My Return to U.S. Bank Stadium, Notes and Thoughts From Preseason Game No. 1

On Saturday fans returned to U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since December 29, 2019. Normally I wouldn’t drive three hours for a preseason game, but on special occasions, I will. For example, I attended the first preseason game when the stadium opened in 2016, and during the first half, the environment was close to that of a regular-season game. With fans packing the stands for the first time since the pandemic began, I decided to make the trip up from Des Moines to watch the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings square off in the preseason opener.

Tickets were as low as six dollars on StubHub, so I waited until Saturday morning to actually buy tickets. For the first time, I actually bought seats on the second deck, Section 215 to be exact. Normally I buy the nosebleeds because you can see the entire field, but hey, it’s preseason, if there’s a time to risk getting out of my comfort zone, this is it.

If you can’t tell by now, I went to this game alone. I actually sat alone during the Minneapolis Miracle, but I met my dad and our friend at the stadium and pre-gamed before going our separate ways before kickoff. It’s a much better experience than you’d expect. Think about it, everyone there shares a common interest with you. If you can’t make friends there, you’re probably one of the idiots wearing a Packers jersey.

I pulled into Minneapolis around noon. There were several groups of fans wearing purple jerseys walking towards the stadium. After driving around several blocks looking for cheap parking, I ended up parking right across the street in the Fleet Farm parking garage (everyone still charges full-price on parking by the way. This was the most expensive part of the trip).

After parking, I made my way towards the Vikings Village. Denver fans, unsurprisingly, had a good turnout, and orange was littered throughout the crowd. After buying a beer and mindlessly walking around for twenty minutes, I decided to make my way inside to watch pre-game warmups by entering through the retractable glass doors which were open on the beautiful sunny 80-degree day.

Vikings and Broncos fans alike were out in full force over two hours before kickoff.

As I entered the concourse, I looked down at the field. The sun was showing through the translucent roof, covering about two-thirds of the field. Players were warming up, fans were in the concession lines, and even though it was just a preseason game, everything in my world felt right.

I decided to take a quick snapshot of the field for my friends who couldn’t care less about the game, and then I made my way to the opposite end of the stadium where the team was warming up. I grabbed another beer on the way, and for the next hour, I watched as kicker Greg Joseph had a decent kicking session. He actually pushed both a 33-yarder and a 48-yarder wide right during these drills. Compare that with Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, who was casually drilling 60-yarders and splitting the uprights down the middle, and my worries about the kicking game were not put to rest.

I grabbed a nine-dollar burger and another beer to curb the two beers I had drank on an empty stomach. After someone had me take a family picture for them, I knew it was time to leave pre-game warmups and find my seats. Section 215, row 7, seat 13. I took in the view and looked on as the pregame aesthetics were being set up. There was a buzz inside the stadium, and that isn’t something every team can say as they prepare for a preseason game.

Section 215, row 7, seat 13 late in the fourth quarter.

The dragon was set and ready to go. Then the videoboard started playing the intro for the Broncos, who came out to pretty loud applause from the Orange Crush faithful. After that, though, the Vikings’ intro came on, with players like Jim Marshall, Randy Moss, and John Randle telling fans to get loud. Smoke began to billow out of the dragon, and the Vikings ran onto the field as the crowd of about 40,000 erupted. “I’ve got goosebumps,” I said to the man sitting next to me.

As loud as the crowd was for intros, they became quiet for the National Anthem. After that, the Skol Chant inside U.S. Bank Stadium broke out for the first time in 20 months. Gold medalist and Minnesota native- Gable Stevenson sounded the Gjallarhorn as the chant broke into a frenzy. Soon after, the Broncos jumped all over the Vikings and the game became a snooze-fest. The lead-up to the game, however, was worth the three-hour drive.

Notes and Thoughts on the Preseason Home Opener

  • I’ve seen enough from Dakota Dozier. I tried giving him a break in previous years, but at this point he’s at best the fourth-best guard on the roster. Pro Football Focus gave him the lowest grade among offensive players during Saturday’s game with a grade of 20.9.
  • Rookie RG Wyatt Davis struggled on his first two plays as he was pushed into Jake Browning’s lap. However, he recovered and had a pretty impressive outing. PFF gave him a 78.9 grade, second-highest among Vikings offensive players.
  • Cam Dantzler might have had the most disappointing game of all Vikings players. The second-year corner got burned on the 80-yard touchdown and lost contain on an outside run play to his side. With a grade of 29.4, he was the second-lowest graded defender.
  • On the flip side, perhaps no player impressed me as much as Kris Boyd. He matched up well with Jerry Jeudy, squeezing the receiver to the sideline on a go-route and breaking up a pass at the goal line on fourth down.
  • I’m not going to panic over Kellen Mond. The rookie QB missed ten days of camp when he tested positive for Covid. It didn’t help that the offense was super vanilla Saturday, relying on the run game. I wouldn’t expect to see an offensive approach catered to him until the final preseason game.
  • Where the hell did A.J. Rose come from? Most fans (myself included) expected a heavy dose of rookie speedster Kene Nwangue. Instead, Rose, the undrafted rookie running back from Kentucky, carried the ball 25 times for 100 yards. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings continue feeding him next week.
  • Finally, it was cool seeing Teddy in front of the fans again. Like I said earlier, I was at the Vikings preseason home opener in 2016 against the Chargers. Teddy put on a clinic that day. Two days later, he destroyed his knee. What could have been.

Next Saturday the Colts come to U.S. Bank Stadium to play our beloved at 7 PM CT. Until then, Skol.