After three outstanding days watching the Twins at Target Field, I wasn’t ready to go home just yet. I’d scheduled an off-day for the fourth day of my visit to the Twin Cities, although there was nothing “off” about it — it was jam-packed with sports-themed sightseeing.
When the good folks at Meet Minneapolis were helping me to set up my trip, they asked if there was anything that I’d want to do beyond visit Target Field. I browsed the internet for ideas, and while there were countless things that were appealing, I wanted to stick within the sports realm. I asked if it might be possible to see U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Vikings, as well as the baseball and football stadiums — Siebert Field and TCF Bank Stadium, respectively — at the University of Minnesota. The response was a resounding yes, and that meant that I was up early on the morning of September 18 with stadium tours on the brain.
Unfortunately, it was absolutely pouring on this day, but my spirits weren’t dampened. My hotel, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Downtown, sits about a mile from U.S. Bank Stadium, the first stop of my day. Thanks to the awesome Minneapolis Skyway, I was able to walk the entire distance indoors and stay dry. Here’s a shot of the $1.1 billion stadium, which opened in 2016, from one of the pedestrian bridges over a downtown street a few blocks away:
I arrived at the football stadium well in advance of my scheduled tour, and while the chilly September rain wasn’t exactly pleasant, I wanted to take a bit of a look around outside before going in. The exterior tour proved to be short lived, as the force of the rain made me worried about my camera being exposed. As much as possible, I ran from covered spot to covered spot to snap shots of this magnificent structure in front of me, including this one with a video board that reminded me U.S. Bank Stadium would be hosting Super Bowl LII in just a few months:
Inside the stadium, I met up with Jennifer Hathaway from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and we began an hour-long tour that took me through some of the coolest places in the building. Our first stop was the extremely swanky Medtronic Club, which calls itself “the most upscale club at U.S. Bank Stadium.” The 1,100-seat club is situated between the 30-yard lines, has a private entrance and your ticket to this area includes your food and drinks. My photos hardly do this spot justice, but here’s a look at part of this club, which was easily one of the fanciest places I’d ever been — in a stadium or otherwise:
While fans who have access to the Medtronic Club might enjoy conversing, eating and drinking, they’re there to see a football game. And how does the field view look from this area? Here’s how:
Simply outstanding, right?
The next stop on our tour was more exclusive and outstanding than the Medtronic Club, which may come as a surprise. Jennifer led me into the box that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf uses. This is a spot I couldn’t have ever imagined visiting, so it was a major thrill. As you might expect, the owner’s box was spectacular. It’s located right on the 50-yard line and looks like this inside:
And here are the fancy stadium seats directly outside of the box:
I had my fingers crossed that the next stop on our tour would be down on the field, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although I’ve been to a handful of NFL stadiums over the years, I’ve never had a chance to walk on the field, so this was an exciting first for me. At MLB and MiLB ballparks, this is a thrill that never gets old, so I was pretty pumped when we headed toward the field. Of course, I had to snap this photo just seconds after my feet felt the turf:
I also snapped this shot of a couple of first-down markers that were in the area …
… and this one of some of the boxes that are legitimately on the field:
After spending a few minutes walking around the field — unfortunately, there were no quarterbacks milling around who were willing to throw me a go route — we went back into the tunnels on the ground level of the stadium. I always get a major kick about walking in stadium tunnels. Whether it’s a gameday or not, there’s so much interesting stuff to see that takes place well away from fans, and I think it’s fascinating. Case in point, here’s part of a giant viking ship and a drum:
There were also a handful of locker room stalls on caster wheels that stadium staff could roll in and out of the home team’s locker room as required. And speaking of locker rooms, we weren’t able to see the Vikings’ room, but we were able to go into the visitors room:
As is often the case in professional sports, I was told that the visitors locker room was much more spartan in its design than that of the home team.
From being down at field level, we next ascended all the way up to the stadium’s upper concourse, which provided this outstanding panoramic view of the scene:
The prime attraction on this level is the Gjallarhorn, which is sounded by an honorary Viking before the start of each game. It was impressive to see just how large this horn was:
Our tour wrapped up at the other end of the stadium — one that offered another outstanding view. The enormous glass wall panels, which you can see in the background in the following photo, offer an outstanding view of downtown Minneapolis from several spots:
I really have to thank Jennifer for giving me so much of her time; when I was trying to set up a tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, I was envisioning one of the group tours that is open to the public, and never imagined that I’d be fortunate enough to get a 60-minute private tour inside this awesome stadium.
After Jennifer and I parted ways, I spent a few minutes in the stadium’s team shop, and then headed to the nearest metro station and rode a train for a short distance to the University of Minnesota campus. As with the U.S. Bank Stadium tour, I’d asked to check out the Golden Gophers baseball and football facilities, and was blown away by the graciousness of the school’s athletic department in hosting me — and, of course, the dedication of Meet Minneapolis in setting the tours up.
I met Jake Ricker from the U of M in the lobby of the Gibson-Nagurski Complex, an absolutely impressive building that is the home to the Golden Gophers football program. It’s where the team’s locker room is, and the building also houses practice facilities, an enormous weight room, player lounges and more. I arrived a little before my scheduled meeting time with Jake, which gave me a chance to just hang out in this cool environment — one that essentially told the story of the history of the school’s football program:
The shelter was a much-appreciated relief, too, given that I’d walked about 10 minutes from the metro stop to this building in pouring rain without an umbrella. Soon enough, Jake arrived — carrying an umbrella — and we set out for the short walk to Siebert Field, the team’s baseball facility. The heavy rain was unfortunate, and Jake was a major trooper for leaving his dry and warm office to stand on a rainy concourse with a crazy baseball fan from Canada.
Siebert Field originally opened in 1971, but was torn down in 2012 so that a new Siebert Field could be built in its place. The 2012 renovation meant that the Golden Gophers baseball team played its games at the Metrodome and at Target Field during those seasons. “New” Siebert Field opened in April of 2013, and is an absolute state-of-the-art facility. Here’s a panorama from the concourse behind home plate:
The brown building down the first base line houses indoor batting cages, which were actually in use by the team during our visit. (We spent a few minutes getting some shelter there as Jake told pointed out some key features around the ballpark.) Next, we futilely dodged raindrops as we scurried to the dugout, where I snapped this shot:
Jake asked if I wanted to walk out onto the field, and if you know me, you know that I can never turn down such an opportunity — rain and all. While he positioned the umbrella over both of us, I took this panorama:
On the fence in left field, you can see some retired numbers if you look carefully. Two of them were especially noteworthy to me: Dave Winfield suited up for the Golden Gophers from 1971 to 1973, while Paul Molitor played for the school from 1975 to 1977. Of course, the two of them went onto have spectacular MLB careers and are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Together, Winfield and Molitor played in 5,656 big league games and had 6,429 hits. They were both World Series champions (with the Blue Jays, I’m happy to point out) and were collectively named to 19 all-star games. Also noteworthy is the fact that both players are from the Twin Cities. The two future hall of famers are recognized on a display that recognizes former Golden Gophers standouts:
After we’d spent as much time at Siebert Field as was possible, given the rain, Jake led me back to the Gibson-Nagurski Complex, where we hopped in a golf cart to drive over to TCF Bank Stadium. I have to admit that I was in awe of the U of M campus, especially the sports facilities — building after building, all dedicated to athletics. Of course, I was in even more awe as we pulled up in front of the mammoth football stadium, where Jake dropped me off and I browsed through the team shop for a bit before my next tour began. Soon enough, I met my tour guide (whose name I embarrassingly now forget) in the lobby. We began the tour by heading up to the most prestigious suite in the stadium, the Board of Regents and President’s Suite. It provided this outstanding view of the field:
I didn’t know much about TCF Bank Stadium going into my tour, but that was changing by the minute. I learned all the basics — the 50,000-plus-capacity stadium was built at a cost of more than $300 million and opened in the 2009 season. In addition to being the home of the Golden Gophers, it was the temporary home of the Vikings in 2014 and 2015 while U.S. Bank Stadium was being built, and the MLS club Minnesota United FC also calls it home. An outdoor hockey game between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks was even played at the venue in 2016.
Next, we went down to the other end of the suite level of the stadium, which has this view:
From this vantage point, you can see the enormous video board, the open plaza area beyond the end zone and the downtown Minneapolis skyline in the distance.
Speaking of that open plaza area, that was our next stop. In panorama form, it looks like this:
We then went deep into the stadium, which was just as thrilling as it had been at U.S. Bank Stadium a few hours earlier. While we weren’t able to actually get into the home locker room, I was able to check it out through a window in the door:
From there, we walked through the tunnel out to the field — the exact walk that the Golden Gophers take on gamedays. And, yes, I was wishing that I was wearing cleats and click-clacking along the entire route:
That was definitely a thrill. The tunnel opened to the field in this spot …
… and a few minutes later, we were at midfield where I got my photo taken:
(Again, there were no QBs waiting to send me on some go routes … maybe I should take it as a sign that my route running just isn’t up to par.)
The last part of the tour was a visit to the university’s sports hall of fame, which had a number of cool artifacts on display in this neat environment:
After the tour wrapped up, and my time at the University of Minnesota drew to a close, I took a bit of time to walk around the campus, as it was no longer raining. Before I caught my train back downtown, I snapped this panorama of TCF Bank Stadium from across the street. I think you’ll agree that it’s a really impressive-looking structure:
While Target Field and the Twins might’ve been my primary focus on my visit to Minneapolis, touring U.S. Bank Stadium and the U of M facilities really made for an awesome off-day, and one that I feel fortunate to have experienced. Thanks to all my guides and to Meet Minneapolis for setting up this memorable day for me.