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Temps Nippy but No “Cold Omaha”

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February 4, 2018

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For those old enough to remember, there were references in this town in the 1970s about becoming a “cold Omaha” without major league sports. Back then the Twins and Vikings were upset about their revenues at Met Stadium. They were interested in new homes—either in Minnesota or elsewhere.

The powerful Minnesota politician Hubert Humphrey warned that without these teams Minneapolis could become a “cold Omaha.”

Today, as the world watches Super Bowl LII from Minneapolis, we know we have distinguished ourselves from the largest city in Nebraska. Omaha remains without major league teams, but not us. The Twin Cities are one of only nine American markets with franchises in MLB, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS. This area has also hosted the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, WNBA Finals, all-star games, the NCAA Final Four, top golf tournaments and Super Bowls.

Boston, Buffalo, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the list goes on of northern cities that have never hosted all the events we can claim. And today’s Super Bowl will be the second in Minneapolis, following the 1992 game that was a big deal, but nothing like this week-long entertainment extravaganza leading up to America’s premier sporting event when more than 100 million people are expected to watch on TV.

What was that line in the Mary Tyler Moore TV song that showed Mary on the Nicollet Mall ?

“Looks like we made it after all!”

U.S. Bank Stadium

Mr. Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis in the late 1940s and two decades later vice president of the United States, has been dead for many years but he can rest easy about the sports landscape in his adopted home town that replaced the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome with a palace known as U.S. Bank Stadium and the site of today’s game between the Eagles and Patriots.

In anticipation of angry texts and email threats from Nebraskans, let me state (I am willing to take a lie detector test) that I have no problem or criticism with the fine city of Omaha. There must be a reason the admirable values of their citizens are depicted in American movies (see “Up in the Air” and “About Schmidt”). The town is home to Warren Buffet, and I can’t think of a celebrity neighbor I would rather have.

Omaha is also located in Big Red country. As a college football fanatic I am not so sure I wouldn’t trade the last 60 years of Minnesota pro sports for Cornhuskers football and their five national championships. (I will decline a lie detector test this time.)

Back in the 1950s Minneapolis-St. Paul was without professional baseball and football. Civic leaders wanted this area to be known as more than “flyover country.” Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders led the drive to put us on the same map as similar size cities like Kansas City and Milwaukee who had acquired big league baseball franchises from other towns in the 1950s.

With the bonding authority of the city of Minneapolis, it was possible to build Metropolitan Stadium. The facility opened in 1956 with the intent of attracting major league baseball and pro football. Rumors circulated that baseball’s Indians, Giants or White Sox might relocate here. Chicago’s football Cardinals looked like a possibility for a move to the new stadium in Bloomington.

But it was the Washington Senators in 1960 who decided to move here and provide Minnesota with a major league baseball team. In 1959 Minneapolis had been rumored for a franchise in the proposed Continental League but that entity never materialized. About the same time the American Football League was organizing and Minneapolis was considered a likely member, but the NFL decided to expand and the Vikings began play in 1961.

This town secured big league status in the 1960s when not only the Twins and Vikings arrived, but the expansion North Stars joined the NHL. However, that status was threatened in the 1970s when the Vikings and Twins got restless. There were rumors both franchises could be headed to other cities and warmer climates.

Metropolitan Stadium was a baseball-first facility with sightlines and seating capacity favoring the Twins. The Vikings needed more than 47,000 seats, and management wanted new revenue sources such as private suites. The Twins anticipated the lucrative novelty of not only the honeymoon period in a new facility, but one with a roof guaranteeing games couldn’t be rained (and snowed) out.

Adding to the drama was Minneapolis power brokers regretted locating the Minnesota home of professional baseball and football on the prairie in Bloomington. The “Big Cigars” envisioned a downtown dome bringing hospitality dollars to the central city and spurring economic development.

The Metrodome opened in 1982 as the home of not only the Twins and Vikings, but also Golden Gophers football. Not only were baseball and football saved for future generations, but the 65,000 seat facility attracted the Final Four, concerts, truck pulls and a long list of other activities including public rollerblading.

This town’s worries about remaining big league surfaced again in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Twins and Vikings became restless. The Metrodome was built on the cheap and had many flaws including its infamous crowded concourses. With more modern stadiums being built around the country, the blueprint was in place to upgrade the fan experience in both baseball and football with separate facilities for the Vikings and Twins, and generate more revenues for the franchises.

It was no easy task but the Twins, with help from Hennepin County, and the Vikings with backing from the state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis, got their own homes with the building of Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium. Target Field, open since in 2010, has regularly been included on lists ranking the top 10 baseball stadiums. U.S. Bank Stadium is mentioned in the first sentence or two about the best enclosed facilities in North America.

The pre-game and in-game TV audiences for today’s Super Bowl will likely hear about many things Minnesotan. This will be the coldest day ever for a Super Bowl and viewers in warmer places (that’s most towns) will chuckle. Viewers will also wince when they hear mention of below zero wind chills and yesterday’s snow fall in the “Bold North.” Those weather reports could cue cameras to show a frozen backyard pond here in the State of Hockey and other activities to document how locals embrace winter.

There will be references to how the Vikings almost made it to Super Bowl LII before losing to the Eagles in the NFC title game. That could make Vikings fans cringe as will the mention of the franchise’s four Super Bowl appearances—all loses. But when the talking heads get done with the stuff that is mundane to us, there will be references to U.S. Bank stadium and the civic pride this town can feel for having that building and hosting this Super Bowl.

The new home of the Vikings is an extraordinary structure of glass and steel that’s been drawing regional and national attention for more than 18 months. When the $1.1 billion facility opened in the summer of 2016 the fact list included the following: More than $60 million spent on technology, seven stadium levels with 430 concession points of sale, 37 escalators, 11 elevators, 979 restrooms, 350 pieces of commissioned art and 250 photographs.

But to many fans the signature features are the 60 percent clear roof bringing natural light into the stadium and the five giant pivoting doors that on warm days are opened. Those features provide an outdoor feel to the stadium experience and have muted second-guessing about how the facility should have a retractable roof.

Since the late 1980s Minneapolis and St. Paul have seen an arena and stadium building boom that no other area in the country probably can claim. Target Center, Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field, CHS Field, U.S. Bank Stadium and the soon to be opened MLS stadium have become home to the Timberwolves/Lynx, Wild, Gophers, Twins, Saints, Vikings and United. At the cost of over $2 billion in public and private funding, we’ve heeded the warning of becoming a “cold Omaha.”

Those who don’t like the greed and other misbehavior often associated with professional sports can shake their collective heads at what we’ve done. But no one can deny that this town and state do sit front and center on the North American stage today.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Alvin Ray 'Gopher' Hawes
    February 4, 2018 at 11:08 am

    David, Thanks for an great article spotlighting our state, city and area. Sports entertainment, whether we agree with it or not, speaks to the 'quality of life' in a area! It also provides lots of jobs for people too.

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