By Dave Campbell
AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Chad Greenway looked at the camera on the sideline, rolled up his jersey sleeve and flexed his bicep muscle as if he were entered in a bodybuilding competition.
The giant image of Greenway’s tough-guy pose, projected on the high-definition video board, engulfed the glass front of Minnesota’s gleaming new stadium.
Even for experienced NFL players accustomed to the biggest and brightest amenities, the first time on the field was quite the sight. Especially the huge screen that will be staring straight at them whenever they’re facing west.
“You can see people’s zits and stuff like that. It’s crazy,” wide receiver Charles Johnson said. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re looking right when you come out here.”
The Vikings took practice Friday to U.S. Bank Stadium, where they’ll debut Sunday for a preseason game against San Diego.
The goal of coach Mike Zimmer was to begin to condition the players, several of whom set foot in the $1.1 billion venue for the first time, to the so-far unfamiliar surroundings.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph hauled in a pass in the end zone during warmups and celebrated what was technically the first touchdown reception there as if he’d just caught a ball on the last play of the NFC championship game.
During breaks, players slowly bobbed their heads to glance up at the live feed of the workout displayed on the huge video boards. Zimmer ordered the offense to face that direction in full-team drills to get a gauge for the effect it’ll have on the in-game vision.
“I think it’s great for the fans, but … distractions are what you let them be, if you’re focused on what you have to do,” Zimmer said, adding: “These last two years have gone quick. Everything’s been a whirlwind. They’ve done an unbelievable job of getting this place ready. It’s a great stadium. Great atmosphere. A lot of purple.”
The five oversized pivoting glass doors on the west side were opened for practice, letting a light breeze in that could be felt on the artificial turf field.
The Vikings will have to decide before game time whether to go open or closed, but with the glass framing the doors and the translucent, space-age roof covering the south half of the ship-shaped, asymmetrical behemoth of a building there’ll be enough natural light to make the environment almost feel like it’s outside.
Shadows during afternoon games throughout the season could be a variable to deal with, and there’s no telling how the potential wind through the doors would affect kicks and passes during games when they’re open.
The biggest unknown, of course, is just how loud the enclosed stadium will be. Designers, engineers and officials have predicted plenty of noise, based on the acoustically reflective properties of the thin see-through roof material that’s called ETFE.
“That’s what I’m hoping for the most. I hope our crowd is extremely loud every time,” Zimmer said. “That part is a great home-field advantage, and the more that we can disrupt the opponents’ offense it’ll be better for our football team.”
When the Chargers and Vikings take the field, the only true goal for the teams will be to avoid injury. As far as meaningless exhibitions go, though, this one ought to be loud. There’s only one first game, after all.
“I’m sure it’s going to be rocking in here on Sunday,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be exciting. I think it’s going to be really cool to get that feel for how it’s going to be during the season.”
FIXING THE BUGS
The Minnesota Vikings’ new $1.1 billion stadium has been test-driven by soccer players, a country music superstar and an iconic heavy metal band. But the biggest test for U.S. Bank Stadium comes Sunday when the football team and its rabid fans finally arrive.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest bugs operators have faced so far, and what’s been done to fix them as the Vikings prepare to host San Diego for a preseason game.
LONG LINES AND THICK CROWDS
Long lines have been the biggest complaint so far. Lines to get in, lines for food and drink, and lines to the women’s bathrooms. Not to mention the crowded concourses packed with fans who were more interested in seeing the sights of the new stadium than finding their seats. Restroom complaints peaked with the heavily female audience for Luke Bryan’s country show Aug. 19; fewer were heard the next night from the heavily male audience for Metallica. The crowds at Vikings games skew male, but not as disproportionately as those two concert crowds, which should help. The packed concourses should be less of an issue after a few games when Vikings season-ticket holders figure out how to find their seats and the novelty of the new venue wears off. Yes, most fans probably will try to enter for the first time through the dramatic pivoting glass doors on the stadium’s west side facing downtown, but they’ll eventually learn which gates are closest to their seats.
The platforms at nearby light-rail stations remained packed shoulder-to-shoulder long after the soccer match Aug. 3 that served as the initial stress test for the new stadium. It took Metro Transit 90 minutes to send everyone on their way. However, Metro Transit says departing fans had a much easier time catching their buses and trains after the Luke Bryan concert. Metro Transit will be using every available train for Vikings games. Metro Transit also has a dedicated U.S. Stadium page, and it’s encouraging fans to buy all-day passes in advance for the same price as a roundtrip, eliminating the need to stand in line for a ticket home.
NOT FREE PARKING
Parking wasn’t cheap when the old Metrodome was still standing, and it hasn’t gotten any cheaper. Street parking used to cost $15 around the Metrodome. It now costs $25, even several blocks away. A parking spot in the closest lot costs $52, while ramps a few blocks away cost in the $22-$39 range. The Vikings are encouraging fans to buy parking passes in advance, and the team’s new app will give them turn-by-turn driving directions from their homes to their lots. Officials have broken up the area surrounding the stadium into four parking zones, for fans coming from the south, west, north and east respectively, to try to ease the confusion and congestion.
Concert-goers panned the acoustics of the new stadium, but it was built for football, not music. And the experience of the inaugural soccer match suggests that the echoes that turned the sound to sludge for Luke Bryan and Metallica could be just the thing for the Vikings. The echoing sound will amp up the roar of the crowd, boosting the energy for the fans and the home-field advantage for the Vikings. The Vikings have predicted that U.S. Bank Stadium will be louder than the legendarily noisy Metrodome. But it’ll be up to the fans to make that prediction come true.