Metrodome memories

Because of some deadline changes because of the holidays, the sports stories in this edition were written the week before Christmas. Since the timeliness of that kind of turnaround isn’t great, I thought I’d do an end-of-the-year list.

Instead of a rundown of the sports stories of 2013, I decided to go a little different route. With the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome set to meet its demise in the coming weeks, I compiled some lists of the events I was fortunate and not so fortunate to see in person.

The lists are broken down into four categories: The top five events I’m glad I attended, five more I wish had been there for, five I’m glad I wasn’t able to see in person and finally five I wish I had skipped altogether.

Leading off the ‘Glad I was there for’ list at No. 5 was the 1993 college football game between Minnesota and Purdue. Little did we know that we’d see more 100 points scored in a single game that night. It was the second season of the Jim Wacker era and the Gophers’ air attack was in full bloom. Unfortunately, Wacker never developed much of a defense so Purdue also rolled up the offense. In the end, Minnesota kicked a field goal as time expired to win 59-56 in a game that featured 16 touchdowns.

No. 4 came four years ago early in what would be an exciting yet ultimately unfulfilling 2009 Minnesota Vikings season. In week three, the San Francisco 49ers came to Minneapolis and appeared headed to victory late in the fourth quarter. But the Vikings mounted a late touchdown drive that culminated with Brett Favre hitting Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with two seconds left in the game. Minnesota would go on to reach the NFC title game but lose to New Orleans in overtime.

No. 3 brings us back to the Gophers and their 2003 border battle with the Wisconsin Badgers. Success against the hated Badgers has been hard to come by for Minnesota and the 2003 game is the last time the Gophers had possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the traveling trophy the two longtime rivals play for each year. The Gophers were trying to pick up the pieces of a season that started out with great promise but fizzled thanks to a game we’ll cover later. Minnesota sealed the victory on a Rhys Lloyd field goal as time expired. Lloyd didn’t bother to wait for the ball to split the uprights before he led the charge to the Wisconsin sideline to lay claim to the Axe.

We’ll turn to baseball for the final two entries in this category. No. 2 is the one-game playoff (‘Game 163’) following the 2009 Minnesota Twins season. The Detroit Tigers blew a substantial lead in the Central Division and ended up tied with the Twins through 162 games. That led to the one-game playoff on a Tuesday afternoon in early October. After falling behind 3-0, Minnesota rallied to take the lead, let the lead slip away and finally won on a walk-off base hit in the bottom of the 11th inning.

There’s nothing like tense playoff baseball in a packed stadium.

The No. 1 greatest game I ever attended at the Metrodome was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, the night Jack Morris threw 10 shutout innings to help the Twins claim their second world title. By shear good fortune, I happened to score a pair of tickets the day before Game 6, which meant if I was to get to use said ducats, Minnesota needed to find a way to even the series after falling behind three games to two. Kirby Puckett provided the heroics in Game 6 and made my tickets actually worth something. I was a freshman in college that fall but I might as well have been an eight-year-old kid on Christmas morning that day.

Next up are five events that took place at the Metrodome that I wish I would’ve been able to attend. No. 5 is the 2010 roof collapse. Having seen the video footage however many times, I think it would have been interesting to have seen it as it happened, from a safe distance, of course.

No. 4 is WrestleRock. As a kid, there was something captivating about professional wrestling and as a lifelong Minnesotan, my first memories of rasslin’ was the American Wrestling Association. In 1986, the AWA put together an event called WrestleRock that included 16 matches and a concert by Waylon Jennings and staged it on the floor of the dome. At that time, the AWA was starting to fade, regularly losing talent to the WWE, but WrestleRock was big enough to capture the attention of many longtime fans.

The next three events all involved the Twins. No. 3 was the welcome-home celebration at the dome the night the Twins clinched the American League Championship Series in 1987. The players and coaches got off the plane from Detroit and were bussed up to the dome for what was reported to them as a gathering of a few thousand fans. As it turned out, the place was filled to the rafters as Twins fans turned out to salute the team’s first American League title since 1965.

No. 2 is Game 7 of the 1987 World Series. I remember being glued to the television watching as the Twins rallied to beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first world championship and thinking how sweet it would have been to be able to experience that excitement live and in person.

As a huge Kirby Puckett fan, No. 1 was a no-brainer for me: Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. With their backs against the wall, the Twins returned to the dome in need of two straight victories to win it all. Puck told his teammates before the game that he was going to carry them to victory and he basically did. He robbed Ron Gant of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch in left-center field, tripled, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and, best of all, homered off of Charlie Liebrandt in the bottom of the 11th inning to win the game. I still get chills and tears in my eyes watching clips of that home run online so I can only imagine what it must have been like inside the dome that night.

While the Metrodome has provided lots of good sports memories over its lifetime, it has had more than its share of stinkers, too. Here are five events that I’m glad I wasn’t there to see.

No. 5 is the Kirby Puckett memorial service in March of 2006. Puckett suffered a stroke and died on March 6 and the Minnesota Twins put together a memorial service for Puck on March 12. After seeing Kirby do his magic at the dome all those years, it would have been tough to go through that, no matter how upbeat the Twins tried to make it.

This next one is more of an era than one single event. No. 4 was the summer of 1982, the first year of the Metrodome’s existence. The problem that first year was the building didn’t have air conditioning and in a humid summer in the Twin Cities, that would have made for some uncomfortable times. Years later, I experienced the Metrodome a number of times on hot, humid days and even with air conditioning the temperatures inside the dome could be stifling.

We’ve already covered No. 3 in a different list but it pops up here, too. It is the 2010 roof collapse, which I mentioned in the list of things I would have liked to have seen. On the flip side of the argument, it seems that would have been a terrifying to experience. Without warning, a hole if the Teflon roof appears, tons of snow falls in on the field and suddenly the speakers and lights hanging from the ceiling are a heck of a lot closer to you than you’d like.

Football takes center stage for the next two on this list. No. 2 is the 2003 battle for the Little Brown Jug between Michigan and Minnesota. Glen Mason and Gophers were flying high coming into the game with a 6-0 record and appeared poised to go to 7-0 at the expense of the Wolverines. Minnesota built a 21-point lead after three quarters only to let Michigan score four touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter. Minnesota hasn’t beaten Michigan in Minneapolis since 1977 and hasn’t been as close as it was in 2003 since.

No. 1 is probably the most painful Minnesota sports memory of my generation. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings were an offensive juggernaut with Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith and on and on and on. That offense was the main catalyst to the Vikes’ 15-1 regular season and subsequent trip to the NFC Championship game. A double-digit favorite against the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota was all but on the plane to Miami for the Super Bowl. The Falcons had other ideas, however, and pulled off the monumental upset by taking advantage of a number of Vikings’ errors. A fumble late in the second quarter set up an Atlanta touchdown and Gary Anderson’s only missed field goal of the season late in the fourth quarter that would have sealed the victory were among the miscues that still haunt Vikings fans to this day.

As a fatalist Minnesota sports fan, I couldn’t help but add one more list of five dome events. These are events that I was in attendance for and as I exited the building kicked myself for putting myself through it.

No. 5 was the 1990 college football game between Minnesota and Utah. A rather non-descript game, I’ll admit, but the ending was so bizarre that I still shake my head in amazement. With the score tied 29-29, Minnesota attempted to win the game with a field goal as time expired. The Utes blocked the kick but not only that, they recovered the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown with no time on the clock to win 35-29. Minnesota went on to finish the season 6-5 and not selected for a bowl game but probably would have been had it converted the field goal.

Next is the 1994 Penn State/Minnesota football game. The Nittany Lions were in their second year as members of the Big 10 and the Gophers were somewhat competitive against them a year earlier in Happy Valley. We anticipated a close game but ended up witnessing a 56-3 shellacking at the hands of Penn State. Unfortunately, it was harbinger of things to come as Minnesota managed only three wins that year.

If you’re sensing a pattern to this list, you’re right on the money as the Gophers football team also figures into No. 3. A year earlier in 1993, Minnesota was desperate for fans as Michigan came to the dome for a game televised on ESPN. In order to make the place look as full as possible, the administration gave away free tickets to any University of Minnesota student, which I was at the time. I trekked over to the dome on a blustery November morning and was treated to a 58-7 blowout at the hands of the Wolverines.

Fast forward eight years for No. 2 and once again we see the Gophers on the gridiron. This one wasn’t a blowout like the previous two but more like the punch in the gut of No. 5. The Purdue Boilermakers were in town, Minnesota led by three with 19 seconds to play and had pinned Purdue on its own 3-yard line. Two plays later, the Boilers lined up and kicked a game-tying, 48-yard field goal as time expired. Purdue then scored on its possession in overtime to put the pressure on Minnesota. The Gophers appeared to score a touchdown of their own on the first play of their overtime possession as Antoine Henderson caught a pass from Travis Cole. Replays showed Henderson got a foot down inbounds but the referee ruled his foot was not inbounds. Two plays later, Cole threw an interception and the game was over.

As you have probably guessed, No. 1 is yet another Gophers football meltdown, one on par with the 2003 Michigan game. When the Badgers came to Minneapolis for the axe battle in 2005, both teams were ranked and the Gophers were flying high after winning at Michigan the week before. Thanks to a running game that rolled up more than 400 yards, Minnesota led by 10 with three and a half minutes left. With less than a minute to play, the Gophers still led by three but were forced to punt from inside their own 20. The snap was fine but punter Justin Kucek inexplicably dropped the ball and by the time he picked it back up and tried to kick it, the Badgers had him swarmed. Wisconsin blocked the punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Minnesota didn’t even get a chance at a final Hail Mary prayer because it fumbled the ball away on the ensuing kickoff.

There you have it, one man’s trip down Metrodome memory lane. The dome is a building that served its purpose with little fanfare and it’s debatable whether anyone will miss it when it’s gone. What isn’t up for argument is that the Metrodome brought us plenty of highs and lows over the years and for that we thank it.

Got a list of your own? Feel free to send it to me at bmeyers@lillienews.com and maybe I’ll compile a readers response and post it on our website.

Happy New Year.

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com.
 

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