Thursday, May 24, 2012

National Friday League: Thunderdome

If you ever attended a Viking game in the Metrodome, you get the homefield advantage. You’ve watched quarterbacks both good and bad look totally rattled (you’ve also seen quarterbacks good and bad destroy the terrible secondaries the Vikings have regularly put on the field for the last two decades, but whatever). You’ve been a part of a crescendo of noise on every opponent’s third down. The Metrodome may not have been aesthetically pleasing, but that sucker was loud, and it was a beautiful place to see teams play a football game. I’ve sat all over that dome, including the very back freaking seats. And it was always a joy.

But the problem, for whatever reason, is that during their time residing in the Metrodome, the Vikes had many, many seasons as a terrible road team. It wasn’t just that they lost on the road (especially when playing outdoors on grass), but that they so frequently lost to seemingly inferior teams on the road. Maybe it was because they built their roster for the indoor atmosphere and the fast turf. The Vikes built offensive and defensive units dependent on speed, and they could take advantage of their strengths on turf, but their strengths often seemed absent on grass. Or maybe they really did become psychologically comfortable playing in the warm indoors, and didn’t have the internal strength to play in poor conditions. I don’t know. But whatever the reason, the Vikings found themselves very far away from the days when Bud Grant didn’t allow heaters on the sidelines. 

One of the most ridiculous Viking seasons was 2003. Four teams tied for the worst NFL record that year. The Vikings, who finished 9-7, played all four—and lost to all four. Three of those losses were on the road, on grass. There doesn't seem to me any good reason the team should have sucked so bad away from the Dome, but they usually did.

Still, who will forget walking out of Thunderdome with the air from inside the dome literally pushing you out? That was always good for some laughs, some smiles, and some hats blown off.

If you'll allow me a moment's self-indulgence, here are my five favorite games that I was lucky enough to attend in the Metrodome.  I'd love to hear about your favorite games in the comments.

Cowboys ‘93
This wasn't the first Viking game I ever went to, but it was the first when I was old enough to know or care about what was happening.

Dolphins ‘94 
The Vikes built up a 28-0 lead behind three Cris Carter touchdowns (including one of my favorite catches of all-time).  Then Dan Marino and 431 yards happened, and the game was tied, before the Vikings finally pulled it out.

49ers ‘03
The main thing I hoped for was to see Randy Moss catch a touchdown pass.  He caught three, and had 172 yards.

Chargers ‘07
I seethed through halftime after watching Antonio Cromartie return a missed field goal 109 yards.  Then the crowd erupted as we watched Adrian Peterson rush for 296 yards.  On one day, Thunderdome saw the longest play possible in NFL history, as well as a cherished single-game record.

Colts ‘08
The Vikes built up a 15-0 lead behind five field goals.  The pass rush was absolutely crushing Peyton Manning, and Adrian Peterson was grinding out positive rushing plays.  But the Vikes didn't have the passing game to finish drives when they got in scoring position, and a 15 point lead wasn't enough to hold off Manning.

Nobody roots for Goliath 
I’m not rooting against Lebron James and the Miami Heat because I think they did something immoral or disreputable in the summer of 2010. I’m just not rooting for the Heat because they are a team with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. In sports, you don’t have to convince yourself a player is an evil villain in order to root against him; you can decide to root for or against anybody for the sheer hell of it. Lebron James is the best player in the league: that’s why he’s won three of four MVPs. There’s no rule that says you have to root for the best player! There’s also no rule you have to create a moral justification for rooting against the best player. Just root for or against whomever you want for whatever reason you want.

Kick Ass Links
Jared Allen was really, really dominant last season (Football Outsiders).

A first-hand epic about the politics of the new Viking stadium (Grantland).  I will say, though, that it is a bit grating reading how we Minnesotans think, feel, and act.  The generalizations are a bit much.  I'm irritated when Garrison Keiller tries to tell me what I am, and I'm not sure I need Steve Marsh doing it, either--even when I feel he is basically right.  And I really enjoyed this piece.

A former Viking and a current one led the league in special teams tackles (Football Outsiders).

Who says there's nothing to follow during the summer? (Vikings.com).

Peyton Manning will be one of the most interesting fantasy impacts this season.  I'll probably keep linking to articles about how he's looking in practice (Yahoo!, NY Times, Star Tribune).  Of course every article is going to have every hallmark of an offseason story (looks good in practice!  building playing relationship with teammates!).

There are players who don't like Roger Goodell (Yahoo!).

Well, it does seem weird for teams to be penalized for spending too much in an uncapped year (NY Times).

Pro teams and relocation (Good).

Reminiscences on Latrell Sprewell from a Knicks fan (The New Yorker).  Reminiscences from a Wolves fan: for one special T-Wolves season, Spree was a joy: running the floor he always seemed covered in knife blades. His movements were sharp and quick, with both a powerful toughness and an agile swiftness as he sliced around the court.  He was the third best player on that '04 team (behind KG and Cassell), but a versatile and athletic offensive player who could take over for parts of a game, always exciting to watch.

When December comes along, and the Packers are rolling, the Bears and Lions are fighting for a Wild Card, and you find the Vikings unwatchable (OK, I'm more optimistic than that) at least there will be this:

6 comments:

  1. I think the Metrodome is one of the few stadiums still around that gives the home team a distinct home field advantage because of the noise factor. It will be interesting to see if the engineers can construct a building with similar noise retention qualities.

    Oh well, I never have watched a game in the place, so I have no strong feelings either way. My favorite Metrodome game – while watching from afar – would be the '08 win over the Packers.

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  2. Garrison Keillor is a treasure. A TREASURE.

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  3. The children were robust and pink-cheeked.

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  4. oh, and I've seen five Vikes games, all losses.

    1) They hosted the Giants when I was too young to fully appreciate it, although I can remember Carter catching a TD in the end zone I was nearer to.

    2) They hosted the Packers on Christmas Eve and lost to a last second field goal - this was the same year they went to Lambeau as a wild card in the playoffs and moon-gate occured. I sat next to a respectful Packers fan. There were a lot of those. People cheered and booed and had a good time - but I didn't see anyone get personally upset at each other.

    3) The Broncos hosted the Vikes a few years back - this was the game Tarvaris almost brought the team back from 16 pts down (including two 2-pt conversions!). It was a weird game. AP fumbled out of the end zone and gave Denver the ball on their own 20. It was weird. He reached for the pylon and lost the ball. It was also the game that Troy Williamson had the ugliest drop of his career when he missed the ball on a surefire TD despite the fact that it hit his jersey right in the numbers.

    4&5) Both just last season - the Vikes hosted Tebow-mania and the Lions, blowing halftime leads both times. It was fun to see Stafford and Megatron, and I'm glad I've seen Tebow's inspiringly bad playing that somehow won them the game. Denver's big WR looked good in that game. D.Thomas, I believe.

    I'm looking forward to seeing a win one of these times. I think it'll be fun to go see a game at TCF once the dome's down and before the new stadium opens. Hopefully I can catch a win at TCF. Will they serve beer there?

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  5. Peter:

    That's rough, five games and not a win yet and all of them agonizingly close defeats. That's three games lost in overtime and one on a last second field goal.

    By the way, it was Chester Taylor who fumbled the ball into the end zone in the Denver game. And Williamson dropped another pass over the middle that hit him square in the numbers in that game on a third down, I think. His Vikings career came to an end that day. They traded him to Jacksonville in the offseason for a bag of footballs.

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  6. Irregular footballs. Yeah, and you're right about Taylor. Ah well. I had fun at every game.

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