The Wilf family may not be a big fan of the Metrodome, for good reason. It's an antiquated structure that was built on the cheap 30 years ago and, as the collapse of its roof last December played testament to, it isn't up to standards for an NFL stadium.
But one thing the Mall of America Field does provide is a unique home-field advantage. Sound is amplified in the dome and makes it nearly impossible for opposing offenses to call audibles at the line or adequately hear the snap count. A lot of teams talk about their fans being the 12th man, but the Vikings can make a claim to have a dome-field advantage few others enjoy.
"This is a tough place to play for a road team," offensive tackle Charlie Johnson said. "The fans in the Metrodome get so loud that, as an offensive lineman, you have to look out of the corner of your eye at times to see the ball snapped. That gets you a split-second behind and, in the NFL, that is a huge advantage for the defensive players because you're pretty much on equal ground. Usually the offensive line is quicker off the snap because you know when the snap is coming. Crowds in domed stadiums take that advantage away."
The Vikings have historically been one of the most successful teams in the league at the Metrodome. In 2009 when the team advanced to the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings finished the season with a 9-0 record at home and 4-5 on the road, including the playoffs. There is a tangible difference playing at home that players see as a big advantage.
"There are a lot of things that come into play," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "You don't have to travel. You get to sleep in your own bed. Your routine is normal through the whole week. Then when you get there, the atmosphere gets us pumped up and makes it hard for the team coming in to handle it. It's no coincidence that just about every team in the league is better at home than they are on the road."
The numbers tend to back up that theory. Last year, home teams posted a record of 144-112 and nowhere was that more evident than in the NFC West. The four teams in the division combined to post records of 19-13 at home, but 6-26 on the road.
It would appear that the numbers prove the home-field advantage theory and the players are believers.
"You bet there is an advantage at home," offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. "When the crowd gets going, it isn't only hard for the other team, it gets us going. Crowds are always important to football games. When we go on the road, the first thing we want to do is take their crowd out of it, because, if they get loud and make things hard on the offense, it can change what you do. It makes it harder to work out of the shotgun or change plays at the line. When you can't hear, everything else becomes that much harder."
One of the reasons cited for the Vikings collapse last year was that they effectively became NFL nomads. They played home games at the University of Minnesota and in Detroit to end the 2010 regular season and, for all its failings, they're happy to be returning to the Mall of America Field.
"I think everybody wants to get a new stadium, but there is a big advantage to playing in the Metrodome," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "We have great fans and they bring the noise. There's nowhere for that noise to go and it can get deafening at times. Our focus is always what's happening on the field, but you can't deny that a loud crowd gets your juices flowing. That's why we're all so happy about coming back to the Dome Sunday."
Erin Henderson said he is looking forward to his home starting debut. Head coach Leslie Frazier announced that the team will reinstitute the practice of announcing players in the pregame. This week, it will be the defense and Henderson said he can't wait to run through the gauntlet of players after his name is announced, saying that he wants to get the fans into a fever pitch before the game starts – and keep them at that level throughout the game.
"You know they (the fans) are going to come and bring their ‘A' game," Henderson said. "They're going to be loud and it's going to be incredibly exciting in the Dome. You want to go out there and provide some more excitement for them as the game rolls on and get some momentum rolling."
For all of failings as a professional sports facility, Mall of America Field provides an advantage to the Vikings that they have historically used in their favor. As someone who has played in there as a visitor, wide receiver Michael Jenkins said he is looking forward to being on the other end of the deafening din of Vikings fans.
"When we came in here with Atlanta, it was really loud and we were used to playing in loud stadiums at the GeorgiaDome and the Superdome every year," Jenkins said. "It's as loud here when the fans get into it as it is anywhere in the NFL. I'm just glad I'm wearing purple and gold now and won't have to deal with it from the other sideline."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings savor return to home-field advantage
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