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As 2013 fades gently...make that frigidly into 2014, we are almost smothered by the sheer weight of stories and videos of media types telling us what the most important stories were during the past 12 months. It’s the same in sports, where everybody has an opinion of what the top sports stories of the year were.
This particular year, we had two of those conglomerate stories intertwine. Along with the biggest sports stories of 2013, there were all sorts of reminiscences by different sports columnists about the biggest games and events in the Metrodome’s 32-year history.
The Metrodome, located in downtown Minneapolis, ended its life when the Vikings finished their mostly miserable 2013 season with a surprising 14-13 victory over Detroit’s self-destructing Lions in a very entertaining December 29 game. It was entertaining, if meaningless, because the Lions had the division secured with seven games remaining, but lost six of those seven to pull despair out of the jaws of playoff success. And, of course, the Vikings had been out of contention since about Week 4 of a season that shall remain known for its quarterback roulette.
It is interesting, and a little amusing, to read all the insulting, denigrating comments about what a dump the Metrodome has been -- mostly written by well-meaning folks who spent their years in the press box, whether at Met Stadium or the Metrodome, and had every possible creature comfort at their disposal. They have long ago lost the perspective of appreciative fans, who literally came in out of the cold when the Vikings, Twins, Gopher football and assorted state high school soccer and football teams, and assorted small college baseball teams found relief from the harsh weather to play indoors.
I had the chance to cover a number of major events in the Dome, including the deciding game the Twins Game 7 World Series triumph over St. Louis. I was there for quite a few other Twins games through the years, including the 1984 game when Dave Kingman, a huge left-handed slugger, hit a skyrocketing pop fly that went up and up and up toward the teflon ceiling -- and then simply didn’t come down. The ball had, incredibly enough, gone into one of the small vent holes in one of the
roof panels and disappeared. Kingman was awarded a double on the play, which is a pretty good reward for hitting a pop up, no matter how high.
I was also at the Dome when the command was given to take a knee to let the final seconds to run out the clock in the 1998 NFC championship game when the Vikings decided they were better off taking the Atlanta Falcons into overtime than in taking a shot at winning the game at the end of regulation. Atlanta promptly kicked the overtime field goal for for the conference title.
There were some problems with the Metrodome. The first one was tactical. When they decided to go with the inflatable teflon roof, it actually worked out amazingly well, even though it deflated from too much snow a time or two. But the decision to make the roof an off-white color was ridiculous, because what else in the sports world is an off-white color? If you guessed a baseball, you’d be right on. So every fly ball became an adventure for every outfielder, because as soon as the ball got higher than the seats, it became a vision test for every fielder.
It also meant that every pop fly seemed to disappear like Dave Kingman’s unique hit.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune did an impressive section pointing out all the biggest sports events held at the Dome through its lifespan. The reminiscing included numerous Twins happenings and Vikings events, and the Super Bowl and the two World Series, as well as state tournament games, basketball games, soccer games, and monster truck shows.
One thing that is not in there was a series of events I fought to cover and finally succeeded in. I had been covering motorsports along with hockey for most of three decades, and quite late in that time, I found that motocross racing, outdoors over bounding hills and jumps and obstacles, was very exciting, both for amateur and pro racers. During a couple of winters, I spotted some Stadium Supercross races on television. These were amazing events, with twisting, turning, hilly courses sculpted into off-road race courses though piles of dirt brought in.
In April of 1994, the Metrodome was selected as a site for one of the official season of Stadium Supercrosses. A young man named Jeremy McGrath had become a cult hero on television, and I suggested that this race would be worth covering on a Saturday night at the Metrodome, which was two blocks away from the Tribune offices. The suggestion was rejected. At that time, there was probably nobody else on our staff who had ever attended a motorsports event other than me. I reasoned that because of the television coverage, the event could draw a great crowd, maybe even 10,000 or 20,000 fans.
The sports editor laughed out loud. Outrageous, he said. So I went on my own, without any possibility of writing a story on it, and I was astounded to find the Metrodome was full -- 47,000 fans filled the place. The following Monday I mentioned that the crowd was, indeed, pretty good, as in the best crowd of that particular calendar year for any sports event!
The next year, they let me cover it, and I shot a few photos of Jeremy McGrath flying over two or three jumps at a time, soaring above hard-working riders below, and doing gymnastic tricks on his motorcycle all the way. That’s become quite standard over the years, but back then, 20 years ago, McGrath was in a class of one who did such tricks.
I wrote about the Supercross for the next few years, as it continued to sell out with advance tickets annually. In years when the Twins were mediocre and the Vikings were as well, the Supercross might have again been the largest crowd in the Dome several more times. My point is that it deserves a place on any list of the major events held in the Metrodome, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reminisce or recall any event, if you didn’t attend it.
Amid all the colorful recollections of all the games and concerts and extravaganzas held in the Metrodome, there is a star-crossed connection with the never-ending lists of the biggest sports stories of 2013. In my mind, the biggest single sports story in Minnesota in 2013 is...the closing of the Metrodome.