One player will have an interesting matchup Sunday that he isn't looking forward to is kicker Ryan Longwell, who will have his own opponent in a 60-minute battle with Heinz Field.
The aura of Heinz Field in terms of how it treats kickers is similar to the way pit bulls treat cats. Since the stadium opened in 2001, no kicker has ever made a field goal of more than 50 yards. Due to its design, winds swirl and are especially brutal in its open end, making every long field goal an adventure. Longwell said from the kicker perspective, it's a challenge.
"They angled the stadium so it was open on one end so you can see the river," Longwell said. "You get a lot of wind coming in through that end of the stadium and it makes it difficult to kick. A lot of times the footing isn't very good, because they play some high school and (University of Pittsburgh) college games on that field. It gets pretty beat up. You try not to take too much information out there with you. You just assess the situation at that moment and make the kick how you feel at the time, because it always changes, and hope you guess right."
But Longwell is no stranger to kicking in wind. Playing for a team that sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and going once a year to Chicago to play another team whose stadium sits almost on the shores of Lake Michigan, he's had more than his share of kicks into gale force winds and over the years became something of a football meteorologist and mathematician when it came to launching a ball off his foot.
"At Soldier Field and Lambeau, there have been times I've aimed field goals five or 10 yards outside the goal posts to get the ball to bend back," Longwell said. "Having experience with those kind of conditions has made me pretty good at judging the wind. The thing about Heinz Field is that we don't play there very often, so we'll have to do our work only in the pregame."
Longwell said the legend of Heinz Field is real, but he thinks it might be a bit overblown. Granted, there are reasons why nobody has made a field goal of more than 50 yards, but he said it's just as much part and parcel to the types of games the Steelers have tended to play over the years – field position battles that see most of the scoring coming on long, sustained drives. The legend has grown not because of an enormous number of misses, but because the legend has helped cut down on the attempts.
"When you get into games where wind is a factor like it is at Heinz Field or Soldier Field, it becomes much more of a field-position game," Longwell said. "A lot is said about never having a 50-yard field goal in Heinz Field. I think the reason for that is there aren't a lot of attempts. The style the Steelers play, both teams are more likely to punt the ball and try to play field position that doesn't risk putting the ball on the 40- or 41-yard line if you miss a field goal."
If the moment comes that the Vikings might need to test the legend of Heinz Field late in the half or the game, Longwell said he isn't going to get caught up in how the flags on the goal posts are waving or the nonexistent track record of success. He's just going to go with what he feels at the moment.
"No matter what the flags are doing, you go with the last breath of wind that hits the back of your neck," Longwell said. "Whatever that is, go with it."
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.