Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes was all smiles in the Minnesota Vikings locker room Wednesday. After a scheduling quirk had the Vikings opening the 2013 season with two straight road games, having the home opener Sunday against the new-look Cleveland Browns is something he has been looking forward to since being drafted by the Vikings.
"There's something about playing in front of your home fans," Rhodes said. "It gives you that little extra to have them screaming and cheering for you. I was surprised how loud they could get for preseason games. We had a couple of road preseason games and their crowds weren't anything close to what we had at home. With everyone there to cheer us on for a regular season game, this is a moment I've been waiting for the last few months. I can't wait."
There is something to be said about the home-field advantage. It can be the difference between a pair of evenly matched teams being involved in a lopsided game. Teams can be dominant at home and struggle on the road despite having the same personnel. Last year, the Vikings were 7-1 at the Metrodome and, including the playoff loss to Green Bay, 3-6 on the road. There is a difference and coming home couldn't come at a more critical time for the 0-2 Vikings.
"It's great to finally be at home," offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. "It's tough playing on the road and, as you can see, it's tough to win on the road. We didn't get the results we wanted. We're 0-2, but I think we're headed on the right track. Our goal is just to get better each week and there's nothing like getting in front of your home crowd and getting the energy from them."
Wide receiver Jarius Wright said he will be pumped up and ready to go Sunday because he was injured last year during the home opener and was effectively left behind by the team – being inactive for the team's first nine games. When the team hits the field and gets the typical thunderous ovation from the Vikings' version of the 12th Man, he's going to get a chill up his spine.
"They haven't seen us since the fourth preseason game and we were a much different team back then," Wright said. "We're looking forward to it. I am especially because I didn't play in the home opener last year. We have a great, loyal fan base here and we feel our fans can definitely help make a difference in the game."
Not everyone who plays at the Metrodome shares in the fan experience. As a member of hated rival Green Bay Packers, linebacker Desmond Bishop said the Metrodome provides a distinct home-field advantage that makes it hard for the offense to hear when the crowd choreographs sustained noise when the quarterback goes into the shotgun formation. As a member of the Packers, Bishop dreaded coming to the Metrodome and is glad to finally be on the other end of the fan frenzy.
"They definitely make a difference and make it difficult on the team coming into the dome," Bishop said. "I remember saying that I hate the dude on the motorcycle (Vikings mascot Ragnar) and hearing that horn all the time. Now that I'm part of the Vikings family, I'm looking forward to embracing that energy. But, as someone who has seen it from the other side, it's definitely a home-field advantage."
The domecoming couldn't fall at a more crucial time for the Vikings. Everyone has heard the stats on the odds of making the playoffs when a team starts 0-2. Those numbers fall off the table when a team starts 0-3. The Vikings need to get rid of the zero in the win column and will draw strength from the 60,000 supporters in the stadium.
But, as veteran defensive tackle Fred Evans pointed out, the onus will be on the Vikings to play well and get their fans involved and potentially be a factor against Cleveland's offense. While there may be no place like home to play games, players still have to execute to come away with a win.
"The home crowd is always encouraging," Evans said. "There's a different comfort zone being in your own bed and not having to get on an airplane and fly into a town the night before a game. But, in the end, the game is played on the field. They're all the same size no matter where you're at, but the crowd can make a big difference in making it hard for the other offense to hear and you feed off of that as players. We have some of the best fans in the league and being able to get them on our side and behind us, it can make a difference and we're excited about getting that chance after a couple of tough road games."
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.
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