Sources: Colts offer Lucas Oil for game
MINNEAPOLIS -- The same winter weather that rendered the Metrodome unusable for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Chicago Bears on Monday night may derail plans of playing at the University of Minnesota's open-air stadium and cause the game to move indoors to Indianapolis.
League sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton on Wednesday that although the NFL has inspected the Gophers' TCF Bank Stadium, securing a site for the prime-time game is still a fluid situation.
If the game must be moved from Minnesota, the Indianapolis Colts have offered to host the game inside their domed Lucas Oil Stadium, team sources told Clayton on Wednesday. However, the sources said the Vikings are wary of that option because they fear Chicago fans will buy out Indy's stadium.
The university's outdoor stadium was buried under the same 17 inches of snow that caused the Metrodome's Teflon roof to collapse Sunday and weather forecasts in Minneapolis for Monday night call for single-digit temperatures and double-digit wind gusts at game time.
In addition to the tons of snowdrifts throughout the Gophers' roofless stadium, cold temperatures have frozen the playing surface and there is no heating element under the field to thaw it during the game.
The two biggest concerns, according to assistant university athletic director Scott Ellison, were whether all the snow could be removed in time and whether the frozen field could be softened to a level that won't hurt the players.
"I'm completely confident we can have a game here Monday night," Ellison said after crews had already removed 26 truckloads of snow and totally cleared 17 of the 52 seating sections.
He said the NFL was developing a plan to treat the field with warming chemicals to soften it, and looking into laying a tarp across the playing field that would have some type of heating element underneath.
Officials don't know what will happen when they turn the water back on in TCF Bank Stadium because they turned off the water after the Gophers' last game in November and the pipes could freeze.
We're confident. We're optimistic, A lot of people are working very hard to get it done. ... I look forward to being back outdoors the way I was always used to watching games and enjoying games.” -- Vikings owner Zygi Wilf
The bathrooms and concession stands are also concerns. The concessions must be insulated because it's safe to work in those stands only if it is over 30 degrees and bathrooms in the stadium have an open entry and aren't heated, meaning the pipes could freeze.
The Vikings said NFL officials toured the stadium Wednesday to make sure it was safe for fans and meets other league requirements. The team said the final decision on the venue rested with the league, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press that "we support the plan to play the game at the University of Minnesota stadium and are assisting the Vikings and the university on preparations."
"We're confident. We're optimistic," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said. "A lot of people are working very hard to get it done. But we want to assure the fans in the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota that we're going to have a game in Minnesota and celebrate our 50th anniversary, and [have] a dinner beforehand honoring the top 50 players. I look forward to being back outdoors the way I was always used to watching games and enjoying games."
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday he already was planning on attending the Bears-Vikings game, and will keep those plans.
"I think it will be a great experience for the fans, for the NFL," Goodell said. "It's something that we would rather not have happen. The fortunate thing is that nobody was hurt. But the safety of our facilities is important to us."
School spokesman Daniel Wolter said Wednesday it was not clear how much it will cost to get TCF Bank Stadium ready for the game and then to host it. He said the Vikings vowed to cover the entire tab, and that the school has a budget of $250,000 for each Gophers game. The total cost with all preparations could reach $700,000 or more, he said. Team sources told ESPN.com's Clayton the cost could rise to as much as $1 million.
University officials promised 16-hour days of plowing and shoveling and were nervously eyeing a forecast that called for the possibility of another few inches of snow by Thursday night. Inside the stadium, workers shoveled snow onto long slides that snaked down the bleachers and poured it onto the field, where loaders scooped it into dump trucks.
The University of Minnesota on Wednesday originally asked for volunteers to shove the snow, but later said shovelers would be paid for their work.
Ellison said the goal was to have the stadium game-ready by the end of the day Sunday.
In addition to the issues caused by the weather, school officials, the Vikings and the NFL were negotiating a host of other logistical questions, from whether beer would be available at the normally dry stadium to how a 50,000-seat stadium could accommodate 54,000 Vikings season-ticket holders.
The team said it was "working to accommodate fans' questions" but acknowledged it would take time to get the answers in such a "fluid situation." Ellison said the school was looking into setting up more seats for the game -- the Metrodome has a football seating capacity of about 63,000.
Ellison said that owners of the Gopher stadium's 38 luxury suites would have first right to use them at Monday night's game.
The outdoor game will be a test for Minnesotans no longer accustomed to braving the frigid December air to watch pro football. The last outdoor Vikings game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, which the Metrodome replaced, was held on Dec. 20, 1981 -- 29 years to the day before this Monday's Vikings-Bears matchup. The Vikings lost that game to the Kansas City Chiefs 10-6.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs, predicted Monday's game would go better for the team.
"We're confident that we're going to have a great experience," Bagley told the AP. "It's our celebration of our 50th season, and we're going to end it the way we began. We beat the Bears in our first game, and we're going to beat them again this year."
Meanwhile, a fourth panel in the Metrodome's inflatable roof tore open at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, dumping more snow and ice on the field.
Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission spokesman Pat Milan says no one was hurt. All the workers have been pulled from the stadium floor.
Milan says crews will inspect the damage Thursday.
Tuesday, engineers from Birdair Inc., the Amherst, N.Y.-based manufacturer of the Metrodome's roof, inspected the teflon roof and discovered damage was worse than initially expected on. The company gave the dome's owners, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, two options to repair the damage: mending the torn panels, a short-term solution that would leave the panels still needing to be replaced, or replacing the panels with new material, a more long-term solution that would also be more time-consuming.
Milan said cold temperatures were slowing repairs and it could be three to seven days before a timeline emerges for using the Metrodome again. The question is largely moot for the Vikings, since the Bears game is the home finale and Minnesota won't make the playoffs.
Asked whether the collapse could help speed plans for a new stadium, Wilf said: "I've always advocated to have a new facility and right now we're making sure we get this venue ready this week, then we'll talk about addressing those issues as they come up."
Information from ESPN.com's John Clayton and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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