A Minnesota Vikings executive said Friday that the team is concerned about the safety of the Metrodome after a winter storm caused the building's roof to collapse, but he didn't rule out the team playing there next season.
The Vikings have long pursued a new stadium paid for mostly by taxpayers, and next year is the final year of their lease on the Dome. Vice President Lester Bagley didn't directly address that issue in discussing the outlook for next season.
"We're going to have to dig into that and get an honest assessment of that," Bagley said. "Some people would say, 'Well, a couple of shingles come off the roof you don't build a new barn.' Well, the roof collapsed. We have concerns about the safety of the facility going forward."
Minnesota is dealing with a state budget deficit of more than $6.2 billion that has to be handled first, but Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders have said they're open to a good stadium plan. A state lawmaker plans to introduce a proposal by late January.
Bagley said the Vikings are focused on Monday night's game with the Chicago Bears at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. The game will mark a return to outdoor football in Minnesota after the Vikings spent the past 29 years in the Dome.
"It's all hands on deck. We've got to get this game off," Bagley said. "The point is it's going to be a great game on 'Monday Night Football.'"
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday that the game is on track to be played at TCF Bank Stadium, and there are no plans to move it elsewhere despite major logistical issues. The league sent out an e-mail later in the day touting pro football's return to the outdoors in Minnesota for the first time since 1981.
The storm that wrecked the Metrodome roof dumped more than 17 inches of snow on Minneapolis, and hundreds of workers spent several days removing snow from the university stadium.
By Friday afternoon, most of the snow had been cleared from field and seating areas of the stadium. Officials planned to begin laying a tarp on the artificial turf Friday evening, and would begin pumping warm air under the tarp to keep the field from freezing, said Scott Ellison assistant university athletic director.
Several players have said they're worried about the risk of injury from a frozen field, but university athletics spokesman Garry Bowman said the field would be ready by Monday. He said the field was already soft thanks to the layer of snow that insulated it from the cold.
"The field is in better shape today than it was for the Gophers' last game of the season," Bowman said, referring to the school's Nov. 27 game against Iowa. "Before that Iowa game, we had a lot of freezing and thawing, so we had a lot of ice patches to clear."
Workers were grooming the field Friday, and adding more rubber to the turf to create a better surface for players, Ellison said. The university was also looking at other heating options, including the possibility of using the field's drainage system to heat it from underneath, he said.
"What we're trying to do is get the turf even softer than it is right now," he said.
Snow and cold weren't the only issues at TCF Bank. As configured for Monday night's game, the stadium is expected to hold about 10,000 fewer people than the Metrodome, creating the possibility that some ticketholders could be turned away at the gates Monday. The Vikings are hoping some ticketholders will skip the game because the Vikings are out of playoff contention and because of the cold. Daytime temperatures on Monday are forecast to be in the teens.
Vikings marketing officer Steve LaCroix said early feedback from surveys sent to season ticketholders was that enough people wanted refunds to ensure that there would be room for everyone.
"At this point we can't guarantee that, but again we're feeling very confident that there's going to be no one turned away from the game," he said.
Jack Tornquist, who said his family has had season tickets since the Vikings were founded in 1961, was excited about the outdoor game until he found out about the general admission seating. They had eight tickets at the 40-yard line for the game in the Metrodome — $128 each.
Now, they'll be waiting in line to claim a seat somewhere, sitting in the cold for two hours before the game starts and trying to avoid losing their seats by taking a trip for the bathroom or concessions. He said it was a deal-breaker for his 72-year-old mother.
"The Vikings have decided by making things 'as fair as possible' to make it virtually impossible for people my parents' age — their most tenured and loyal season ticket holders from whom they've received the most money and still pay for the most expensive seats — to attend this game," Tornquist said.
Ellison said some warm locations, including possibly Williams Arena, would be open for fans waiting to line up for the game. Details were still being worked out Friday.
The university would also have extra medical personnel on duty because of the cold, he said.
Bagley said fans should "hang in there with us." The team has offered refunds to ticketholders who want them.
"In a little more than than 48 hours, we had to communicate a ticket plan," Bagley said. "This is what we came up with as the best possible situation."
Meanwhile at the Metrodome, workers in cherry pickers tried to clean snow from the sides of the facility, so they could patch a roof panel that tore open Wednesday, said Darin Broton, spokesman for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. The other three panels that initially tore open on Sunday have already been patched.
After the fourth panel is patched, he said, workers would position heat blowers around the collapsed roof and melt the remaining snow and ice, which so far has prevented permanent repairs from getting under way.
Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report from Eden Prairie, Minn., Associated Press writer Patrick Condon contributed from Minneapolis.