Les Knutson: Trip to TCF Bank was historic

Les KnutsonDaily Globe sports columnist MINNEAPOLIS -- It's already been 11 days since I sat in freezing cold on the top of TCF Bank Stadium's Section 203 and watched the Minnesota Vikings tangle with the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of th...

Les Knutson
Daily Globe sports columnist 

MINNEAPOLIS - It’s already been 11 days since I sat in freezing cold on the top of TCF Bank Stadium’s Section 203 and watched the Minnesota Vikings tangle with the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of this year’s NFL playoffs.
It was, as my oldest son Lance said, a historic day.
It was the third coldest game in NFL history as the air temperature at the noon kickoff was six degrees below zero. It was sunny and there was little wind blowing, so at least we didn’t face unbearable wind-chill conditions.
But it was cold, really cold. There was, in fact, a wind-chill reading of minus 25 as there were westerly winds at 12 mph.
It was also the last game that the Vikings would play at TCF, the home of the Minnesota Gophers, ending their two-year rental of the big outdoor stadium. Next season, the Vikings will play home games at the soon-to-be-completed US Bank Stadium, which is replacing the torn-down Metrodome as a plush indoor facility.
So when Lance came up with four tickets to the game, I ended up taking the fourth and joined Lucas (my third son), Lance and Angie Meyer for a trip to Minneapolis and a historic event at TCF Bank Stadium.
It ended up being the coldest game in Vikings’ history ­- and was surpassed by only the famous “Ice Bowl” (played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Dec. 31, 1967) and the “Freezer Bowl” (at Cincinnati’s River Front Stadium on Jan. 10, 1982).
Bart Starr’s goal-line plunge behind guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman gave the Green Bay Packers a historic 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL championship, sending the Packers to Super Bowl II where they defeated the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, in the warmth of Miami’s Orange Bowl.
The air temperature at Lambeau that day hovered between -13 and -15, while a 15 mph northwestwind made the wind chill (by today’s index) an estimated 36 degrees below zero. That was the all-time coldest NFL game.
But the “Freezer Bowl” for the 1981 AFC championship between the San Diego Chargers and the host Cincinnati Bengals was a close second. Actually, in terms of wind chill, it was the coldest.
While the air temperature was negative 9, which is extremely cold for southern Ohio, the northwest winds were blowing at sustained speeds of 27 mph, making the wind-chill factor (by today’s index) about 38 degrees below. At the time, the “old” (now outdated) formula calculated the wind-chill reading at minus 59.
By contrast, the old formula had the wind chill at 48 below during most of the ’67 Ice Bowl.
The Bengals won the Freezer Bowl, 27-7, before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI (26-21) inside the warmth of Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome.
While the conditions at TCF (on Jan. 10, 2016) didn’t quite match those two games, it was definitely cold. But there was something special about the atmosphere of being there.
It was only the second time that I had been to a Vikings game at TCF and only the third NFL game that I had sat (or stood) in the stands at.
I have watched a lot of games on TV, but I never went to any Viking games at the Metrodome (I did see a couple of Gopher games).
My wife Cheryl and I went with some friends to a Vikings game at Metropolitan Stadium back in November of 1976. That was cold, but nothing like this year’s game.
In November of 2015, a whole crew of us - Cheryl, Lance, Angie, Jacob Meyer, Chad Knutson, Lucas, Chelsey Knutson, Robby Gonzales, Logan Knutson and I - enjoyed a Packers vs. Vikings game at TCF. It was a balmy day for late November, something like 42 degrees above.
While the atmosphere was neat that day, there was more “electricity” in the air for the playoff game. It had the makings of a historic event, that’s for sure.
Layered up for the chill
Bundled up in layers - long-sleeve T-shirt, short-sleeve T-shirt, two pullover sweaters, a big hooded sweat top, another big short-sleeve T-shirt and a thick jacket, along with jeans, sweat pants, three pairs of socks, insulated boots, a couple of stocking caps and two pairs of gloves - I was ready for the cold.
For the most part, I didn’t freeze. My face and my hands got cold. But hand warmers, given to fans at the entrance gate, worked slick inside my glove and even my fingers stayed toasty. A $6.75 bottle of water, however, quickly froze solid before I drank it all.
The pre-game was colorful as the place filled up with fans. The stadium was packed by kickoff as the freezing cold did not deter Vikings fans who cheered loudly throughout the closely-contested game.
A couple of jets roared overhead as the National Anthem neared its end and the place was full of excitement.
Minnesota’s offense drove the ball and the Vikings’ defense stymied the Seahawks most of the first half, winning the battle for field position as much of the first quarter was played on our end of the field.
But no touchdowns were scored and - despite a seemingly dominant performance - the Vikings earned only a 3-0 halftime lead on a 47-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
The third quarter was the most exciting for Viking fans as Walsh kicked another field goal and Minnesota’s defense sacked Russell Wilson twice and a third Walsh field goal gave us a 9-0 lead.
It was looking good, and with only one quarter left I was anticipating watching the Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals on TV the following Sunday.
But then Wilson made the play of the game when he scooped up an errant center snap and after getting off his knees (in high school or college football, he would have been down) scrambled and found a wide-open receiver in the middle of the field. It was that catch and run for more than 50 yards that turned the tide of the game.
The Seahawks went on score the game’s only touchdown and later, after an Adrian Peterson fumble, kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
But it wasn’t over. The Vikings, aided by a pass interference call and a strong catch and run by Kyle Rudolph, moved into field goal range.
Sitting where I was - high above the right side of the goal post - I thought the kick was good. I said the snap was good, the hold was good, the kick was good.
But the place was quiet - except for the cheering and fist pumping of the Seattle players. The kick was missed - wide left - and the Seahawks won.
Don’t blame Blair or Gary
It makes me sick when I hear all the blame of that loss put on Blair Walsh, who, after all, scored Minnesota’s only nine points. If he had missed one of his earlier field goals, the Vikings would have needed a touchdown to win - which maybe they should have tried harder to get at the end.
It’s reminiscent of Gary Anderson shouldering the blame for the 1998 season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game (Jan. 17, 1999 at the Metrodome).
I can understand the thinking behind Walsh’s missed kick - it was a potential game winner. But, the blame on Anderson is absolutely ridiculous.
The Vikings had a 27-20 lead with about three minutes remaining when Anderson missed his only field goal of the entire season. The Vikings had a seven-point lead. What happened to Minnesota’s defense in the remaining time? The blame for that loss to the Falcons should be squarely on the team’s defense, not on Anderson.
Atlanta tied the game and then, the other Anderson - Morton - kicked the game-winning field goal for the Falcons in overtime and Atlanta won 30-27.
Could that have been 17 years ago already?
Maybe the Vikings are jinxed, but I am glad that I got to see them play their last game in the cold of TCF Bank Stadium. Thanks, Lance, for allowing me to be part of history.

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