A front-end loader hauls a load of snow to a waiting truck as workers remove snow from the field of TCF Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota football team, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010, in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The University of Minnesota put out a call Wednesday for fans and volunteers willing to shovel snow at TCF Bank Stadium to get it ready to host the Vikings and Bears next week in place of the snow-damaged Metrodome.
The Vikings decided to hold Monday night's NFC North game at the Gophers' outdoor stadium after inspectors said there wasn't enough time to repair the dome's tattered and deflated roof. It fell early Sunday under the weight of about 17 inches of freshly fallen snow, forcing the Vikings to play the Giants at Ford Field in Detroit this past Monday.
The Vikings said NFL officials toured the stadium Wednesday to make sure it was safe for fans and meets other league requirements. The team said the final decision on the venue rested with the league, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press that "we support the plan to play the game at the University of Minnesota stadium and are assisting the Vikings and the university on preparations."
The stadium has its own snow issues — namely, the tons of it in drifts and piles inside the roofless building. School officials promised 16-hour days of plowing and shoveling to have it ready even as Wednesday's forecast called for the possibility of a few more inches of snow.
"The snow removal is somewhat of a moving target given the forecast," school spokesman Daniel Wolter said.
School officials, the Vikings and the NFL were all negotiating a host of other logistical questions, from whether beer would be available at the normally dry stadium (undecided) to how a 50,000-seat stadium could accommodate 54,000 Vikings season-ticket holders (unclear).
The team said it was "working to accommodate fans' questions" but acknowledged it would take time to get the answers in such a "fluid situation."
Wolter said discussions were under way about the possibility of setting up more seats for the game — the Metrodome has a football seating capacity of about 63,000 — and of rigging up some type of heating system to keep fans warm on a night when temperatures are expected to be in the single digits.
The outdoor game will be a test for Minnesotans no longer accustomed to braving the frigid December air to watch pro football. The last outdoor Vikings game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, which the Metrodome replaced, was held on Dec. 20, 1981 — 29 years to the day before this Monday's Vikings-Bears matchup. The Vikings lost that game to the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 10-6.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs, predicted Monday's game would go better for the team.
"We're confident that we're going to have a great experience," Bagley told the AP. "It's our celebration of our 50th season, and we're going to end it the way we began. We beat the Bears in our first game, and we're going to beat them again this year."
Engineers from Birdair Inc., the Amherst, N.Y.-based manufacturer of the Metrodome's roof, discovered damage Tuesday that was worse than initially expected. The company gave the dome's owners, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, two options to repair the damage: Mending the torn panels, a short-term solution that would leave the panels still needing to be replaced, or replacing the panels with new material, a more long-term solution that would also be more time-consuming.
Commission spokesman Pat Milan said cold temperatures were slowing repairs and that it could be three to seven days before a timeline emerges for using the Metrodome again. The question is largely moot for the Vikings, since the Bears game is the home finale and Minnesota won't make the playoffs.
Wolter said it was not clear ow much it will cost to get TCF Bank Stadium ready for the game and then to host it. He said the Vikings vowed to cover the entire tab, and that the school has a budget of $250,000 for each Gophers game.