November 17, 2017 11:56 AM
The Metrodome has been demolished for several years now, and U.S. Bank Stadium with all its modern bells and whistles has since risen to take its place.
But back when it was first built in 1982, the Dome itself was an object of wonder for many.
It was a source of inspiration as well as high school football players across the state that fall.
For after years of playing state championship games on far-flung (and oftentimes frozen) fields across Minnesota, the high school league took advantage of the newly-built Dome to move everything indoors under one roof on the same day.
They billed the now-annual extravaganza as the Prep Bowl. And Prep Bowl 1 was played 35 years ago this coming Monday, on Nov. 20, 1982.
The whole shebang was televised on KSTP with Bob Bruce and former Gophers coach Cal Stoll on the call. Everyone was hoping to make it there.
"When it was first built the Metrodome was like the eighth wonder of the world to all of us," recalls then-Stillwater quarterback Eric Thole, whose team took on Owatonna for the Class AA title that year. "It was unbelievable. We all wanted to get a chance to play on the same field the Vikings and Gophers played on."
The sentiment was much the same down in tiny Truman, where head coach Ron Peterson Sr. had been dangling the Metrodome as a carrot before his players for almost a full year.
"He put a huge picture of it up in the weight room right after our last game the year before," recalls his son Ron Peterson Jr. "That was our goal all season (in 1982). The chance to get there was a huge motivator for us."
Truman did just that, advancing to meet Belgrade for the 1982 Class C title.
The full bill for Prep Bowl 1 was as follows:
9-Man - Fergus Falls Hillcrest vs. Westbrook (in what was believed to be the first 9-Man game to be played in the Twin Cities metro area); Class C - Truman vs. Belgrade; Class B - Mahnomen vs. Le Center; Class A - Brooklyn Center vs. East Grand Forks; Class AA - Stillwater vs. Owatonna.
"At that time, I think almost every high school football game in the state was being played on natural grass," recalls Kermit Klefsaas, a standout on that season's Brooklyn Center squad.
"So that was the other big deal - figuring out what shoes to wear. The field at the Dome back then was essentially carpet. But that was exciting to be able to go out and buy turf shoes."
The Class B final kicked off first, at the early hour of 10 a.m. that Saturday morning. Mahmomen fullback Steve Slette drew the honor of carrying the ball on the first play in Prep Bowl history - a 3-yard gain.
"Unfortunately, I also had the first fumble in Prep Bowl history," remembers Slette, whose team fell 12-6 that day. "So it started out well, but it didn't end well. "It was a great memory to be part of that. But I still haven't watched that game, even 35 years later. I have a copy on DVD. But I've never put it on."
Prep Bowl 1 results
Class AA: Stillwater 34, Owatonna 27
Class A: Brooklyn Center 30, East Grand Forks 8
Class B: Le Center 12, Mahnomen 6
Class C: Truman 16, Belgrade 14
9-Man: Westbrook 34, Fergus Falls Hillcrest 12
The Class C game ended in dramatic fashion. With his team trailing by one point, Peterson Jr. kicked a game-winning 29-yard field goal with under a minute to play.
Final score: Truman 16, Belgrade 14.
"I remember the South Dakota colleges had borrowed turf shoes for us all to wear," said Peterson Jr., who went on to play at Gustavus with several players on that Belgrade team," he said. "Our semifinal game that year had basically been played in a snowstorm on a frozen field. So to go from an ice rink onto turf made you feel twice as fast. And they had all sorts of bands playing. The whole thing just felt bigger and broader than what they'd been doing before."
He added, "That became exciting in itself."
Westbrook had little trouble rolling to a 34-12 victory in the 9-Man game. And Brooklyn Center cruised to a 30-8 victory in Class A. Klefsaas, whose father was an assistant coach, carried the ball 21 times for 149 yards and scored four touchdowns.
"Brooklyn Center was a smaller community at that time and we'd all grown up watching the high school football team play," recalls Klefsaas, who went on to win multiple Division II national titles at North Dakota State where he roomed with fellow players Gus Bradley (a former head and current NFL assistant coach) and Len Kretchman, who went on to help develop Uncrustables before selling the company to Smucker's.
"When we played as kids, we all pretended we were Centaurs," he said. "That's who we wanted to be. So that season was really our moment."
The final moment of Prep Bowl 1, though, belonged to the big schools.
"We played the last game of the day, and I can remember sitting around the house watching the other games on TV," said Thole, whose father George was the longtime coach at the school, and who himself went on to play college football at North Dakota State, then Macalester.
"Just seeing the atmosphere in there was pretty cool. Then driving over there on the bus and getting inside," Thole said. "They said we had a crowd of almost 25,000 for our game. So it felt like a really big deal."
Stillwater came out on top, downing Owatonna 34-27. The go-ahead play was a 50-yard-plus touchdown pass from Thole to Terry Runk with under five minutes remaining.
"I also remember they had all these bands playing," Thole said. "So instead of being 15 minutes like it normally was, halftime was about 30 minutes long. And we were all sitting around on the steps in the Metrodome hallway waiting to get back on the field."
A late interception sealed the victory, bringing the curtain down on a memorable day of football under the Dome's teflon roof.
"It meant a lot to be able to go there and play," said Slette, whose alma matter will partner with Waubun next fall in a co-op to be known as the Thunderbirds after a long and successful tradition established by Mahnomen on its own.
"We'd had playoff games in years prior. But they'd been played in Detroit Lakes or someplace like that," he said. "It wasn't the same as going to play at the Metrodome."
"It was one of those experiences I'll never forget," he added. "Just getting to play there and be a part of that is something I'll always remember."
Updated: November 17, 2017 11:56 AM
Created: November 16, 2017 11:25 AM
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