Bears Top Vikings and Clinch N.F.C. North on Icy Night

The Vikings were forced to play at the ’s outdoor stadium Monday night against the Chicago Bears because the Metrodome roof collapsed Dec. 12 under 17 inches of snow. The Vikings’ fall hastened in the second half and the Bears (10-4), aided by a record 14th career touchdown return by Devin Hester, clinched the N.F.C. North title in a 40-14 victory.

The buildup to the game, a return to the arctic roots that defined the Vikings’ first two decades, had older fans and retired players pulling out parkas and waxing nostalgic.

At game time, the temperature was 24 degrees as snow showers fell and the wind chill was 11.

More griping than grunting came from the current Vikings. “The field is hard as concrete,” punter Chris Kluwe wrote Sunday on , adding, “Anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.”

That is a far cry from Bud Grant, who coached in the 1970s when the Vikings played outside at Metropolitan Stadium. He banned heaters and forbade his players to wear gloves, treating frigid weather as an ally.

“I won’t be Bud Grant out there,” Coach Leslie Frazier told The Associated Press. “If you guys can recognize me, you’re doing pretty good.”

True to form, Grant, joining 50 Viking greats who were honored at halftime, wore a short-sleeve golf shirt. He was hoisted on the shoulders of two former players and waved to the crowd.

Running back Chuck Foreman, who played for the Vikings from 1973 to 1979, found the winter woes overstated. “You’ve got to learn to tough it up,” Foreman told The St. Paul Pioneer Press, adding, “These guys get spoiled.”

Older Vikings fans know how to cope. Frank Abramson, 63, an attorney from St. Louis Park, has had season tickets since 1962. Abramson said he used to brace for icy games by wrapping a quilted “stadium bag” over a snowmobile suit and donning a knit balaclava with slits for his eyes. “You’re either going to a really cold football game or you’re robbing a bank,” he said of the headwear.

Abramson had some terse advice for Kluwe and his teammates: “I think they have to suck it up.”

Some natives saw it as a bit of snowy synchronicity that the last time the Vikings played an outdoor home game was 29 years ago to the day.

“There’s a whole generation of Vikings fans that maybe have not experienced an outdoor game,” said Steve LaCroix, the Vikings’ chief marketing officer.

Any added electricity is welcome in a season in which the Vikings have struggled, their coach was fired and ’s record consecutive-game streak ended.

After being ruled out on Saturday with a sprained right shoulder, Favre recovered in time to start.

“This also might sound kind of crazy, but I was looking forward to playing in the blizzard,” Favre said after the game.

He led the Vikings (5-9) to a touchdown on a crisp opening drive, completing five of seven passes, including a screen to Percy Harvin, who raced 23 yards for the score. Jubilant fans tossed snow into the air. But Favre was knocked out of the game in the second quarter after being slammed to the rock-hard turf.

“It was one of the few times I kind of went blank there for a while in my career,” Favre said.

Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes for the Bears, including one to Devin Hester, who gave Chicago a boost with two big returns.

In the second half, Hester returned the opening kick 79 yards to set up a field goal by Robbie Gould. A few minutes later, Hester set an N.F.L. record with his 14th career return for a touchdown. He returned a punt 64 yards, running up the sideline virtually untouched, to give Chicago a 27-7 lead.

Brian Mitchell held the previous record with 13 returns, which Hester tied in Week 6 with an 89-yard punt return against Seattle. Hester has returned 10 punts and 4 kickoffs for touchdowns in 74 career games.

Preparing TCF Bank Stadium was a complicated, costly effort, beginning with the removal of about 40,000 cubic yards of snow, according to the university spokesman Garry Bowman. “To give you a picture, if it were to be all dumped on the 100-yard field, it’d be about 20 feet deep,” he said.

For four days the frozen field was covered by a tarp, thawing under four massive heaters. At least 15,000 man hours went into stadium preparations, Bowman said.

Fans had to bear the snowstorm sober. TCF Stadium does not serve alcohol. A liquor store a block away had sold about a thousand flasks an hour before the game, according to the owner, George Medich. “This weather is not going to stop these people,” he said.

Jake Koch, a 20-year-old college student, said he wore long johns and a knit Vikings cap beneath his North Face hood. He was excited to prove his mettle and experience something that was commonplace for older generations. “You have to walk the walk if you’re going to talk the talk,” he said. “I think all the fans should go to this game; otherwise you’re going to look like a bunch of babies.”

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