One snow removal truck at a time backed onto the plywood covering just above the only field-level entry/exit ramp. Front-end loaders scooped snow from the piles, loading the truck from both sides to speed the process.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA STAFF.
When a severe winter storm brought 18 inches of snow to Minneapolis, TV and YouTube coverage captured the collapse of the Metrodome, showing tears in the dome dumping piles of snow onto the field. That was December 12, 2010. The Vikings and New York Giants game scheduled for the Metrodome was moved to Detroit’s Ford Field on Monday, December 13. The Vikings, the city and the fans wanted the next home game back in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, December 14, the NFL notified the University of Minnesota that our TCF Bank Stadium was a backup site for the Metrodome for the December 20 Monday Night Football game between the Vikings and the Chicago Bears.
I’m turf manager for the university, responsible for the TCF Bank Stadium field. It’s an outdoor venue, with a new FieldTurf synthetic turf system installed two years ago. Unlike northern NFL synthetic fields, we don’t have a subsurface heating system, and we don’t own field tarps. Our field and stadium had been shut down and winterized in November. Snow covered the field and stadium. We cleared the snow from the end zone by our field ramp, the only vehicle entry and exit point, and from the three other sidelines.
This view shows the plywood decking just beyond the ramp at the entry/exit to the field, the sidelines cleared of snow and one of the chutes in place ready to channel snow removed from the stadium seating area.
I’ve been to the Dome many times. With the three tears shown, and with no visible repairs underway by Wednesday, I knew it wouldn’t get fixed in time to host the game. Our university athletics team formulated a basic plan and put it in action. Along with the snow removal and field preparation, the winterization of the stadium needed to be reversed, with restrooms and concession stands reactivated, and freeze prevention put in place. We started rounding up the rented and borrowed equipment and tracking down supplies.
The University of St. Thomas loaned us their tarps. Mike Johnson of St. Anthony schools brought over a skid steer loader. MTI, the local Toro distributor, and Turfco loaned us equipment to brush, push and blow off the snow. Mortenson Construction, who built our stadium and Target Field, brought in staff and supplies. Frattalone companies loaded and hauled away all the snow. Quality Propane and Temp-air supplied propane and 90 heaters, some for the field and some for the stadium.
This view shows the depth of snow covering the remainder of the field after the sidelines were cleared.
On Wednesday, my three main staff members and I started cleaning off the field while Derek Hillestad and his staff worked on the stadium bowl. Though we were still designated a backup site, we were so sure the game was coming we slotted Thursday for the bulk of the stadium bowl snow removal, and we put out the call for volunteers on Wednesday. The plan was to organize them in teams, working three four-hour shifts. We’d obviously moved out snow before, but not that much or that quickly, and not with all the other activity taking place at the same time.
I was the point person, coordinating all the activity throughout the process. With one entry point, the big indoor area right off the field ramp was our marshalling area, and it was a zoo. As well as the site for building the camera decks and the chutes to move the snow from the seating area to the field, it was the check-in area for the trucks of propane and heaters and other equipment and supplies. Along with keeping everything coordinated, I’d hop on a machine when I could to keep things rolling.
Four hundred volunteers turned out to help clear the stadium, starting early Thursday morning, and they just kept coming all day. They pushed so much snow it took all of our equipment and staff to move it out. Snow shoveled onto the chutes flowed to the sidelines, where front-end loaders scooped it up and carried it to the trucks staged on the end zone, where we’d created a path with plywood. We kept five trucks rolling nonstop all day.
It was Friday, December 17, when we got the official word that we would be the game site. Our local sports turf staff volunteered their time and worked as long as my staff did on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We had some rented skid steer loaders working on the west plaza and in the stadium. Volunteers showed up again to tackle the stadium, and by Friday night, 90 to 95 percent of that snow was removed.
The NFL brought in Andre Bruce, sports field manager for the Kansas City Chiefs, to provide his expertise on strategies for tarping and heating the field, processes he’s used often. We also got on-site help from Grant Davisson, turf manager for the Minnesota Vikings, and Ken Mrock, head groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears. Their presence created a comfort zone for their coaches and players that made the entire process flow more smoothly.
The field had been at least partially protected from freezing by the layer of snow. With the tarps put down and the field heaters in place, we could have played on Saturday. The stadium crew started detailing the entire stadium on Saturday, removing snow from the aisles and concourses and everywhere it had accumulated. They were still doing that on Monday. They were also monitoring the heaters warming the concession stands and restrooms and anywhere else they thought the water might freeze.
We removed the tarps on Sunday to allow the Vikings to do their on-field walk-through. We thought the field was in great shape on Sunday and so did the NFL officials, the coaches and most of the players. There were some comments from those that didn’t agree, with those of Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe posted on Twitter the most widely reported of any made.
On Monday, we had a turnout of 16 honorary field crew volunteers to supplement our university staff. Along with 10 from the Minnesota STMA chapter, we had six from suppliers, including Mortenson and Frattalone, who wanted to see the action up close. We couldn’t have pulled it off without these volunteers, and I can’t thank them enough, especially after the workout they got.
By Saturday, December 18, all the snow had been cleared from the field. Tarps and blowers were in place, and four 2-million BTU heaters put out a total of 8 million BTUs to heat the field.
We re-tarped the field after the Sunday walk-through and repositioned the heaters. About noon on Monday it began snowing again. We started removing the snow and taking up the tarps at 2 p.m. We left a bit too much snow on the first tarp we rolled up, but we quickly got everyone on the same page, and the last four tarp rolls went much better. We finished the roll-up by 4:30 p.m. We didn’t have space on the field to store them, so Mortenson loaded them on a truck and took them to a storage yard.
As we were removing the tarps, it stopped snowing and started raining, so we had all kinds of brooms, pushers and blowers out on the field cleaning it off continually up until game time. At the same time, we were setting up the sidelines for the teams, including the propane and heaters, and working with radio and TV technical personnel to finalize their sideline setups.
Our crew was going nonstop until game time. About then, it started to drizzle. Every chance we got during the game, we went out with blowers to blow off the lines and the end zones.
Cleanup started immediately after the game. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we were back to our regular staffing levels to take all the pads down off the stadium, remove the benches and everything else from the field, shut down and re-winterize all of the systems and return the tarps, the borrowed and rented equipment, including the propane tanks and heaters.
Thanks to all the volunteers, our great University of Minnesota staff and that wonderful can-do Midwestern spirit, it went very well, from winter shutdown to NFL Monday Night Football game-ready in less than a week.
Mike McDonald, CSFM, is turf manager for the University of Minnesota and is responsible for the field activities at TCF Bank Stadium.