Key matchup: Man vs. turf

Chris Kluwe and Visanthe Shiancoe have tweeted their displeasure with field conditions after a Sunday walkthrough, and the team that handles a frozen playing surface best is likely the team that wins.

The Vikings and Bears vs. TCF Bank Stadium

Perhaps never has a key matchup involved a stadium surface. In the years we've focused on specific matchups, outside factors like the crowds, the coaches and even the elements have occasionally been the focus of a game matchup, but how the teams handle the untested conditions of TCF Bank Stadium will likely be a determining factor in who wins and who loses and makes this an unlikely key matchup.

For the Vikings, a home game they fully expected to be played in the noisy (and warm) Metrodome has failed to materialize. After the roof of the dome collapsed and the Vikings were forced to scramble to find a place to play the last two weeks, they have lost what homefield advantage they needed while desperately trying to save their season in an uphill division fight against the Packers and Bears. To nobody's surprise, when they lost to the Giants last week, that hope died.

With the University of Minnesota's stadium was available (although "winterized" and shut down for the winter), the Vikings and the NFL scrambled to make the logistics right, but at no point were the Vikings players taken into consideration in the decision-making process.

The Vikings are an indoor team. Teams are often built around the conditions in which they play. For years, the Bears have been known for playing old-school football. On turf, their teams looks slower than most, but seem perfectly in their element in the torn up hayfield that is Soldier Field. They play low-scoring games that are often decided by a big play on defense or special teams. They use their formidable elements and high winds whipping off Lake Michigan to their advantage. The Vikings simply isn't that kind of team.

For the last 29 years, the Vikings have been an indoor team. Over the years, players have been drafted with an eye directly pointed at the prospect of getting them on a dry track where their speed can be exploited. From Randy Moss to Adrian Peterson to Percy Harvin, speed kills on turf and the team has been built with that objective in mind.

A secondary problem that the Vikings have is that they are veteran team that was built to win this year, not a couple years down the line. The team is loaded with players over the age of 30 and cold weather often tends to affect older players more severely than younger players. It's just a fact of life. For this Vikings team to be playing this Bears team, being outdoors for the game would seem to eliminate whatever home-field advantage the Vikings might have. But it isn't going to be a home game for the Bears either.

The Bears still have to travel to Minneapolis for the game and are completely unfamiliar with the terrain at TCF Bank Stadium. Opponents might be surprised when they got to Soldier Field to see how long and clumpy the turf is allowed to get, but most teams, especially division rivals like the Vikings and Packers, know what to expect and come prepared. Like the Vikings, the Bears have no history at The Bank and it would appear they took the potential impact of the field conditions very seriously.

On Friday, the Bears held a practice on the campus of Northwestern University. Why? The field has a similar Field Turf to that at The Bank. It meant enough to them to use one of their preparation days to work out on a field similar to what they will play on tonight – artificial turf in freezing conditions. It's hard to imagine a team doing that if there wasn't at least some concern about the condition of the field.

With a game having never been played in December on the artificial turf of the stadium, there is no telling how it will react when frozen snow and ice has been removed, the field has been under a heat-infused blanket and then re-freezes when it is removed and possibly buried under a blanket of snow. The team that can adjust if the field deteriorates during the game either from cold or snow will likely make the big plays that determine the outcome of the game.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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