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Vikings open season on Sunday in strange fashion, with no fans or tailgating

It's going to be a season opener like no other.

MINNEAPOLIS — Property owner Tom Laird is renovating a few buildings in downtown Minneapolis, just across the light rail from U.S. Bank Stadium and adjacent to the Minnesota Vikings’ official tailgating lots.

Usually, Sunday’s home opener against the Green Bay Packers would bring hundreds if not thousands of fans to several sanctioned areas near Laird’s buildings.

But not this weekend.

“This is normally a vibrant area, especially on gameday. The fact that it will be… silent?” Laird said. “Words can’t address it. It’s a tremendous loss. And that’s a big part of the social fabric.”

The Vikings have already announced they will not allow tailgating in 2020 due to anticipated social distancing guidelines throughout the rest of the calendar year, no matter what the team decides to do with fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Although private lots could technically host gatherings, no plans have been announced for that type of event, and a city spokesperson said any authorized private lot would need to enforce social distancing.

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As for the stadium, the Vikings so far have banned fans for at least the first two home games in September. Fans haven’t been ruled out for games later in the season, depending on health guidance and COVID-19 caseloads, but there’s no indication when (or if) that will ever happen. Only six NFL teams are currently allowing spectators to start the season.

To fill the void, Vikings enthusiasts in the Twin Cities may flock to watch parties at bars or restaurants – but even those will look a lot different in 2020.

At Park Tavern in St. Louis Park, owner Phil Weber will set up television monitors and loudspeakers under a tent for Sunday’s game, allowing him to entertain fans outdoors with socially-distant table arrangements. Fans have already booked up the entire tent through reservations, a necessary requirement so that Weber can conduct contact tracing if needed.

“2020 is unprecedented,” Weber said. “People are longing right now to get back to something that feels normal. Although this is going to be a little different format than it’s originally done, it is still normal to have football. The weather’s cooling down. It is football season.”

But it won’t be totally normal until fans can gravitate back to U.S. Bank Stadium.

They might need to wait until next year to do that, although one can dream.

“We would sure hope so. I think there’s a way to do it. Hopefully, they can figure it out,” Tom Laird said. “The fact that it’s here, wonderful – but that people can’t participate and there won’t be a presence, that’s just a real loss.”

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