Back outdoors: Minnesota football enters new era
By Don Davis
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
MINNEAPOLIS - Nick Tow-Arnett knows Sept. 12 will be a special day.
That is when the Redwood Falls, Minn., native and his teammates first run into the new University of Minnesota football stadium to play a game.
The 6-foot-2, 247-pound senior tight end knows the TCF Bank Stadium will offer a different feel than he has experienced down the street in the Metrodome.
"It's absolutely ridiculous when you walk in there," Tow-Arnett said. "It is absolutely amazing. The field is phenomenal. You can see all of the Minneapolis buildings and stuff through the horseshoe. It looks sweet. The scoreboard, it doesn't even look real, how big it is."
But the stadium, with its basketball court-sized scoreboard, is real. Tow-Arnett and his teammates play seven games in the nearly $290 million stadium this year, including the home opener with Air Force and an Oct. 3 date with arch-rival Wisconsin.
University officials began looking into a new stadium in 2003, when discussion accelerated that the professional Minnesota Twins baseball and Minnesota Vikings football teams wanted to leave the downtown Metrodome.
The Twins will play in a new stadium on the west side of downtown Minneapolis beginning next year and the Vikings are looking for a new home, or a way to renovate the Metrodome.
One university goal was to bring football back to campus.
For 57 years, Gopher football was played at Memorial Stadium, which could hold more than 60,000 fans, across the street from where the new stadium stands. From 1982 until last year, the team played in the 60,000-seat Dome, not far from their new home, which features more than 50,000 seats and the infrastructure to add another 30,000 if needed in coming years.
Players are looking forward to their first game.
"Playing in the new stadium is a bonus," said center Trey Davis of Farmington. "I'm excited."
Sounding like Twins baseball players, the 6-foot-2, 276-pounder said that one of the key points of the stadium is playing the game outside again.
Still, even the first Big Ten Conference stadium built since 1960 does not make the team, Davis added.
"A stadium is a stadium," the sophomore said. "It is exciting that we have this brand new, one of the finest, stadiums in the nation. At the end of the day, it just comes down to how well prepared are you for your game."
Even the Minnesota cold does not worry Tow-Arnett and Davis.
"They have heaters and stuff," Tow-Arnett said.
Sure, the constant Dome weather is predictable, Davis said, but "once you start playing you are warm and you are ready to go."
The stadium is pretty much ready to go, too. Workers are installing bricks along walls near the playing field, a last-minute addition thanks to an anonymous donor, and doing other finishing work.
The team plays a scrimmage for season ticket holders and students on Aug. 22 as the stadium's first test.
Most fans who do not already have tickets will not be able to see games in person. Every game technically is sold out, although visiting teams may return tickets that go on sale the Monday before a game. Also, a few 19-person suites are available with prices ranging from $4,250 to $8,500 per game.
An even rarer ticket is to the Gopher locker room, "one of the most exciting features" of the stadium, athletics Communications Director Garry Bowman said.
The football-shaped locker room (Green Bay Packers are the only other players to dress in one shaped like that) is 60 yards by 35 yards. It features 120 cherry-wood lockers and is the largest college or professional locker room.
Those who manage to get game tickets will be closer to the field than they were in the Metrodome, with plenty of information available.
The scoreboard, the third largest in college football, is operated in what looks like a television network control room behind the pressroom. Even the secondary scoreboard is bigger than any in the Metrodome.
The field itself features an artificial turf of a newer generation than in the Dome, Bowman said. It is safer for players and faster than where the Gophers used to play.
The goal of the Gopher stadium was to mimic old-time fields. Bricks, arches and other style features help that along.
"We want to feel like an old stadium with the modern amenities," Bowman said.
Each of Minnesota's 87 counties is named on its own plaque outside the stadium.
The university marching band has space, including rehearsal rooms, inside the stadium, the first time it has had a dedicated home.
The Legislature approved building the stadium in 2006 and construction started the following June.
The brick facade and arches resemble those in Memorial Stadium, which was the Gophers' home for 57 years.
About 97 percent of the 8,800 tons of steel used in the stadium was recycled.
There are 9,185 block "M" letters throughout the stadium.
The sound system features 799 speakers and uses up to 329,400 watts of power.
State taxpayers fund $137 million of the nearly $290 million stadium construction costs.
TCF Financial paid $35 million for naming rights, while the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community gave a $12.5 million gift, with Target, Dairy Queen and Best Buy each donating at least $2 million.