The Good Ol’ Days: Ushering at the Met
In 1966-67 I spent my first year of college in Minneapolis and worked part-time as an usher at Twins and Vikings games. The pay was $5 a game (about $37 today) and we were provided with a uniform and free parking. The games were played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, where the Mall of the America now stands.
I ushered the Twins’ last home game on Sept. 28 against the Cleveland Indians. There was no playoff system in 1966 and both teams were out of postseason contention. As such, they were basically playing for fun, and I recall the Twins third baseman laughingly letting a Cleveland ground ball go through his legs just to give the hitter a chance to be on base.
Each game’s ushering assignment depended on one’s seniority, and it was mostly first-come-first-served for us rookies. The young men who had been with Andy Frain Services for years got the choice assignment: press box duty out of the weather. We wore Andy Frain-provided long coats, blue pants with a gold stripe down the leg and a blue peaked cap with a black bill. We supplied long-sleeved white shirts and black ties.
At the Bears game on Oct. 2, I was assigned to work the lower level first base box area. We would check tickets and help people find their places. I wore a large mitten-like glove that was used to dust off the wooden fold-down seats, which occasionally resulted in a 25-cent tip from a grateful patron.
This was the sixth Vikings season and they were still at the bottom of the pile, but this Bears game and three other of their seven home games were sellouts (47,426) in the 14-game 1966 season. As the stands filled up before the game, a man came up to me and asked to gain access to the sidelines. He was business-like and well-dressed, wearing a top coat and a hat. This was back when people dressed up to go to a football game. The man showed me a credential that said “NFL Films”. I had never heard of NFL Films, but let him onto the field area via a small gate in the three-foot-high fence near the first base dugout. Many years later I realized that the man was Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films.
Once the game had started, there was little to do, other than ensure that no one tried to sneak down from the cheap seats and to help a returning patron who had forgotten where they were sitting. Many of the people in the section for which I was responsible were among the 25,000 season ticket holders who not only knew where their seats were but also knew their season ticket-holding neighbors and they would greet each other with warm familiarity as everyone settled in.
The Vikes lost 13-10. After each game we ushers would make our way out onto the sidelines and stand facing the exiting crowds. This was supposed to ensure that no one would come onto the field. No one did, and I wondered what would have happened had someone tried. It was fascinating to see the CBS Sports television crews wrapping up cable, the players being interviewed and officials walking off the field and disappearing into the bowels of the Met through first base dugout.
I noticed activity at the center of the field. A Bears lineman was lying flat on his back, apparently out cold. After a few minutes a stretcher was brought in and he was carried off, still wearing his helmet, his arms dangling downward. The injury occurred on the very last play as time ran out, so it may have been the culmination of the afternoon’s war in the trenches and administered by a heavy weapon smuggled onto the field. Don’t know, just sayin’.
Although I had arrived three hours before game time and had parked right next to the stadium, it took me almost two hours to exit that day. Metropolitan Stadium had just one outlet from the parking lot and every game’s end was a roiling sea of thousands of cars trying to squeeze out, one at a time.
I soon developed a strategy of parking in a residential neighborhood just west of I-35 and walking 20 minutes to and from the stadium. Parking on the street was restricted on game days and I had to park six blocks west of I-35, but my net time saving was about 90 minutes going home.
On Nov. 13, the Vikings hosted Detroit. The Lions had a little kicker named Garo Yepremian, who had signed with the team only a month earlier. He kicked six field goals in the game, an NFL record at the time, enroute to a 32-31 win over the Vikes.
I had north end zone duty that day and there was no net to keep kicked balls from flying into the bleachers. If one did, we were supposed to ask the fans who caught them to return them. This was met with much growling and gnashing of teeth and we sometimes had to call upon a nearby policeman to help us get the ball back. Yepremian’s kicks kept us ushers busy that day at both ends of the field.
The Green Bay Packers visited on Nov. 27. Although leading 21-3 at halftime, they came back onto the field as if they had been given a tongue-lashing by legendary head coach Vince Lombardi. I had made my way to their sideline and watched as these tough-looking heroes walked by, professional to a man and no eye contact with any of us. I stood, silent and reverent, as eleven future Hall-of-Famers came past, including Lombardi, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Jim Taylor and Bart Starr. With the exception of Lombardi, they all seemed very tall in their cleats and I felt relieved to not have to face them in the second half, as did the Vikings, who lost 28-16.
The last home game was Dec. 4 against fellow cellar-dweller Atlanta. It was a cold, blustery, snowy day and I was assigned to work the left field upper deck. It was brutal. There were about 10,000 no-shows and the fans in the upper deck were few. Our supervisor told us that we could go into the well-heated upper deck men’s room and get warm, but there had to be at least one usher outside at all times. Some of the fans spent a good deal of time in there and I recall two men listening to the game on WCCO over a little transistor radio. When there was a big play such as a long run, they would dash outside into the blizzard to try to catch a glimpse of the action. The Falcons won 20-13 and the Vikings finished the season 4-9-1. The Packers finished 12-2 and went on to face the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in the first “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” in January.
Bill is a Rugby native, graduating from RHS in 1966. His family operated the Gronvold Motor Company until 1968. He is a retired FAA air traffic controller and although he resides in Orlando, Florida, his heart will always be with the Heart of America.
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