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Beer man, Metrodome sports have long history

April 3, 2001
Wally McNeil of Minneapolis sells programs before the NCAA Championship game at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, in Minneapolis, Minn. on Monday. McNeil has been a vendor at the Metrodome since it opened in 1982.

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota legends Warren Moon and Kirby Puckett were familiar faces among Metrodome sports fans in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

It was their play on the gridiron and baseball diamond that symbolized longevity, consistency and success within a professional organization.

But neither athlete has been associated with as many championships as hometown hero Wally McNeil.

In his 19 years of continuous concessions service at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, McNeil, a Minneapolis native, has experienced the thrill of the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, the NFL’s NFC Championship game and two NCAA Final Fours.

“I love this job,” said McNeil, 67, while selling programs during the NCAA national semifinals Saturday.

“I was the vice president of operations for a local wholesale pharmaceuticals company for 38 years before I did this. There’s just no comparison - I like sports and I like people.”

McNeil, who sold programs during Monday’s NCAA Championship game, said his favorite sports moment was in 1992 - a year when the Metrodome hosted the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, Final Four and Super Bowl.

“I’ll never forget that year,” McNeil said. “My most fond memory was when Kirby Puckett hit his home run in game six of the series to force a game seven, which led to the Twins winning it all. That was truly the greatest.”

As an avid Minnesota Golden Gophers fan, McNeil admitted he was disappointed after MSU’s 80-61 loss to Arizona in Saturday’s national semifinals.

“It’s too bad the Spartans lost because I really like how their team plays,” he said. “I always root for the fellow Big Ten schools, especially when Minnesota isn’t playing.”

For Metrodome professional sporting events, McNeil serves as a world-famous beer vendor, known for his uncanny ability to persuade fans to buy plenty of the frothy beverage.

“Wally brings a personality to sporting events here that really attracts the fans,” said fellow beer vender Dick Wilke, who has worked with McNeil since the dome’s opening in 1982. “He’s a special guy who has a great marketing sense.”

McNeil, who refers to himself as the “original beer man,” has been featured on the Discovery Channel, the NBC Nightly News, MTV and numerous Bud Light commercials.

“Since I’ve been working here so long I’ve become pretty famous,” he said. “Whether it’s Vikings or Minnesota football games or Twins games, most of the fans know me by my first name. I know most of them by their first names too.”

Metrodome security guard Chuck Olsen, who has known McNeil for the past three years, said his unique flair for serving fans has helped build a tradition at the 195-foot-high, 60 million-cubic-foot-wide venue.

“He’s definitely a crowd favorite, especially at the baseball games since there’s a lot of beer drinkers there,” Olsen said. “There are a lot of people that will walk around the whole stadium just to find Wally and buy their first beer from him. They wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

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