MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph spent his first three seasons playing in the Metrodome, a cramped, dingy noise box that tested the patience of fans and players alike.
The home locker room only had five bathroom stalls for 53 players and dozens of coaches and support staff. So when he walked around U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings' new $1.1 billion stadium that is set to open this season, he said comparing the two was like "ground chuck and filet mignon."
The Vikings held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday to mark the official beginning of life in their new home. The celebration featured current coach Mike Zimmer blowing the gjallahorn — a huge horn used in Viking lore — with coaching legend Bud Grant by his side and fireworks after a host of speakers praised the new stadium.
With a cutting-edge design that includes a translucent roof to allow in the daylight, a wall of glass with 100-foot doors that open to let the autumn breeze in and a locker room that is twice the size of their former home in the Metrodome, U.S. Bank Stadium has thrust the franchise into the 21st century.
"The Metrodome as a player, it's an awesome environment," Rudolph said. "It's loud, the turf is fast, it's a controlled environment. But the amenities and the fan experience that this place brings, it's second to none. Just look at all the things that this place has. There's probably 10 times the stalls that there were in the Metrodome. We had five for the entire team. That kind of puts it in perspective in terms of our quality of life here in the new stadium."
The Vikings spent the previous two years playing in the University of Minnesota's football stadium across town while the Metrodome was taken apart to make room for the new stadium, and the party on Friday was the culmination of 31 months of construction and more than 10 years of lobbying by the Vikings for help from the public in financing the project.
"I try to think of the proper word, and all I can come up with is awesome," said Grant, the revered coach known for his stoicism during his Hall of Fame career.
The Vikings will hold an open house for fans on Saturday and Sunday and thousands are scheduled to attend. The first big event will come with a soccer game between Chelsea and AC Milan next week and the Vikings will hold their first preseason game on Aug. 28. Their home opener is a Sunday night game against NFC North rival Green Bay on Sept. 18.
The stadium opens at a time when confidence in the team on the field is reaching a crescendo. The Vikings are coming off a division title and an 11-5 regular season. They lost a heartbreaker in the playoffs to Seattle when Blair Walsh missed the go-ahead field goal in the closing seconds and fans fully expect the team to compete for a Super Bowl berth.
"When we bought the team, now in our 12th season, we had three goals: to be engaged in the community, build a new home for our Vikings and win championships," owner Mark Wilf said. "Two out of three we've done pretty well at. And now, our team's starting to jell. That's still our ultimate goal. And wouldn't a Lombardi look great here, or multiple Lombardis?"
Business leaders, designers and architects, politicians and fans all gathered on Friday for the festivities. And a project that was contested from the very beginning received universal praise, even from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who voted against public funding for the project when she was on the city council.
Hodges fully acknowledged her initial opposition on Friday, but pointed to the development in a once-run down side of downtown that has boomed with the stadium's arrival. A new city park and more than $1 billion in new apartments and office towers have sprouted in the area around the stadium.
The stadium will also host the Super Bowl in 2018, the NCAA men's Final Four in 2019 and ESPN's X-Games in 2017 and 2018.
"Ten, eight, even five years ago we wouldn't have been able to imagine this transformation," Hodges said. "But today we get to let our imaginations run wild about five, eight or 10 years from now, or even beyond. And even so, we still can't imagine all the ways that what's happening right now in this stadium will continue to transform us."