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Vikes return to Metrodome for first time since roof collapse

MINNEAPOLIS -- More than eight months have passed since that swirling snowstorm punctured the Metrodome's roof, rendering the stadium unusable and sending the Minnesota Vikings scurrying for other places to play at the end of that dismally dramatic season.

They return to their familiar Teflon-covered home field this weekend. It's all spruced up, complete with a new ceiling and new turf.

"It feels really open and bright. You're not quite as enclosed in anymore," said punter Chris Kluwe, who got a sneak preview earlier this week when the specialists visited to practice their kicks. He quipped: "Hopefully the roof won't collapse this year. We're hoping to keep that to winter if it does happen."

Then turning serious, Kluwe said: "It should be fun. I think the fans will be excited."

The Vikings host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night in a preseason game, the first sporting event since last December to be held at the iconic, often-disparaged 29-year-old venue now known as Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The Twins left after the 2009 season to play outside at Target Field across town, but there are hundreds of college and high school baseball games held at the Metrodome each spring before the snow melts, plus the state high school soccer tournament in the fall and a number of other events guaranteed a weather-proof experience and the novelty of a professional stadium.

The entire roof had to be replaced, though, leaving the building empty all year except for the construction workers there for the replacement project.

"Everybody was walking around, looking at their shoes," said Bill Lester, the executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the public agency that operates the Metrodome. "Everybody who works for us entered the industry because of the desire to work in events, being around people celebrating and having fun."

Lester ushered a visitor around the stadium on Friday while ironworkers put the finishing touches on the roof and the field crew finished the paint job. The project cost about $23 million, including $18 million for the roof. It was covered by insurance with a $25,000 deductible.

"There's definitely an extra hop in everybody's step around here," Lester said.

Little success is predicted for the Vikings this season by analysts and skeptical fans, but the team has quietly expressed confidence in bringing the life back to a place former owner Red McCombs often called the "noisiest stadium in the NFL."

Coach Leslie Frazier, who guided the Vikings through the end of last season as the interim coach as they moved one home game to Detroit's Ford Field and another to TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota, had a big smile on his face this week while he talked about going back to the Metrodome. He said it's a relief "not to wonder" where their next game will be.

"Just to hear the roar of our crowd, I'm excited about it," Frazier said.

Vikings officials have tempered their excitement about being back at the Metrodome because they've been trying to leave the stadium for more than a decade for a fancier place that produces more revenue.

The Vikings have begun the final year of their Metrodome lease, which expires in February. They're seeking public funding and state approval for a new suburban stadium with sprawling parking lots on an old army ammunitions plant in Arden Hills, a suburb 10 miles north of Minneapolis. A budget crisis in state government has put some of the details on hold.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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