GREEN BAY—Welcome back to outdoor football in Minnesota.
The Metrodome is no more, and while Mike McCarthy praised its "great environment" and Aaron Rodgers touched on "good memories" this week, Packers-Vikings clashes held west of the Mississippi River on Sunday and in 2015 will have a nostalgic feel to them.
From 1961-81, the Vikings played their home games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., the type of dual baseball-football venue that was common to the era. It was known for the Purple People Eaters, tailgating and, of course, the upper Midwest cold.
"I thought it was really cool. I thought it was the real NFL," said former Packers Pro Bowl center and current radio analyst Larry McCarren, who faced the Vikings eight times at the "old Met" before the Metrodome was built.
"Growing up, you had pictures of the Vikings sideline and the Alan Pages of the world, and Jim Marshall and Carl Eller. I can always picture a cold day and smoke coming out of their helmet as they're breathing, and then one time I'm playing there as a young player, and there are those guys. They're in this place that I watched as a kid, and I thought, 'This is the real NFL.'"
The layout of the football field within the baseball park was similar to that in Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Vikings played plenty of times as well before the Packers moved all of their home games to Lambeau Field.
"I enjoyed those places you walked out of the dugout," McCarren said. "There's a certain character to them that shiny and new just can't match."
TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus, the Vikings' temporary home until their new downtown indoor stadium is completed in 2016, is still rather shiny and new at just five years old. It received a number of upgrades as part of the deal allowing the Vikings to host games there for two seasons.
It's a cozier facility, holding about 12,000 fewer people than the Metrodome, where it wasn't just the crowd responsible for the noise. In Packers-Vikings lore, that raucous place hosted everything from the strange (T.J. Rubley's fateful audible) to the sublime (Adrian Peterson coming one broken tackle from the NFL single-season rushing record).
For what it's worth, the last outdoor Packers-Vikings game in Minnesota was rather odd. Held at the Met on Nov. 29, 1981, the game saw the two teams combine for nine turnovers, including five interceptions from Minnesota QB Tommy Kramer (an ignominious feat he achieved for the second straight week, as a matter of fact).
Packers QB Lynn Dickey returned from a two-game absence due to a back injury to rally Green Bay from a 14-0 deficit to a 35-23 triumph. A 47-yard TD pass to James Lofton in the fourth quarter capped the big offensive day, one week after the Packers managed just three points in a drubbing at Tampa Bay with David Whitehurst under center.
None of that matters to the current Packers, who are more focused on a Mike Zimmer-coached Vikings team that looks considerably different than the one the Packers blew out, 42-10, back on Oct. 2 at Lambeau.
"They're a first-year program that's building," McCarthy said. "You can see their football team is getting better. The score of our first game doesn't tell the whole story."
Minnesota played with its third-string quarterback, Christian Ponder, rather than rookie starter Teddy Bridgewater, and Ponder's two interceptions built an early deficit. Eddie Lacy ran through the biggest holes he's seen all year on his way to a season-best 105 rushing yards.
Since then, Minnesota's defense has gotten healthier and more aggressive, according to what the Packers have seen on film.
"No two football games are the same," Lacy said.
No place will ever be like the old Met, either, but it's fitting the return of Packers-Vikings in the Minnesota elements comes at this stage of the season. Thirteen of the 21 meetings in Bloomington took place in November or December.
"Cold was part of the deal," McCarren said. "It was even part of the ambience in a place like that. A cold day, playing the Minnesota Vikings, outdoors."
Welcome back, indeed.
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