Minnesota Vikings: A frostbite foundation

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chuck Foreman considers it "divine intervention" that the Minnesota Vikings are playing outdoors tonight in bone-chilling temperatures on the 29th anniversary of the final game at Met Stadium.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chuck Foreman considers it "divine intervention" that the Minnesota Vikings are playing outdoors tonight in bone-chilling temperatures on the 29th anniversary of the final game at Met Stadium.

Scott Studwell wonders if it's an "omen." Matt Blair simply finds it "meant to be" that the Vikings ended up outside on a day when the team will celebrate its 50th season by honoring its 50 greatest players.

Try explaining that one, even in this haywire season.

"Whether the stars were aligned for the right reasons or wrong reasons, it's happened," Studwell said. "To celebrate 50 years by playing outdoors, it's pretty nostalgic."

The Vikings' foundation is built on frostbite football, their first 21 years spent outdoors at Met Stadium. Then came nearly three decades under a Teflon sky and game-day temperatures of 70 degrees.


But if only for one night -- exactly 29 years to the day since the last game at the Met -- the Vikings will break out their thermal wear, hand warmers and portable heaters for an outdoors game against the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

"Everybody is talking about, 'Well, it's going to be cold,'" Foreman said. "Hey listen, that's what football is meant to be played in. Truthfully, I prefer the outside and the elements. For a cold-weather team, that's what you want."

A few gripes

Not everyone is crazy about the idea. Players from both teams voiced concerns about the condition of the field as university officials worked to thaw the surface at the stadium. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe tweeted that the field is "unplayable" and compared it to concrete after Sunday's walkthrough.

The Vikings are returning to their roots thanks to a snowstorm that caused the Metrodome roof to collapse, forcing them to become football nomads. The Vikings began December with a three-game homestand and they will conclude that stretch by playing in their third different stadium.

"Give me a million different scenarios and I never would have thought we would have three home games in three different locations," linebacker Ben Leber said.

"In the craziest of all crazy seasons, it's just one chapter after another," kicker Ryan Longwell said.

This chapter probably strikes a cord with long-time followers of the team, particularly those raised on cold-weather games. As the Vikings continue to push for a new stadium, their desired blueprint calls for a multi-purpose facility that includes a roof and controlled environment. While that model certainly has strong support and logic behind it, the events of the past week have caused some to wax nostalgic about the good old days of outdoors football.


"Playing football on the inside I guess is the norm of today, but this is the Minnesota Vikings," said Foreman, the star running back who played from 1973-79. "We're supposed to be from the frozen north and we're supposed to be able to survive it. It gives us an advantage over any team that comes in, especially the warm weather teams."

Rugged residents

Former players love to share stories about their experiences playing in the cold and how it affected other teams. They proudly note that they practiced outside in the winter and survived without modern conveniences like heated benches on the sideline.

"When you're playing outdoors, it's just one of the natural ways of playing football," said Blair, a former linebacker whose career spanned both stadiums. "You get all the conditions that come with being outdoors and of course being in Minnesota, it's cold and freezing and uncomfortable. In your mind, it will make you think about it no question about it. That's where I think we had an advantage. Other teams would think about it too much."

Studwell played in the final game at Met Stadium in 1981 and remembers vividly how cold he felt that day. Studwell loved playing in the elements and the psychological advantage he felt it gave the Vikings.

"You would see teams come in here and they would have heat on their sidelines and three-quarters of their team was huddled around the heaters," he said. "They weren't paying attention to what was going on on the field. They were more focused on staying warm."

Frazier knows frigid

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spent six seasons with the Bears as a player and recalled playing a game in Chicago at minus-61 degrees with wind chill. Frazier pointed to championship banners hanging in the Vikings practice facility when asked to describe the advantage cold-weather teams enjoy.


"That's a testament to home-field advantage," he said. "When (the Bears) played the Rams in that (1985) championship game, I can remember Jackie Slater coming up to me before the game and saying, 'Man, you guys need to get a dome over this place.' Immediately I knew in pregame, he ain't thinking about winning no football game, he's thinking about the cold. It was a cold, cold day in Chicago."

The same is expected tonight at TCF Bank Stadium. Temperatures could dip into single digits with possible snow. The conditions and inability to feel fingers and toes will be a new experience for some Vikings players.

Rookie running back Toby Gerhart was born and raised in Southern California and played college football at Stanford.

"I've never played a cold-weather game," he said. "We played at Washington one time and it was 38."

Rookie quarterback Joe Webb, who played at Alabama-Birmingham, said he's never played in a game colder than 40 degrees. Webb will make his first career start tonight and is looking for his own divine intervention.

"If God wants to change the weather on me, then that would be fine too," he said.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield is a 12-year veteran who spent half of his career in Buffalo so he knows what to expect. Doesn't mean he likes it though.

"No, you don't enjoy it," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I came here, because we have a dome. But it's all good."


No stranger to Goldie

Tonight actually marks the third game the Vikings have played on the Gophers campus. They played the Green Bay Packers at Memorial Stadium in the regular season in 1969 and held a preseason game against New England at Memorial in '71.

A number of Vikings who played in those games will be on hand today as the team celebrates its 50th season. The team will honor its 50 greatest players on the field at halftime.

"That's the old school bunch that this league and this organization were built around," Studwell said. "They were the foundation of this franchise and the stewards of this franchise for so many years. I was so fortunate as a young player to be around those guys just to have all that history rub off on you. Those guys were icons and not only in Minnesota but throughout the league."

Blair finds it "fitting" that the festivities will take place outside in frigid temperatures. He planned to fly back from his vacation in Hawaii to take in the scene. Even though Mother Nature set off an undesirable chain of events that forced the Vikings to play outdoors again, Studwell said people might as well enjoy it now.

"This young fan base has grown up indoors and have never really experienced at outdoor game like this," Studwell said. "It's going to be cold. It's just a fact. But it's something people will remember for a long time."

Bears (9-4) at

Vikings (5-8)


When: 7:40 tonight.

TV/radio: ESPN (GF Channel 25); The Fan (1440 AM).

The line: Bears by 8.

Synopsis: The NFL goes outside in Minneapolis for the first time in 29 years to the day because of the Metrodome damage and it's supposed to be snowing, windy and about 25 degrees. Vikes P Chris Kluwe complained after practice Sunday that the frozen, hard University of Minnesota field is "unplayable" and could lead to concussions. But coach Leslie Frazier says it will be safe. Either way, not a good spot for Vikes QB Joe Webb's first NFL start.

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