Monday, December 6, 2010

Buffalo Bills 14 at Minnesota Vikings 38 - December 5, 2010

Day 3 of the Minnesota Craptacular Weekend featured an early game between the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. This was the game that really started me thinking about the whole trip back in July. I'd never seen the Bills live and never seen Brett Favre either. When I first considered the matchup, I figured that Buffalo would be easy pickings for the Vikes, but the season has not been kind to Minnesota and I actually entered the game with some hope for a Buffalo upset. Bah.

Mall of America Field

Located on the east edge of downtown, Mall of America Field is really just the Metrodome with a fancy name for football games. I first saw a game here in 1990 when the Twins hosted the Blue Jays and then again in 2001 on my MLB trip. But I'd never seen the Vikings, and given that the lease here expires after 2011, now was as good a time as any.

The Metrodome was opened in 1982 and even in those days it was pretty spartan. Now it's really a white elephant, with almost no amenities whatsoever.

I walked to the stadium as it is fairly close to the skyway, but you can also take the Light Rail which stops just outside. As you approach, you will hear the sounds from the Party on the Plaza, a collection of booths with food and games and even a band playing despite the -10 temperature. It would be worth exploring if it wasn't ridiculously cold, but I wanted to get inside as quickly as possible.

Regularly-priced tickets are expensive here, but there were plenty of extras for this game. A few scalpers were congregated just across the street from the dome, and I found an upper level ticket for half price. After scurrying inside through the revolving doors, I took a walk around the lower concourse. There are very few things to note here, mostly just a number of wall displays that honour the great Vikings of the past and a few historical blurbs for each decade (the Vikings are celebrating their 50th season). The concourse is very narrow and once fans start to fill up the stadium, it can be arduous just walking around. In particular, getting out takes a long time if you are not near one of the exits.

There is no problem entering any section and going down to field level to watch the players warm up. That's Buffalo's kicker Rian Lindell practicing field goals, a complete waste of time as it turned out.

There are just two small video boards above each end zone, and some simple dot matrix boards that list out-of-town scores.

One thing to be aware of here is that many of the sections are big - by that I mean rows of 30. So if you are seated in seat 16, you have to traverse 14 people to go to the concession, while if you are in seat 1 or 30, expect to be getting up and down all game.

Close up of the end zone

The Vikings are introduced with a Gjallarhorn (calling horn) which is a unique touch. Before the game, the teams run out of an inflatable boat that you see below, as the Gjallarhorn signals their arrival. Unfortunately, the horn also blares whenever the Vikings score so I did get tired of it pretty quickly.

There was one special seating section that I noticed, the End Zone Party Deck near section 103. Otherwise there is not much more to report here, the Metrodome is certainly on its last legs as a sports venue. If you haven't seen it and want a retro stadium experience, try to see a Vikings game in 2011 as that could be their last year. If you have seen it, makes plans for the new stadium after that, whether here in Minnesota or elsewhere, a question that has no answer right now.

The Game

Unidentified Vikings player

Before the game, Adrian Peterson was considered a game-time decision after spraining his ankle last week. Unfortunately for the Bills, his ankle had recovered and he started.

Buffalo won the toss and deferred, so Minnesota elected to receive. After a couple of short runs by Peterson, the Vikings lined up in pass formation. QB Brett Favre couldn't find an open receiver and scrambled, only to be hit hard by Arthur Moats as he threw. The pass was intercepted by Drayton Florence, but all eyes were on Favre, who lay on the field in obvious pain.

While the Bills started their possession (a quick 3-and-out), Favre disappeared to the locker room. Turned out that he had a sprained shoulder and Tarvaris Jackson would take over. This initially looked promising as Jackson struggled on his first drive and threw an interception that Florence returned for a touchdown on his second to give the Bills a 7-0 lead.

But Jackson (taking the snap above) settled down thereafter and led a strong drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. The referee originally ruled that Rice was out of bounds, but a video review showed that it was a good catch and the game was tied at 7.

After that, Buffalo played hot potato, turning the ball over twice and giving the Vikes great field position. Peterson scored two short touchdowns to make it 21-7 and then Jackson hit Rice with another as the game turned ugly for the Bills. A last second field goal sent us to half at 31-7. Minnesota had 246 yards and 17 first downs in the first half; Buffalo had 41 and 2.

The third quarter was scoreless, and Buffalo continued to stink it up on offense. The picture above shows Fred Jackson catching a pass that gained 6 yards, one of their better plays on the day.

In the fourth I moved down and sat near mid-field. The first play of the fourth quarter was a Ryan Fitzpatrick fumble (two pictures below) and Peterson made them pay, scoring on a beautiful 43-yard run on their first play from scrimmage. It was an electric run and I'm glad I saw it, as the game was well over by this point. With the score 38-7, I left that seat, having seen enough, and spent the last few minutes saying hi to my friend Marcie's parents in their suite.

Fitzpatrick hit above and the ball loose below

The best way to summarize this game is the result of the 13 Bills possessions: punt, punt, fumble; punt, interception, punt; punt, fumble, punt; fumble, fumble, meaningless touchdown, end of game. Yeah, not a lot of fun. But a fitting end to the craptacular weekend.


As I just mentioned, Marcie's parents Don and Nancy were there in a suite and they graciously allowed me to watch the last quarter with them. Viktor the mascot paid a visit and I got a shot of him signing a football.

Thanks to Don and Nancy for their hospitality!

Stadium Solution?

The Vikings distribute a free game program and on the last page was a plea for a "stadium solution" by 2011. The Metrodome is certainly one of the least attractive venues in sports and the Vikings suffer in terms of stadium revenues. But the article asks fans to help by contacting their elected officials and encouraging them to support a stadium solution by 2011, when the Vikings' lease with the Metrodome lease expires. Which means they need public money.

Now I'm a big sports fan but it always bothers me when the public purse is used to help owners and players get richer. The main beneficiaries of these publicly funded stadiums are rarely the public, who pay more for tickets as well as see their taxes go up, all for the pride of saying their town has a team.

Unfortunately, there is always one community that is willing to beggar its neighbour by offering tax relief or public money to lure a sports franchise. It will probably happen here again as Los Angeles is one area without an NFL team, so watch for the battle of these two communities over the next year or two.

Next Up

I fly to Cleveland in a few hours, where I will rent a car and drive to Columbus to see the Dallas Stars take on the Blue Jackets. That's the first of 7 games in 7 days in 7 cities as I pull a LeBron James Special, taking the car one-way to Miami, finishing off with the Hornets and Heat next Monday. It's going to be fun getting out of the cold, if only for a few days, so follow along.



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