Leslie Frazier's return to the Metrodome Saturday night will mark just the second time he's there as head coach. With a new roof and new carpet, the Dome will host the most important preseason game tonight.
As far as NFL head coaches go, Leslie Frazier has been as big a nomad as anyone. In eight career games as an NFL head coach – six as the interim head coach in 2010 and two in the preseason as the "non-interim" head coach, Frazier will be entering the Metrodome for just the second time as the man with the plan.
Thanks to the collapse of the cheaply built dome, Frazier's anticipated three-game homestand when the Vikings were still mathematically alive in the NFC playoff chase turned into the NFL's first three-game homestand played in three different stadiums.
For a coach who technically has spent almost half a season as a head coach, having just one home game (in the place he actually calls home) is a tough start. Few people will appreciate the face-painters more than Frazier will tonight.
"I'm glad that we're at home," Frazier said. "We need to be around our fans. We need to get some normalcy for our team and not having to get on a plane and go across the country like we did to play Seattle [and Tennessee]. I think that's a good thing for us. We've experienced road games and now to play in front of our home fans should help us. We need to find out how we respond to playing at home, so I think it's going to be big."
While fans see the game merely as a dress rehearsal for the big show starting Sept. 11, Frazier said that, given the short timetable to assess the "bubble boys" on the roster, tonight's game will have implications long after the starters have peeled off their pads and are conducting sideline TV interviews.
"We're approaching a cut day now, so we're going to have to make some decisions over this weekend," Frazier said. "It's a big ballgame for a lot of our players and also for our coaches. We're trying to shape our roster, so we've got some big decisions to make."
By the time the game actually ends, there will be a lot of Vikings fans disguised as empty seats. The biggest traffic jam of night will take place with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, not an hour after the game. But for those trying to make the roster, it won't be the number of fans remaining that will be what matters. It will be making the one play that might save their dreams of a future in the NFL.
"It's a big deal for the guys that are on the bubble," Frazier said. "Maybe not so much right now, but, that final cut, that's the one that sometimes is not as clear-cut because the competitions are so close. This is a tough time for a lot of guys and maybe in this ballgame someone will rise up that you didn't expect to."
Several Vikings will be held out due to injury. Among the known players already scratched from tonight's game are DT Kevin Williams (foot), TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring), CB Asher Allen (toe), RB Toby Gerhart (ankle/Achilles) and LB Heath Farwell (hamstring).
A familiar face will be on the field tonight when linebacker David Herron makes his return to the Vikings. Herron is a footnote in the back-biting of the NFL, much in the same way Nate Burleson was signed by Seattle as retribution for the "poison pill" deal offered to Steve Hutchinson. The Vikings (and new head coach at the time Brad Childress), as the story goes, were called by Bill Belichick, the Czar of Patriots Nation, asking that they not make a claim on released TE Garrett Mills. Chilly did, earning the wrath of Bill. As a reprisal, Belichick signed Herron away from the Vikings. Ironically, earlier this week, the Patriots were reunited with Mills, apparently completing this NFL circle of life.
After being sidelined all of training camp and the first two games of the preseason, Anthony Herrera – rated the best right guard in the NFC by The Sporting News NFL Preview issue – will make his return to the starting lineup tonight.
Speaking of The Sporting News, the once-weekly bible of sports (now the bi-weekly driver's manual of sports) predicts the Vikings to finish last in the NFC North and named six Vikings to it's All-Division team (two on special teams) – Herrera, Steve Hutchinson, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Percy Harvin and bass player Chris Kluwe. In contrast, the Packers had 10 players on the team, the Bears had six and the Lions had four.
TSN picked the Packers to finish 15-1 – losing only at Kansas City in Week 15. What? The magazine shockingly picked the Packers to repeat as champions, something it has done just about every year in recent memory. It picks both the Lions and Bears to finish 8-8.
Last December, the Vikings learned that the NFL is co-branding with The Weather Channel. Thanks to blizzard warnings descending on Philadelphia, the Vikings played the first Tuesday Night Football game since World War II. The concerns today are over Hurricane Irene, scheduled to make landfall today and work its way up the East Coast over the weekend. Perhaps it was the lesson learned six years ago this week when Hurricane Katrina took an ugly northern turn in the Gulf of Mexico and slammed Louisiana and Mississippi showing how devastating such storms can be. As a result, tonight's game between the Jets and Giants at the Meadowlands in New Jersey was initially switched from 7 p.m. tonight to 2 p.m. this afternoon. However, given the call for people in that area to vacate while the storm passes through, the game has once again been changed – this time to Monday night.
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.