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Joe Lonke was say­ing good­bye to the Hu­bert H. Humphrey Met­ro­dome on Sun­day af­ter­noon long be­fore he ac­tu­al­ly left it.

Ever since his moth­er drove him down­town to see his first big-league base­ball game, the 39-year-old sports buff from Ma­ple Grove has been hooked on the sights and sounds of a place where home­town heroes won over hearts and de­liv­ered doz­ens of thrills over three mem­o­ra­ble de­cades.

So Sun­day af­ter­noon, as the Vi­kings played their fi­nal game in the soon-to-be-razed 31-year-old ven­ue, Lonke couldn’t help but think about his late moth­er and the mem­ories they shared.

Kir­by Puck­ett’s 11th-in­ning, walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Brett Fav­re’s magi­cal au­tumn of 2009. The Twins World Series ti­tles in ’87 and ’91. The Vi­kings’ heart­break­ing NFC title game loss to At­lan­ta in 1999. Game 163 against De­troit.

“I’m not even watch­ing the game at all,” Lonke said as he walked the con­course min­utes be­fore the fi­nal gun sound­ed in a 14-13 Vi­kings vic­to­ry that closed out the Met­ro­dome era. “I’m just wan­der­ing around look­ing at ev­er­y­thing and think­ing about the his­to­ry. It’s as much about me say­ing good­bye to this place for her as it is for me.”

Lonke was one of 64,000 fans who braved a bit­ter De­cem­ber chill to bid fare­well to the much-ma­ligned Tef­lon-co­vered sta­di­um that was of­ten the butt of jokes but served its local teams so very well.

They came from I­o­wa and North Dakota and as far away as London to catch a piece of his­to­ry and may­be, in a sea­son of too many “L’s” and too much dis­ap­point­ment, to see a vic­to­ry.

In coming weeks, the Dome, named for one of the state’s most promi­nent politicians and home for de­cades to the Twins, Vi­kings and University of Minnesota foot­ball team, will be razed to make way for a $1 bil­lion, state-of-the-art up­grade.

“Peo­ple called it a dump,” Lonke said as he looked around the sta­di­um. “But it was our dump. And we loved it.”

Quiet end­ing

Un­like the Metropolitan Stadium fi­na­le 30 years earli­er, when fans stormed the field, tore down goalposts and scam­pered up the score­board, the Dome went out Sun­day with a bit of a whim­per.

With ex­tra se­curi­ty of­fic­ers lin­ing the field at game’s end and an ad­di­tion­al 50 off-duty Minneapolis po­lice of­fic­ers work­ing the con­course and the crowd, dam­age was slight — fold­ing chairs, cup hold­ers and signs were re­port­ed­ly the big­gest loss­es.

“No one was in­jured. Every­­thing was re­spect­ful,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair­woman of the Minnesota Sports Fa­cili­ties Authority, which runs the Dome and is over­see­ing con­struc­tion of the new sta­di­um. “It was a great day.”

Hours be­fore the Dome’s re­volv­ing doors stopped turn­ing for good, fans gath­ered in near­by park­ing lots for a fi­nal tail­gat­ing bash.

Decked out in pur­ple and gold jer­seys and stock­ing caps and beads and face paint, they grill­ed bur­gers and brats, guz­zled cold beer and sipped strong­er spir­its in a subzero De­cem­ber chill that made the toast­y con­fines of the Dome, even at its ad­vanced age, seem all the more ap­peal­ing.

While the sta­di­um goes down and the new one goes up, the Vi­kings will play the next two seas­ons out­doors at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota cam­pus. The new sta­di­um is sched­uled to open in time for the 2016 NFL sea­son.

“It’s a big day,” said Al Moore, a sea­son tick­et-hold­er from Plymouth. “And I’m tak­ing it all in. I just want to say I was here.”

Moore, his wife, Jen­ni, and their par­ty of eight pulled into a park­ing lot a few blocks from the sta­di­um well be­fore sun­rise af­ter drop­ping off their kids at grand­ma’s house in St. Louis Park.

“We were the first ones in the lot,” Jen­ni Moore said. “We want­ed to make sure we got a spot.”

De­spite the cold and a sting­ing wind, the Moores and friends stayed com­fy with hot chil­i and chick­en wings.

“It’s the end of an era, but it’s been a lot of fun,” said Sara Peulen, a fan from Chisago City, as she tossed pep­pers and po­ta­to skins on a near­by grill.

By 10 a.m., the sweet scent of both waft­ed across the park­ing lot. By 11 a.m., a steady stream of fans hus­tled up the street and through the sta­di­um gates, where ticket holders re­ceived com­memo­ra­tive pur­ple pen­nants.

By the time the Lions kicked off at noon, the crowd was in a tiz­zy. For the next three hours fans cheered and groaned and cuss­ed and pumped fists in a game that was more rou­tine than re­mark­able.

But to most watch­ing, the de­tails didn’t seem to mat­ter.

“This is his­to­ry going down,” said Pat­ti Lang, 35, who grew up in Bloomington but now lives in Or­e­gon. “It’s a big deal.”

“This is our child­hood,” said her friend, Alissa Thorsland, of Hopkins. “We grew up here.”

Three hours later, the Vi­kings trot­ted off the ar­ti­fi­cial turf for a fi­nal time with a one-point vic­to­ry, thanks large­ly to rook­ie Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran 50 yards for one touch­down and caught a short pass for an­oth­er score late in the game to de­liv­er the win.

As the fi­nal gun sound­ed, fans rose to cheer and sa­lute. Cellphone cam­eras flashed. Some fans blew kiss­es. Oth­ers sang “Skol Vi­kings” and raced out the re­volv­ing doors, slap­ping their palms against the exit sign to Kir­by Puck­ett Place.

“This sta­di­um, even ­though it might not have been per­fect, it was us,” form­er Vi­kings cen­ter Matt Birk said in a brief, postgame cer­e­mo­ny at mid­field.

A personal souvenir

High in the se­cond deck, sis­ters Shawn Schmitz, 43, of St. Louis Park and Nat­a­lie Craw­ford, 40, of Bil­lings, Mont., pulled out a pur­ple and gold boa and be­gan pluck­ing feath­ers. Their moth­er had made the boa for Craw­ford, a self-de­scribed “se­ri­ous Vi­kings fan,” more than 20 years ago.

But now, the sis­ters thought it only fit­ting to leave it behind.

As a fi­nal round of fire­works sound­ed and fans head­ed to the ex­its, the sis­ters picked the boa clean, toss­ing each feath­er over the side of the se­cond deck rail­ing, flut­tering to the seats be­low.

“Yeah,” Craw­ford said as she teared up, “it’s kind of sad.”

“It’s very sad,” Schmitz said as she hugged her sis­ter. “But we thought we’d leave the feath­ers. It seems only fit­ting that they stay here and go down with the Dome.”

Rich­ard Meryhew • 612-673-4425