I haven’t written in some time, but I experienced something unlike anything before in my professional journalism career Sunday night.
Working for The Albert Lea Tribune, I got to experience the first regular season football game at the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
It was an unreal experience. I had been to the stadium before to cover the Chelsea-AC Milan soccer game. But the feeling in the stadium Sunday night could give a dead person goosebumps.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his security people walked right by me. I snapped a couple of pictures with my camera and phone before one of his people came up to me and asked for my credentials. Once I showed him, he apologized and said I was “OK” but to not get too close. It’s nice to get a little respect out here!
Once the players came on the field, the adrenaline started to flow through my veins. I remember coming out before a game to the roar of the crowd, albeit much smaller than the 66,800 in attendance.
The coolest moment was when quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford flashed on the big screen. As they came walking out to the field, the crowd started to get into it. Bradford is considered the team’s savior since he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles when Teddy Bridgewater ripped up his knee in practice just a few weeks ago. As the two players approached the field, the crowd came alive. Hill and Bradford stopped before the turf and put their forearms together. No one but them knows what they said to each other, but I could tell Hill was excited for Bradford when he threw that first touchdown to Kyle Rudolph in the second quarter.
Stefon Diggs had an awesome game. His ability to run precise routes and his sure-hands led him to a career night. He hauled in an amazing touchdown catch, of which I got a picture in my newspaper. But what struck me most about him was his pregame warmup. I have never seen someone so excited to play a game. He was having so much fun in warm ups that I was worried he was going to tire himself out before the game. Little did I know, he had a lot more left in the tank that night. It was joy to watch him entertain the fans and inspire his teammates. He was a fifth-round pick just a year ago, and now he is turning into a great player.
The Vikings defense is so much fun to watch. Despite his old football age (32), Brian Robison is a joy to watch. He is playing on borrowed time, but moving like he is 25. He got really pumped up after his defense helped force a Green Bay turnover. They flashed him on the big board, and he dropped everything and started to get pumped up. The crowd got into it, too. Danielle Hunter is going to be good. He is so big, strong and fast. He is a nightmare. I got a great shot of him sacking Aaron Rodgers and stripping him of the football early in the game. Everyone Griffin and Linval Joseph are entertaining to watch on the sidelines. They have so much intensity and passion flowing through them.
Of course, it all starts with the head coach — Mike Zimmer. In person, I have never seen someone more connected to his team. From pregame handshakes to yelling at players for mistakes to congratulating those same players when they do something correct or make a big play, these players respond to his message. A perfect example of this is Trae Waynes
Waynes got beat up in the game. Rodgers was attacking him all night long and completing passes or getting Waynes called for penalties. Until one of the last plays of the game. Wayne stepped in front of a Rodgers’ pass and picked it up. There was no one in that stadium happier for Waynes, except for maybe himself, than Zimmer.
The night was filled with memories of beating Green Bay. Cris Carter was in attendance and was interviewed by Greg Coleman. When Carter flashed on the big screen, the crowd came alive again. I’m not sure what game Carter referred to when Coleman asked for his fondest memory of beating the Packers, but Carter said “We whopped their butt back to Green Bay so bad,” and the crowd just erupted. Later, the greatest quarterback in Minnesota history, Fran Tarkenton, was interviewed and, again, the crowd exploded.
A tribute to the late Prince at halftime was a great spectacle. Minnesota never forgets one of its own.
The new Vikings chant “SKOL” with the claps, is pretty awesome, too. It’s something to get the crowd involved.
To top it off, Minnesota beat Green Bay. It was a fantastic game played by two very good NFL teams. The excitement was off the charts.
It will be a memory I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.