The Vikings are treating Sunday as a "grand reopening" of sorts for U.S. Bank Stadium, where fans will return for the team's home opener after being unable to attend games for all of 2020 because of COVID-19.
They'll host a kickoff concert for up to 7,500 four hours before game time in Commons Park just to the west of the stadium. Osmo Vanska — in his final year as Minnesota Orchestra music director — will conduct "Symphony of the North," a composition by former Prince keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, before a brass quintet from the orchestra plays the national anthem.
There will be new video packages, stadium special effects and fan giveaways for the 3:25 p.m. kickoff. The grand reopening will even feature perhaps the Vikings' grandest villain.
Russell Wilson will visit U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time on Sunday, seeking his fourth win in as many tries in a state where he has never lost as a college or professional quarterback. Wilson led Wisconsin to a 42-13 victory over the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in 2011. There is no team he has beaten as much in the NFL as the Vikings, and no quarterback who has beaten them as consistently as Wilson.
In the team's 61 seasons, only three quarterbacks have started at least five regular-season or playoff games against the Vikings and won every meeting. Ken Stabler was 5-0 against Minnesota (including a win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, their most recent Super Bowl appearance). Tom Brady is 6-0 against the Vikings after Tampa Bay's win over them last December. But no one has a longer undefeated streak against them than Wilson, who is 7-0 against the Vikings since 2012.
He put together two efficient performances against Leslie Frazier's final teams in Minnesota, throwing for two touchdowns in 2012 and three in 2013 when the Seahawks used him as more of a game manager. In Seattle's 38-7 win in December 2015 — which is still tied for the Vikings' second-worst loss of the Zimmer era — Wilson completed 21 of his 27 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns, as the Seahawks built a 35-0 lead before Cordarrelle Patterson's kickoff return touchdown.
The Seahawks' playoff win at TCF Bank Stadium five weeks later is best remembered for Blair Walsh's 27-yard missed field goal, but Wilson interrupted his otherwise-dreadful game with one of the day's biggest plays, recovering an errant snap at the Seahawks' 45 and hitting Tyler Lockett with a completion that brought Seattle to the Vikings' 4 and set up the day's only touchdown.
Wilson completed only 10 of his 20 passes for 72 yards in 2018, but ran for 61 in Seattle's 2018 Monday night win. In the last two prime-time meetings between the teams, he has posted passer ratings of 98.9 and 100.7, also running five times for 58 yards last year. With 1:57 to play and one timeout remaining in the 2020 game, Wilson drove the Seahawks 94 yards for a game-winning score, converting a fourth-and-10 from the Seattle 23 and hitting D.K. Metcalf for a fourth-down TD with 15 seconds left.
"He's great throwing the ball, he knows where to go with the ball," Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. "He manages their whole offense — he runs the whole thing. A lot of it is no-huddle. He can escape when he wants to. He doesn't run around as much as he used to when he was younger. But he knows how to get out, and he knows how to make plays with his feet. And he knows how to get on the edge and still make big plays down the field. He's a tremendous challenge for us on Sunday."
Wilson has not been to U.S. Bank Stadium, where fans haven't attended a meaningful Vikings game in 21 months.
The Vikings might be able to transfer some of their pass-rush plan from last week's matchup with Kyler Murray to their assignment against Wilson this week. They're counting on a big day from Dalvin Cook against a team that ranks 31st in run defense after Derrick Henry posted 182 in Tennessee's comeback win last week.
And instead of visiting one of the league's loudest stadiums in Seattle, the Vikings will have the noise advantage this time. The teams are meeting for the fourth straight season, but the previous three games were in Seattle.
"We might as well be in their division. What is this?" Patterson said. "Four years in a row. I don't think we have to ask anybody [how to defend him]. We've played him four years in a row. Fortunately, we get him in our great place this time. We've been going there the whole time, so hopefully that gives us an edge. All [three] games have come down to the end, and this one will, too."
The greatest villains, after all, rarely go down easily.
"We're a play away in a couple of those games, now," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We're a play away, so we're right there, and we've got to find the inches on Sunday."