Sal Paolantonio donned a parka and braved the sub-zero temps. The ESPN national correspondent took the field at 5 a.m. for live sideline shots seven hours before what became the third-coldest game in NFL history.
When Paolantonio met up with Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall at the NFL Scouting Combine Wednesday, the memory of frozen fingers he suffered at the Jan. 10 Wild Card game hadn't dissolved.
"I would just like to thank the City of Minneapolis for almost freezing me to death at that playoff game," Paolantonio, a native of New York said, laughing. "I've been in some pretty cold weather […] that was the kind of cold you remember."
Paolantonio said the Vikings established an identity for themselves in 2015, and he expects them to continue succeeding in 2016. But if he covers a Minnesota playoff game next season, it will be indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium – and he's not the only one who will benefit.
"Quarterback [Teddy] Bridgewater will love the new stadium," said NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt. "It won't be a wind tunnel like the University of Minnesota's [TCF Bank Stadium] is."
Bridgewater hasn't known a home field other than TCF Bank Stadium, and as he enters his third year in the NFL, many believe that moving indoors will offer an advantage.
"If you look at any quarterback, [throwing indoors is a benefit]," Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said in a KFAN interview with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen. "You're in prime conditions for throwing the football, and Teddy's record right now – when he's played in a dome, he's played awfully well."
In five career indoor games, Bridgewater holds a 70.6 completion percentage and 95.1 passer rating. He is 2-2 in four starts, including wins at Detroit and Atlanta and an upset attempt that fell just shy at Arizona in 2015. Next season, the Vikings will play nine games – eight at home and one in Detroit – indoors.
Besides allowing Bridgewater and his team to escape the elements, U.S. Bank Stadium could offer an advantage if the Vikings look to bring in new players – through free agency or otherwise. USA TODAY's Tom Pelissero said the shiny new venue could appeal to available players.
"It gives [the Vikings] a nicer stadium to show off when free agents come through," Pelissero told Vikings.com. "If you're going to take a tour, it's better to go to U.S. Bank Stadium than TCF Bank Stadium, just because the facilities are different – you're building something new."
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said, while he anticipates prospective players recognizing the quality coaching staff and positive direction the Vikings are headed, having U.S. Bank Stadium will be an added selling point.
"I know we will utilize that new stadium as we court players, even when we bring in Top 30 guys and guys we may want to recruit as college free agents, that may not get drafted," Spielman said. "We want them to know, 'Our owners put a lot of money into this franchise, this facility, this state-of-the-art practice facility that's coming down the road, too.' I think that's all a huge benefit."
As analysts look ahead to the 2016 Vikings season, they're expecting big things.
"Minnesota's going to have a good football team," Brandt said. "They're going to have a very competitive team."
Paolantonio wouldn't be surprised if he covers another playoff game or two in Minnesota's next season, and this time, he'll enjoy standing on the sidelines of U.S. Bank Stadium.
"The team got an identity, and I think that identity is now solidified, "Paolantonio said. "It's a team with a coach, a quarterback, a running back and a purpose. They're going to be really difficult to compete with, I think, the next 2-3 years."
View aerial images updated from both the northeast corner and then the southwest corner, showcasing the progress at U.S. Bank Stadium. Updated from late June of 2016.