Column: Saying Goodbye To The Dome's Mark Remme (pictured at right with friend Steve Althoff during a Twins game at the Metrodome in 1995) tries to say goodbye to the Metrodome as we watch the Vikings' final game at the stadium today.

Column: Saying Goodbye To The Dome

Today we Minnesotans are saying goodbye to an old friend.

It’s funny how sports arenas become so important to us, isn’t it? The Metrodome itself is nothing more than another structure in downtown Minneapolis—standing just as all the other buildings around the Twin Cities do, and have, for the past 30 years. Yet we do not shed tears or get nostalgic or dedicate live television newscasts toward the final days of other structures that are about to be used for the final time.

But as we get set for the Vikings’ final home game at the Metrodome (Forgive me, but I will not refer to it as Mall of America Field in this article. Today, it’s the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.), we as Minnesota sports fans are rejoicing in its memory while part of us is reluctantly having a hard time seeing it go.

We grow up with our sports venues. They’re like a brother or sister with which we create childhood memories that never go away. Some of them are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Sometimes we get so frustrated, we say some things we don’t really mean and we’ve got to spend some time apart. But we always come around. The Metrodome, like family, was always there to produce more memories the next day, next week or next year.

I’m too young to remember The Met, but there’s generation of sports fans in this state who felt the same way when the Twins and Vikings left Bloomington in 1981. And I’ll admit I still have the VHS tape at my parents’ place of Met Center’s implosion back in 1994. These are buildings we identify with because of who we were with and who we watched when we were there. New seasons come and go, but those memories remain forever.

For a season, the Metrodome was home to three of the four professional sports teams in this state—the Twins, Vikings and Wolves. Even after the Timberwolves left for the newly-built Target Center in 1990, they were never more than a five-minute drive away down Seventh Street. Under the Dome’s roof, the Wolves triumphantly helped the NBA return to Minnesota, and a new generation of fans got to experience this league’s magic for the first time while calling a team its own. They cheered for Ty Corbin and Tony Campbell and Pooh Richardson while embracing the term, "The NBA is here to stay."

When the Wolves moved West to 600 First Avenue North, basketball magic remained from time to time. Duke won a pair of NCAA titles in that building, including one in 1992. That particular championship held at the Dome took place during a calendar year in which the building hosted the Final Four, the World Series and the Super Bowl. According to the Star Tribune’s article in today’s paper, the Dome is the only facility to host a Super Bowl, World Series, MLB All-Star Game and Final Four. She was durable, wasn’t she?

That was about the time when I became old enough to be a sports fan, and over the past 20 years I’ve spent countless hours in that building cheering for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. I can still remember the way the arena smelled during my first trips there as a kid—that weird blend of spilled beer and Dome Dogs. I sang along with the “Hormel Row of Fame” song (you did, too, don’t lie). I wrote a personal narrative about a trip to the Dome in Mrs. Jarchow’s class in third grade. Wish I could find it.

I enjoyed my time there so much that in 1995 I named my puppy Kirby after my favorite baseball player, Kirby Puckett. He watched me play thousands of hours of baseball in my front yard on the farm, pretending the space between the house and the barn was the Metrodome’s playing field.

We used to take my aunt and uncle’s season tickets for Twins games and 15 rows up from first base—living three hours away, it wasn’t like we could go all the time, so my family and I carved out a weekend each year to come up and see at least one Twins game. We did it from 1992 all the way through my high school graduation. My friend Brianna used to make fun of me for arriving two hours early to watch batting practice, but being there was such a luxury we wanted to take in as many moments as we could.

I remember taking a photo every year in the concourse at the stand where they made your own custom baseball card—they’d give you the Twins jersey and hat and pose you in a batting position. I also took pictures next to the life-size cardboard cutouts of Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Speaking of Hrbek, I was there when the Twins retired his number in 1995--the picture above is from that day. Hrbek, of course, was a hero of the 1987 World Series. My dad was there, sitting down the left field line in the lower level for $30 per ticket. Times have changed.

When we left the Dome, the best thrill was getting to go through the windy doors (even though they tried to make you use the revolving ones). And once you were outside, the guys playing the drums on five-gallon pails were there to greet you.

I remember driving up once a year for a Vikings game. My dad and I would arrive at 8 a.m. for noon kickoffs, find a parking meter by Ray Crump’s “Dome Souvenirs Plus” and chat with Ray and his wife for a bit before and after a monster session of autograph seeking underneath Gate C where the Vikings entered. I fought for autographs from Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Jake Reed, LeRoy Hoard, Jerry Ball, John Randle and others out there—followed them to their car if I needed to.

It was outside the Dome that, before an 1990s August Twins game in the gathering area outside Gate D, that my dad and I stumbled upon Tony Oliva and Juan Berenguer having a soda. So we sat with them. And on the other side of the Dome, outside Gate H in September 1996, I somehow by sheer luck won a $3,500 suite for a Vikings game later that year by spinning the old “Wheel Of Prizes.” It looked like it landed on the larger $3 pennant prize, but the wind blew it just right where it nestled into a sliver where the suite sat. I ended up getting field passes and a suite, where my family and friends all gathered, and we watched the Vikings beat the Cardinals 41-17. For a fifth grader, that was the coolest day of my life.

I’ve watched both Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson run on that turf. I suffered through the Twins’ 90-loss seasons in the 1990s and went to their playoff games during the 2000s. I’m still not over the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Never will be.

I didn’t see enough Gophers wins there. I’ll freely admit that. And I was there sitting 10 rows up when the Badgers blocked that punt in 2005. But I was also there a few weeks earlier when the Gophers beat Purdue in double-overtime to remain undefeated. It was homecoming, and it was probably the best U of M moment I had at the Dome. Outside in the tailgating lots, well, that’s another story for another day. Side not: My wife did hug Joe Mauer once at the Dome before a Gophers game and made SportsCenter in the process--she might tell you that's her top memory.

Our friends from the U loved taking in Wednesday night Twins games during Student Night. We took advantage of $3 tickets and $1 Dome Dogs during the game, then headed across town for '80s Night at The Shout House.

I love seeing Little Big League on television, because it gives us a look at the way the Dome looked before all the tarps and advertising started getting draped on the walls. It’s the way it looked when I was young.

I played baseball there in high school, and my first trip driving to Minneapolis with my friends was to watch the Prep Bowl at the Metrodome. I stood in line for bobbleheads, took bus trips across the state to watch games there and even stood outside as the Twin Cities Marathon kicked off. It’s been right in the middle of so many memories, I can’t fit them all in this column.

Today, we say goodbye to an old friend. It will be replaced by a new building that will be magnificent in stature and will produce more memories for a new generation, hopefully ones I can enjoy with my kids someday. We know how to move on, and we always do. But we’ll remember the blue seats, the Dome Dogs and the little moments we shared with loved ones under the Teflon.

It’s a part of the family we won’t ever forget.

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