Saturday, June 1, 2013
Mall of America grows where "the Met" once was
Why is it that progress has to be defined as growth? Is there going to be pushback against this someday? The Pope hints maybe it's time, suggesting we have a "tyranny of money." The Catholic Church has lots of problems but they're sure right on this one.
Metropolitan Stadium stood where now we have the Mall of America. The Met is a jewel in Minnesota history. It definitely was a reflection of commercialism. The movers and shakers of big-time sports harnessed it. That commercialism seemed to be contradicted by the pervading atmosphere there. It was peaceful and pastoral. The name "Metropolitan" hardly seemed appropriate. Perhaps the name was coined to convince the rest of the world we were really developed here. We weren't hayseeds.
The parking area around Met Stadium guaranteed it would be an island away from potential intrusion or distractions. You had to try to remember where your car was. Signs were positioned in various places as an aid. The first Twins game we attended, I remember we parked next to the "Cleveland" sign which had a picture of that grinning Indian, symbol of the franchise.
For some reason, "Cleveland Indians" hasn't become the hot-button issue that "Washington Redskins" has. I believe Cleveland has some old story it can trot out to justify the name. Currently there is a move afoot to stomp out the Redskins. Furthering this effort is the availability of a perfect replacement name: "Red Tails." The name is similar but departs from the dated American Indian imagery.
Native Americans don't appreciate being mascots. "Red Tails" is a reference to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. "Red Tails" is the name of a movie about them too. Perfect.
Vikes at the Met: a riveting chapter
The Minnesota Vikings had an era at the Met that could never be duplicated. Us boomers watched transfixed. We really had no clue about the damaging nature of the game for its participants. We cheered Wally Hilgenberg, a player who would eventually die of a degenerative brain condition. His estate is part of the current legal action undertaken against the league.
The Hilgenberg story isn't isolated. Linebacker Fred McNeill and lineman Brent Boyd have had similar issues, and I'm sure the list is longer than this, or will surely get longer.
Boomers could hardly get enough of the Minnesota Vikings. The kind of loyalty we had then was highly emotional. I would suggest that even though the interest remains high today, it's not as emotional. We can live with the setbacks much easier. We don't take it personally. We don't see a loss as a blemish on the state (or our self-esteem). A sports fan can consume so many hours of sports, it's much easier to take or absorb an emotional setback. You don't have to just sit and fester. Another game is coming up in high definition.
High definition? Heck, in my youth we just "turned on the TV" and used a knob for the limited amount of channel changing.
Franchise symbol: Fran Tarkenton
All boomers here feel nostalgia hearing the name of Fran Tarkenton. His career in purple spanned all my years of getting an education, grades 'K' through college. He wasn't in purple the whole time, as there was a stretch when he played for the New York Giants. This was due to the lack of rapport between him and the first Vikings coach, Norm Van Brocklin.
Tarkenton made a triumphant return and led the Vikings to three Super Bowls. We were crushed at the loss in all three. There was a fourth Super Bowl and that was our first, when the guy calling the signals was Joe Kapp. I'll never forget the Sports Illustrated cover that described Kapp as "man of machismo." I suppose "macho" is short for "machismo."
Kapp was not the most technically proficient quarterback. He was known to throw a wobbly ball. In terms of personality he was a character. The Vikings were supposed to beat the Chiefs in that Super Bowl. The script got torn up just as it did for when the Jets played the Colts. The AFL flexed its muscles and the rest is history. Joe Namath beat the Colts and Len Dawson beat the Vikings and Kapp. The Vikes' loss put a sour note at the end of a season that otherwise would be enshrined in a most reverent way in boomers' memories.
The other three Super Bowls seemed sickening as well, especially the one against the Raiders (and John Madden). Us boomers of the Upper Midwest might have become a little defeatist. It's so sad of course because it's only an entertainment product. And, if only we had known the price being paid, health-wise, for so many of the players. We do now.
The question is whether we can begin to detach ourselves from the game. I'm sure many people are mulling this over. This coming fall will be critical, to see if there really is a substantial dropoff in numbers for junior high football. If not, it will mean America's parents have decided it's OK to subject their sons to substantial health risk so we can continue enjoying this sport. I'm prepared to accept that this is what will happen.
When the purple mystique began
The Minnesota Vikings debuted on a September afternoon in 1961, at the same time Roger Maris was chasing down Babe Ruth's home run record in baseball. We hosted the Chicago Bears. The weather was the best you could ask for on that day.
The Vikings gave a prelude of things to come, downing the visiting Bears 37-13. Tarkenton was a mere 21 years old. He was on the bench at game's start. He relieved George Shaw before the first quarter ended. The second quarter saw "the Georgia Peach" throw a touchdown pass to Bob Schnelker. Tarkenton would have four touchdown passes on the day. The historic game was played in clear, 75-degree weather.
Prior to this day, the U of M Gophers were Minnesota's big-time football team. A transition would set in pretty fast. The boomers became enthralled with the purple Vikings. The Gophers have fought to try to close the gap since, mostly unsuccessfully.
The new Vikings stadium, which will have opulence to the maximum, is clearly a testament to that team's spell over us. Ditto the process by which the new stadium was approved, in which somehow we felt we just had to do what the Vikings wanted - no delay or pondering allowed. Governor Mark Dayton seemed sadly subservient.
Through the years there would be many Vikes games played at the Met under less than pleasant weather. The harsh stuff became part of our identity. An example was on December 4, 1966. A total of 37,117 tickets were sold but only 20,206 got used. Snow began cascading from the sky at around 6:30 a.m. It was coming down thickly at game-time. The playing surface was hard to define.
The Vikings' assignment was to play the Atlanta Falcons, then a new team. The schism between Tarkenton and Van Brocklin was well underway. So much so, Tarkenton wasn't even the starter. Instead we had Bob Berry - remember him? Berry had an excuse for a lackluster performance. He bemoaned the footing on the Met Stadium field. "I couldn't set up in the snow," he was quoted saying.
Thus we're supposed to weigh the weather in considering Berry's 12 completed passes in 33 attempts and a whopping five interceptions. Tarkenton was just trying to keep warm on the sidelines. He'd be in New York for the next season. Oh, the Vikings lost to the Falcons 20-13.
I never attended a Vikings game at Metropolitan Stadium. I attended quite a few Twins games and remember going to the concession stand to get a "dollar size" beer. That was large! I repeat, that was large! We didn't think much if at all about having 2-4 beers and then driving home. Such innocent times, eh?
The Met represented a significant slice of Minnesota history. There was an experience there that obviously couldn't be reproduced at the Metrodome. Nor will it be reproduced at the Vikings stadium provided enough Minnesotans keep smoking enough to pay for it.
Met Stadium was a wondrous place. Perhaps it didn't need to be replaced at all.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org