Bears-Vikings still set for Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- On the same day the NFL said it's moving forward with plans to play Monday night's Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears game at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium, a fourth roof panel collapsed at the Metrodome.
Three other roof panels collapsed early Sunday after a blizzard, forcing the league to find another home for the game. Repair work was halted on Thursday at the Metrodome because of unsafe conditions after the fourth roof panel collapsed Wednesday night under heavy snow and ice.
The league is now pushing ahead with the TCF Bank Stadium plan, despite concerns about the site ranging from field conditions to player safety.
The school's stadium wasn't designed to host a game this late in the year, and potential problems range from a rock-hard field that could be unsafe for players to frozen water pipes. The stadium is also smaller than the Metrodome, possibly leaving some ticket holders out of luck.
"The game is going to be played there," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "The decision has been made. If the situation changes and something unusual happens, we'll adjust. But there are no indications we wouldn't be able to play the game there. It's full steam ahead preparing the field and the stadium for a game on Monday."
Colts owner Jim Irsay said on Twitter that Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was available if needed. But NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said that "100 percent of our focus is on getting this game played at the University of Minnesota."
Grubman was in Minneapolis to tour TCF Bank Stadium and to view the snow-damaged Metrodome.
"This is Minnesota -- you all know how to deal with cold," Grubman said. While he said there are particular concerns about the frozen field, "football is a cold-weather game."
The NFL Players Association will continue to monitor the issue, and "the health and safety of our players is paramount," director of communications Carl Francis said.
University officials have said they were looking into treating the field with warming chemicals, and that they planned to use a tarp over heating coils to soften the field before the game.
The Vikings have said they are committed to playing the last home game of their 50th anniversary season in Minnesota. Still, Bears players have concerns.
"If I'm a Minnesota player, [or the] organization, yeah, I would like to have the last home game in Minnesota," Charles Tillman said. "But that being said, you got this icy field that nobody has played on since, I don't know, months.
"Is that right for the players, for their players, for us and our safety? No, it's not."
While calling the Metrodome situation an "unfortunate accident," Tillman said that safety should now win out.
"This is the year when we are cracking down on player safety and concussions and stuff like that," he said. "You want to fine guys $75,000, but are we going to play on this frozen field? I don't know, it really doesn't make much sense to me."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who suffered a concussion in a game earlier this season, said the condition of the field was "the main concern with the guys in the locker room."
"We don't want to go out there and play on a concrete-type surface," Cutler said.
Bears kicker Robbie Gould, the team's union representative, said no formal complaint was planned.
"There will be no protest," he said. "The bottom line is as players we want to make sure that it's a safe environment to play in. So as long as the environment is safe and the conditions for the field are safe, then obviously the show must go on."
Rookie Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, who may start the game, said he hasn't played in freezing conditions before.
"They say we play at that Minnesota stadium, you're just going to have to live with it," said Webb, who played college ball at Alabama-Birmingham. "If God wants to change the weather on me, then that would be fine, too."
TCF Bank Stadium seats 50,000 fans, which means about 14,000 ticket holders could be out of luck on Monday. The Vikings said ticket holders would be seated on a first-come, first-served basis until the stadium is full. No alcohol will be served.
Vikings marketing executive Steve LaCroix said the team expected some ticket holders to stay away due to the cold. The team set a Saturday deadline for people to turn in tickets for refunds to give them an idea of Monday's likely crowd.
LaCroix said there's also room for about 2,000 fans to stand in an open area on the stadium's west end, meaning they'd be about 12,000 seats short if every ticket holder showed up.
"We think it's going to be great. It's nighttime football, it's going to be freezing cold temperatures, it's going to be very memorable," he said.
The University of Minnesota offered volunteers $10 per hour to help clear snow at its stadium and got so overwhelmed with the response Thursday morning that school officials put out word that no more shovelers were needed for the day.
The Bears sent groundskeeper Ken Mrock to Minneapolis on Thursday to help prepare the field.
"Having Ken up there is one of the ways we are working together with the NFL and Vikings," Bears spokesman Scott Hagel said.
Back at the Metrodome, officials halted repair work until they could resolve what director of facilities and engineering Steve Maki called "an unsafe situation." He said there was concern that still more panels could collapse under snow and ice still sitting atop the deflated roof.
"We will need to clear those panels that are heavily loaded," Maki said. "That's before we can set to work on any repairs."
Maki said engineers were developing a plan for clearing the snow and ice. He said there was no estimate yet of how long the repair work would take or how much it would cost, but that officials were still hoping they could simply repair the damaged panels instead of replacing the entire roof.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which manages the dome, voted to approve an initial $1.5 million for repairs though the final bill is expected to be much larger. Commissioners said insurance would pay for at least a portion of repairs but did not reveal the size of their deductible.
Information from ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and The Associated Press was used in this report.
ESPNCHICAGO's BEARS-VIKINGS COVERAGE