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The Minnesota Vikings made their debut in the $55-million Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome last Saturday night with a 7-3 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, another bunch of dome gnomes, and it was enough to turn a non-quiche-eating man's stomach. In the great and glorious days of Vikings past, they drafted players for their ability to exhibit grace under zero. But no more will an Ahmad Rashad or a Sammy White pluck a miracle off a safetyman's frozen fingertips. No more will a Chuck Foreman or a Ted Brown tiptoe over the frozen tundra. Football at the Vikings' old Metropolitan Stadium is just a piece of freeze-dried history.
"No matter where teams used to come from, they all used to talk about the cold in Minnesota," Rashad said on Friday. "When I was in Buffalo [in 1974 and '75], we'd be leaving 35 inches of snow and everybody would be talking about how cold it was in Minnesota. Can you imagine that?"
An even greater strain on the imagination is the fact that the Vikings have vaulted directly from ice palace to sauna, omitting the temperate zones entirely. To be sure, they didn't pass quietly into the Enclosed Era. On Friday they filed a suit in district court against the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the panel that manages the dome, charging irregularities in several areas, including the scoreboard, the retractable seats, the parking, the broadcast facilities, the concessions and, most ironically, the air conditioning—or lack of it. Where once visiting NFL teams congealed in Minnesota, they may now melt away.
"You just hope a player or a fan doesn't die in there," Minnesota Linebacker Scott Studwell said before the game. "It would probably take something that tragic to open the commission's eyes." Though it was 82� in the dome Saturday night, the 57,880 fans and the players had been prepared for the worst by reports of the games of baseball's Twins. Fortunately, the temperature was a moderate 79� outside at kickoff and the humidity 42%. "They [the commission] just got lucky," said Viking General Manager Mike Lynn, "and we don't want that stadium operated on luck."
"On a humid day it's simply unbearable in there," says Tom Mee, the Twins' director of public relations. No doubt because of such talk, Don Poss, the commission's executive director and the man taking the heat for the situation, pulled a reverse Bowie Kuhn on Saturday—he wore a long-sleeved shirt and a tie in the dome. "And I'm not hot," Poss pronounced.
The Vikings and Seahawks weren't so hot, either. The game's only touchdown came on a fine grab of an 11-yard Tommy Kramer pass in the third period by Viking Tight End Joe Senser, who also blocked two Seahawk field-goal attempts. In the first half the Vikes rushed for 27 yards, the Seahawks passed for 13. There were 17 penalties, and the Seahawks had a third-down efficiency of 15% (two of 13). Get the picture? All in all, the game was as miserable as, well, a hot day in what has come to be known as the Minnesota Crockpot.
But despite some bumbling, the Vikings clearly reestablished themselves as a pretty decent aerial circus. Kramer completed 21 of 35 passes to nine different receivers. Senser, Rashad and White are still one of the best receiving trios around, and Brown may be the best pass-catching back in the league. Rickey Young is steady, and Tony Galbreath and Jarvis Redwine appear to be ready to contribute.
And now, too, there is Darrin Nelson, an All-America who holds seven Stanford career records. The 5'9", 185-pound halfback was esteemed by the pros, especially by teams with artificial surfaces, because, like the Cowboys' Tony Dorsett, he's a quick-cutting runner whose style is perfectly suited to broadloom football.
He may soon be in the first-string backfield with Brown, though Coach Bud Grant usually breaks in rookies slowly. In one three-play sequence in the second quarter against the Seahawks, Nelson darted five yards off tackle for a first down, got three more on a typical Viking back-in-the-flat pass, then picked up 38 yards on a "scramble screen" down to the Seahawk 16-yard line, which was nullified by a clip.
Nelson, the seventh pick overall and the first running back taken in the draft, created a stir on draft day when he announced he was disappointed that the Vikings had drafted him. "I was born and raised in Los Angeles," Nelson said. "I'm used to big cities. I like to do things in the city. I like to go to discos." Assured that the Twin Cities did so have discos, Nelson responded, "I don't want to go to discos and listen to country music."