, exasperated and extremely disappointed” by efforts to encourage him to extend the lease, which expires after the 2011 season. The Vikings want a new stadium and have no interest in pushing back the timetable for replacement. But the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, their Metrodome landlord, proposed to reinstate $4 million in annual rent if the Vikings decline the extension offer.
As far as I’m concerned, here is the key paragraph of Wilf’s letter:
Come February, the Minnesota Vikings will have only 20 games remaining on our Metrodome lease. As the last tenant in the Metrodome, we would expect to be treated fairly and with some minimum level of respect. Your actions [Tuesday] leave us confused and questioning the future of this franchise.
It’s important to keep rhetoric in perspective. More than anything, the Vikings are trying to convince state leaders that they are serious about exploring options should a stadium not be approved. This letter was addressed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, among others. But to this point, I don’t think the state believes the Vikings are a threat to leave.
I’m not sure who is right in that argument, but that’s why it’s important for us to keep track of these developments. All we can say for sure right now is that nothing has changed: The Vikings will be franchise “free agents” after the 2011 season. Sometimes free agents stay with their current team. Sometimes they move on.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
DETROIT -- I guess stranger things have happened, but I haven’t been able to find anyone who can corroborate Major League Baseball’s claims that Minnesota and Green Bay might swap home games to accommodate a potential Twins playoff game Oct. 5 at the Metrodome. (Original post here.)
In fact, I’ve been told by multiple people that a swap isn’t an option at all -- from a logistical or financial standpoint. The Vikings and Packers will play at the Metrodome in Week 4 and at Lambeau Field on Nov. 1
Because the Vikings have scheduling priority over the Metrodome in all cases except for the World Series, one possible solution calls for the Twins to move their potential playoff game to Oct. 5. (The playoff game would only be necessary if the Twins finish the 162-game regular season in a first-place tie in the American League Central, and it would only be at the Metrodome if the Twins win the head-to-head series in their regular season with the team they’re tied with.)
As we touched on Saturday, the Vikings acquiesced scheduling priority to the Twins in 2006 when the possibility existed of a baseball playoff game on the Sunday of a Vikings-Lions contest. In that scenario, the Vikings agreed to push back the timing by one day and play Monday night at the Metrodome if necessary. (Ultimately, the Twins were eliminated from the playoffs and the Vikings-Lions game was played as scheduled.)
For agreeing to push back if needed, the Vikings received $150,000 from the government entity that runs the Metrodome. Had the game actually been moved, the Vikings would have received up to $350,000.
But that was only to move the day of the game, not change locations. Both the Packers and the Vikings would face major logistical hurdles to pull off a home-date swap, not to mention the headaches it would cause to fans who have planned to attend each game.
I suppose something could change, but as of now there is no chance that either Vikings-Packers game is moved this season.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Thanks to everyone who participated in the return of Have at It this week. Playing off a podcast from our friends at ESPN 1000 in Chicago, we asked why there are still thousands of tickets available for every Minnesota home game this season.
The discussion took a similar path as one we had in January, when the Vikings needed two deadline extensions from the NFL to sell out their divisional playoff game against Philadelphia. Some of you cited your dislike for the Metrodome, others suggested the Twin Cities are a “bandwagon” sports town while others noted the continuing economic recession.
Machinemanske, in fact, believes it was a fallacy to assume the arrival of Brett Favre would have bridged the sales gap:
Given the economic situation, I'm not sure the addition of one player would impact ticket sales THAT much. Lambeau Field season tickets have been sold out since 1960 and I don't think any one player helped to boost that. Even dismal seasons boasted a sold-out crowd. As impressive as that may be, I'm not here to brag about Lambeau. I'm here to say it takes more than one player, maybe a better economy and a certain level of dedication from the team's fans. I didn't think the addition of Brett Favre would have a huge positive impact on ticket sales. Merchandise sales...sure, but not ticket sales.TheShurThing believes local fans on the fence chose to spend their money at the University of Minnesota’s new (outdoor) TCF Bank Stadium.
Would you rather watch the Gophers outside or the Vikings in the Dome, which has few good seats and parking is questionable at best? In fact the price of getting tickets to those new stadiums could be a major issue to why the Vikes can’t sell tickets. I'm a die hard Vikings fan … but I would rather watch the Gophers and the new stadium than sit in the Dome.
But pchrisb3443 suggested, and I agree, that every NFL stadium has its levels of discomfort.
Granted the Metrodome isn't the best venue but quit crying about how uncomfortable it is. The seats at Lambeau are still bleacher seats for God's sake!My take? Seems to be a combination of factors at work. There are a lot of tickets for sale these days in the Twin Cities, including not only TCF Bank Stadium but also the Minnesota Twins’ new Target Field, which opens next spring. There is less money to spent than even last year at this time. And while many fans are energized by Favre’s arrival, there is also a group who can’t get past the carpet-bagging nature of his expected tenure. I can’t say I expect local television blackouts this season, but it’s clear Favre won’t be a revenue messiah, either.
From the "under every rock" category comes this story from Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. Green Bay officials recently traveled to the campus of Duke University to work out former Blue Devils basketball player Greg Paulus.
It's not clear what position Paulus would potentially play in the NFL, but he was the Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school quarterback in Syracuse, N.Y. He turned down several football scholarships to play basketball at Duke but lost his starting job as a senior and is not projected as an NBA player.
Duke listed Paulus, who played point guard, as 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds,
Paulus could be the type of player who signs a rookie free-agent contract after the draft, an excellent athlete with a football background who is worth a look on the team's terms.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- We spent a lot of time last week discussing Detroit's option to pass on drafting No. 1 overall. But Lions president Tom Lewand seemed to squash that notion Monday during an interview with Detroit-area reporters. According to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, Lewand said: "We don't want to comment on any specifics, whether they're logical or illogical."
- Lewand declined to put a "subjective barometer" on the team's efforts to negotiate contracts with potential No. 1 picks, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports new left tackle Orlando Pace will wear No. 76. Newcomer Frank Omiyale, who wore that number during minicamp, has taken No. 68.
- We'll have much, much more on the NFL schedule later Tuesday. But Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune points out that it's impossible for Minnesota to play at home on either of the first two Sundays of the season. The Minnesota Twins already have games scheduled those days at the Metrodome. The best the Vikings can hope for is Monday night home game in Week 2.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has met with Vikings officials three times in the past month, a sign that the state's top leader has not totally shunned the team's efforts to secure public funds for a new stadium.
It is highly unlikely the talks will lead to a stadium agreement in 2009, meaning the team's Metrodome lease will expire in 2011 with no new facility for the team to move into. But the recent discussions, which were confirmed by a source with knowledge of the situation, were enough for commissioner Roger Goodell to express a small degree of optimism when discussing the issue Monday at the NFL owners' meetings.
I asked Goodell if he felt certain the team would remain in Minnesota beyond the expiration of the lease, regardless of how the stadium situation works out. Goodell's response:
"I think everybody wants the Vikings to be in Minnesota: The leadership in Minnesota and clearly the Vikings and the NFL. I'm hopeful they're going to be able to sit down and have some productive dialogue about how to do that. We recognize the challenges that they're going through in Minnesota and the priorities that they have, and I think we're sensitive to that. But also, the Gophers have a new stadium. The Twins have a new stadium. It's obvious the Vikings need a new stadium. We recognize the governor recognizes the importance of that and I think that there is beginning to be some discussions, which I think is helpful."
Goodell was referring to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which is scheduled to open later this year. The Twins' Target Field will open in 2010.
Part of the issue, of course, is whether the Vikings have any options other than signing a new Metrodome lease in 2011. I'm currently sitting in the part of the country where their best leverage would seem to exist, and I'm planning a more extensive post Tuesday about a town that rhymes with Bos Bangeles. Until then....
John Tait's likely retirement puts Chicago in serious shopping mode for a right tackle over the next few months. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Bears will need to make a strong push to re-sign veteran John St. Clair, an impending free agent whom they aren't believed to have shown much interest in at this point.
The top tackles of the draft are likely to be off the board when Chicago's No. 18 overall pick arrives in the April draft. That means the Bears probably can't count on a rookie stepping in as an immediate starter and therefore need to have a veteran contingency plan at the position.
Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald also supports the St. Clair re-signing.
If you're interested, we'll bring you a list of free agent right tackles a bit later Monday. For now, let's continue around the NFC North:
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has a suggestion for bait to acquire Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin: Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Haugh: "Though Urlacher may have reached the point where his value to the Bears is higher than it would be in a trade, it can't hurt to ask whether Urlacher is still untouchable. My sense is that question would not inspire a unanimous answer at Halas Hall."
- Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte tells the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman that he wants a chance to win the Vikings' starting position if he returns. Frerotte: "A lot of people say, 'Why wouldn't you want to go back there and, if you're not starting, just stand there and watch?' But it's not about that for me. I played a lot with those guys, so I can still play."
- Minnesota team officials are asking the Minneapolis City Council to allow them to sell more billboards in and around the Metrodome, according to Michelle Bruch of the Downtown Journal.
- Former Detroit receiver Mike Furrey told a national radio audience that the Lions would anoint Daunte Culpepper their starter in 2009. Later, Furrey backed off the certainty of that comment in an interview with Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com also refutes Furrey's information.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the Packers' relatively light set of looming decisions on their pending free agents.
Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf is ramping up efforts to sell his stadium plan as a way to spur job growth and stimulate the local economy, according to reports in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Wilf hosted a meeting of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council on Tuesday, hoping to gain its leaders' support in spreading the message. Dick Anfang, the council's president, estimates the project could net $500 million for local contractors and at various times provide jobs to as many as 5,500 people during the four-year construction period.
There are many questions left to be answered about those figures, including whether any of the jobs would be permanent and if the stimulus would compensate for the taxpayer contribution -- expected to be $700 million or more -- the project would require.
Every indication from Minnesota state leaders has suggested the Vikings won't get serious consideration during this year's session of the state legislature. But it's clear Wilf will not go quietly. His stadium point man is already elevating the rhetoric, noting the Vikings have 30 games left on their Metrodome lease (which expires after the 2011 season).
Continuing around the NFC North:
- There were reports last month that Detroit would hire Bob Slowik as its defensive backs coach. But a report from FOX-13 in Memphis says the Lions have hired University of Memphis defensive coordinator Tim Walton for the job. The Lions have yet to confirm any member of their coaching staff other than coordinators Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Scott Linehan (offense).
- Via Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press, Rivals.com reports that former University of Washington assistant Tim Lappano will join the Lions as tight ends coach.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com confirms earlier reports that former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, demoted last month to offensive line coach, won't return in any capacity. Colletto said he likely will retire. George Yarno has been reported to be the Lions' new offensive line coach.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times analyzes whether one of the draft's top quarterbacks could slip to the Bears at No. 18.
- In an online chat, Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette says he thinks backup tailback Brandon Jackson will get more carries in 2009.
- Mike Vandermause of the Press-Gazette suggests the Packers freeze ticket prices for 2009. A decision is expected next month.
This is what it's come to in the current NFL economy: The Minnesota Vikings are offering a layaway plan for purchasing season tickets.
That's right. You can reserve your tickets and design a payment structure with a third party that takes automatic deductions from your checking account. (For a modest 1.9 percent fee, of course.) You get the goods as soon as you make the final payment. The free toaster should arrive in 4-6 weeks.
In all seriousness, it's probably a good business move for Minnesota -- which needed corporate help to avoid blackouts on four different occasions in 2008. The organization also needed two deadline extensions to sell out its home playoff game against Philadelphia last month.
We've had extensive conversations about the confluence of factors, some economic and some philosophical, that have made the Metrodome a difficult sell for the Vikings. Given the state of the national economy, it's clear that team officials -- like many of their compatriots around the league -- are bracing for an exceptionally difficult selling season.
The most well-liked playing surface in the NFC North is at Detroit's Ford Field, according to a series of voting results released Thursday by the NFL Players Association. The least favorite? Minnesota's multi-use FieldTurf.
That's the upshot from the union's annual poll of players conducted during the season. The NFLPA broke out the results into four categories: Best artificial surfaces, worst artificial surfaces, best grass fields and worst grass fields. In each case, the voting between best and worst wasn't necessarily in reverse order. I presume that discrepancy can be attributed to each stadium evoking opposing but passionate responses from different players.
(Try it sometime. Rank the NFL's starting quarterbacks from best to worst. Then -- without looking -- rank them from worst to best. I bet the lists aren't reversible.)
After agonizing for hours -- or, well, a few minutes -- I decided on the following is the easiest way to present the data:
BEST ARTIFICIAL (13 total)
WORST ARTIFICIAL (13 total)
11. Detroit (tied with Seattle)
BEST GRASS (18 total)
7. Green Bay
WORST GRASS (18 total)
5. Green Bay
A couple thoughts on these rankings:
- Detroit and Minnesota have the same FieldTurf surfaces, and they were installed in the same year (2002). But baseball's Minnesota Twins play 81 games a year in the Metrodome, which also hosts University of Minnesota football and baseball, along with high school football playoffs. The Metrodome surface gets manipulated often and is pretty flat compared to Ford Field.
- I hear fewer complaints about the grass mix at Lambeau Field than I do about the 100 percent grass surface at Soldier Field. Two years ago, Packers officials stitched some synthetic fibers into the surface for stability. In Chicago, the field is typically soft and the grass long early in the season. By the end of the season, the grass is basically dead. The voting fell accordingly, although it was surprising to see Lambeau ranked as the 7th-best but also the fifth-worst. Basically, that means there are significantly differing opinions on Lambeau Field.
A week of nail-biting ended well for Minnesota and its fans Saturday afternoon: The Vikings announced Sunday's wild-card playoff game against Philadelphia is a sellout and will be televised locally. The team sold 20,000 tickets in seven days, capitalizing on two deadline extensions from the NFL.
All's well that ends well, I suppose. But it's still worth exploring why it was so difficult for the Vikings to sell out their first home playoff game in eight seasons. (And remember, an official sellout at the Metrodome is a relatively low 62,000 tickets sold.)
You provided an overwhelming response to the questions we posed Wednesday, allowing us to break down the issue into four primary categories:
1. Dollars and sense
The national economic recession dissuaded some individual fans who faced slight increases in their ticket prices. John wrote: "I am a college student in Minneapolis and when I heard there were 20,000 tickets available I looked into going. Unfortunately the cheapest ticket I could find was $80, so if me and a couple buddies wanted to go it would be about $240.00 plus parking and concessions. Too rich for my blood."
Meanwhile, the start of an unpredictable corporate first quarter left many companies unwilling or unable to buy their usual corporate allotment. Dan wrote: "One guy whose firm has seats in my section told me they weren't getting playoff tickets because they're letting people go. How could they possibly buy tickets when employees are getting laid off?"
2. The invoice procedure
There was significant confusion about the terms and timing of pre-purchasing playoff tickets. I can't tell you how many people said they were confused or otherwise turned off by the invoice and its instructions. I looked at a copy and it seemed relatively straightforward and pretty standard for the NFL. But it's worth noting if so many people were bothered by it.
The one area that might have been difficult to understand, or at least accept, was a pre-payment requirement (another NFL standard). According to the invoice, customer were asked to pre-pay for tickets at the wild-card price. If the Vikings received a first-round bye, ticket-buyers would receive a second charge for the difference between wild-card and (the higher) division-round prices.
Finally, if the Vikings missed the playoffs, the price of the tickets would be applied toward 2009 season tickets unless you submitted a written request for a refund. The refund would not be processed until after January 26, or about a month after the Vikings would have been eliminated from playoff contention. Nick wrote: "I find the written request similar to rebates in that you make the customer jump through hoops to receive what should be fairly easy to provide upfront, without the hassle. It might be negligible, but I would be willing to venture the written requirement turned away some season ticket holders preparing for the holidays."
3. Team tease
Like it or not, there were some fans who were skeptical of the team's playoff aptitude even after a 10-6 season. TRD said he waited until the Vikings clinched a berth before buying tickets but admitted: "In all honesty, fans aren't that psyched about [coach Brad Childress] or [Tarvaris Jackson], [and are] not enthused about the prospects of the Philly match-up..."
4. The Metrodome
Finally, some fans said they prefer to watch the game on television rather than at the outdated Metrodome. (I find that sentiment ironic, considering that sentiment in Minnesota is so opposed to building a publicly-financed stadium. But that's for another day.) Long lines, crowded concourses and deep rows of seats in many sections were the most common specifics. Danny wrote: "I was at last Sunday's game against the Giants, and I heard countless people talking about what a dump the Metrodome is, and as a former season ticket holder and a Twins fan, that is exactly what the Dome is. People were saying they would rather watch the game from the comfort of their own home instead of being in such a pitiful, old stadium."