Olson and his guests had just finished a huge steak dinner and, in the gathering darkness, dying embers from the charcoal grill glowed on the pavement outside. "When you leave late like this, you beat the traffic," Olson said as Bing Crosby's White Christmas sounded over a portable radio. Of course, if Olson and others like him stay much later to avoid traffic following Sunday-afternoon games, they'll have to start worrying about the Monday-morning rush hour.
Its usefulness in easing traffic is one reason Bloomington police give for tolerating tailgating, although it remains a matter of interpretation whether the drinking that goes on is legal or not. The stadium—and the parking lot—come under the jurisdiction of a commission representing the cities of Minneapolis, Richfield and Bloomington, and the drinking question all but unravels the stadium manager, an ex- FBI man named William H. Williams. Approached by a reporter awhile back, Williams refused to discuss tailgating unless his visitor promised not to write anything to suggest that anybody touches a drop. "We don't want the WCTU or somebody on our backs," he said.
As a consequence the official attitude is decidedly ambivalent. On the one hand, when the Viking management offered earlier this season to provide portable toilets in the parking lot, something that would have pleased many fans, Williams flatly refused. On the other hand, he and everybody else in Bloomington recognize only too well that Metropolitan Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Twins, is not really suited for football, and that tailgating is helping to keep the Vikings there.
There has been talk of a new domed stadium in downtown Minneapolis to house the Vikings, and the University of Minnesota would love to land the pro team as a tenant in its 56,652-seat football stadium. But neither the automobile ramps contemplated for the downtown stadium nor the university's widely scattered parking areas would be nearly as suitable for partying as Metropolitan Stadium's sprawling lot. Admitting that this is an important consideration in any move the club might take, Viking General Manager Jim Finks says, "Tailgating is half the fun these people get from going to the games."
For many of the fans the fun seems to increase the colder the weather gets, something no doubt explained by the same chest-beating instincts that have moved Bud Grant, the Viking coach, to prohibit his players from using hand warmers or wearing gloves on the sidelines. One expression of northwoods machismo was the party that Ching Johnson, a Minneapolis contractor who attends games in Norseman headgear, threw last year on the back of a 60-foot semitrailer, with music provided by a country-western band. Green Bay was the opponent, and it was so cold during the game that a number of fans tried to warm up by sneaking into the stadium beer cooler. Instead of going home afterward, 350 people swarmed aboard Johnson's truck, including Jim Klobuchar, a Minneapolis columnist, who reported breathlessly: "I got kissed five times and ate three passing corned-beef sandwiches without taking my hands out of my pockets."
With the phenomenon showing no signs of subsiding, the parking lot has become a meeting place for everybody but the Viking front four—who meet at the quarterback. The effect tailgating has had on the life of Keith Hopper, a Minnesota State College Board aide, sounds like something that Ann Landers might want to pass along to the lonelyhearts in her audience. It seems that Hopper, an Oklahoman who moved to Minnesota five years ago, had difficulty meeting people until he took up tailgating. "It's been quite a social outlet," Hopper says. He moves today in a wide circle of friends that includes a retired grocer, a chemist, a mattress salesman and a cattleman. He met them all in the Metropolitan Stadium parking lot.