Forget about Dome cooking. What about road kill?
Ever since they handled the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving 2000, the Vikings have returned from every regular-season road game with no win to show for their trip. Eleven road games, 11 losses.
As the Vikings prepare to embark on another road trip — this time to the Pacific Northwest, to face the Seattle Seahawks on a nationally televised Sunday night game — the baggage of that losing streak will travel with this team until they rectify it.
The streak started on Dec. 10, 2000, when the Vikings rode into St. Louis with a four-game winning streak and an 11-2 record. The Rams were never seriously threatened, eventually winning 40-29. Two weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts did the same on a Christmas Eve Day game, beating the Vikings 31-10 in Indianapolis. The Vikings finished the regular season 11-5, but with two daunting road losses. The team never recovered, winning its divisional game at home, but then getting routed by the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.
Last year, the Vikings were a perfect 0-8 on the road. Lowlights came in all fashions. Three of the eight road games were deemed close. In their road opener, the Vikings fell to Chicago 17-10. Much later in the season, the Vikings fell short in a remarkable comeback led by backup Todd Bouman and lost at Pittsburgh 21-16. Two weeks later, the Vikings lost 27-24 at the Silverdome, giving the Lions their first of two wins for the season.
Sandwiched in between those 2001 road losses were a handful of forgettable games. The Vikings lost to the Saints at the Superdome, 28-15; the Buccaneers routed the Vikings 41-14 in Tampa; a week later the Eagles devastated the Vikings with a 48-17 drubbing in Philly. Then came injuries en route to their final two road losses. Led by quarterback Spergon Wynn, the Vikings lost at Lambeau 24-13 to the Packers, then a week later 19-3 to the Ravens in Baltimore.
The road losing streak reached 11 in this season's opening week, when the Vikings just missed upsetting the Bears, losing 27-23.
"A championship-caliber team has to win on the road," guard Corbin Lacina said. "It's early enough this year where it's not a concern. I haven't thought about it at all, to be honest with you."
The out-of-sight, out-of-mind theory has worked for Lacina. Of course, considering the Vikings' tremendous turnover in personnel over the past couple of seasons, there aren't many players still in the locker room who were wearing Purple when the streak began two seasons ago in St. Louis.
The only starters remaining from the 2000 team that lost to the Rams are Lacina, Matt Birk, David Dixon, Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Jimmy Kleinsasser, Chris Hovan and Talance Sawyer.
For many of the Vikings, the road losing streak is nothing more than a meaningless historical trend, logged in the Minnesota Vikings' 2002 official team guide.
"We've only lost one road game," said Vikings linebacker Greg Biekert, who joined the Vikings just days before the season opener. "To me, it's not an issue right now. If we get to our seventh road game and we haven't won, then we have a problem."
Vikings cornerback Corey Chavous is one of the lone veterans in the team's secondary. Playing the first four years of his career with the Cardinals, he and his teammates played better on the road than at home. Then again, his was the exception, not the rule.
"One year in Arizona, we were 5-3 on the road," Chavous said. "Winning on the road was a motivator for us, because we didn't have the crowd support at home."
But the Vikings have that home crowd support. Win or lose on the road, the Vikings are assured this season that at every home game, more than 60,000 raucous fans will fill the Metrodome to do their small part. Chavous hopes the Vikings use the energy created at home and carry that with them on the road.
"It becomes sort of a nemesis if you don't win the next game — home or on the road," Chavous said. "Hopefully, we can win games at home and go on the road with confidence."
Early in his tenure as Vikings head coach, Dennis Green insisted that true playoff teams must win games on the road. He was right.
The Vikings were 6-2 on the road in 1992, Green's first season as head coach. In 1993, the Vikings were 5-3 away from the Dome. On the road, they were 4-4 in 1994, 2-6 in 1995, 4-4 in 1996 and 1997, 7-1 in 1998 and 4-4 in 1999 and 2000. It's no shock, then, that the two seasons Green's Vikings didn't make the playoffs were in 1995 and 2001, when they were a combined 2-14 on the road.
"For a while, we had the same problem in Oakland. We didn't do well on the road," Biekert said. "But you've got to win some road games if you want to make the playoffs."
Biekert, the defense's most experienced veteran, knows the math. He played several seasons in Oakland, where the Raiders enjoy one of the NFL's greatest home-field advantages. Home wins are expected for most teams. That's what makes road games carry such great magnitude.
"Something needs to be done about the way this team plays on the road," Biekert said. "You have to win all your home games. Then, if you go 3-5 on the road, you're in the playoffs. That's how it works.
"Realistically, it's tough when you lose a lot of road games. It's tough to go in and say, ‘We're winning this game — I don't care what.' You have to have that mental toughness."
And sometimes, in some twisted way, players have to crave being the enemy and covet the chance of winning in a hostile environment and sending 70,000 fans home bleak and broken-hearted.
"I always liked playing on the road," Biekert said. "I enjoyed it."
That kind of mental approach, Biekert said, is what the Vikings need to obtain.
"You have to take every game as it is, no matter whether you're playing home or away," he said. "But you want to prepare yourself physically and mentally to do your best, especially on the road."
Head coach Mike Tice refuses to differentiate between home and away games. Whether the Vikings play a few miles northeast of their practice facility at the Metrodome or thousands of miles away in Oakland or Atlanta, Tice wants his team to show improvement. That, Tice said, will lead to wins — at home and on the road.
"We're a young football team and we have a lot of new guys," Tice said. "Our goal is to get better after every practice, after every day, after every game."
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