Passionate purple pride rings out in Metrodome
Packing the Metrodome one last time this NFL season, the 60,000 purple-hazed Viking fans probably would've cheered for just about anything Sunday afternoon.
Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones could've announced how his new Texas Stadium scoreboard was too big for the Metrodome. Cheers. Viking owner Zigi Wolfe could've announced how there's no chance in hell that his team will get a new stadium. Cheers.
Viking quarterback Brett Favre could've announced that he won't decide on his return next season until Labor Day. Cheers. Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo could've announced that he's getting back with Jessica Simpson. Cheers.
Yes, these fans adorned with purple paint, yellow pigtails, purple wigs, Viking horns and all those No. 4 jerseys were simply giddy about Sunday's playoff game against the Cowboys. But the loudest cheers that pushed the Teflon-coated bubble to its limits came when Vermilion, S.D., native Ben Leber picked off a Romo duck - setting up an early fourth-quarter field goal that gave the Vikings an insurmountable 20-3 lead.
Final score: 34-3. Final count of ringing ears: 60,000 plus.
Final assessment of home-field advantage: "It's huge," said Leber, the Vikings' eighth-year linebacker.
While it was blatantly obvious the noise - and the Vikings' defensive front four - had Romo running for his life, it was also a challenge for a Viking defense that produced a team playoff record six sacks.
"When the crowd is getting wild, it's a whole lot of yelling and a whole lot of hand signals," said Leber, who is responsible for relaying defensive adjustments to his teammate.
And a whole lot of celebrating.
Favre, whose only reason for coming out of retirement (again) was to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl, threw a personal playoff best four touchdown passes. The quarterback who has thrown the most interceptions of any NFL quarterback didn't even come close to throwing one Sunday.
Sidney Rice, the wide receiver who burst into stardom this season, tied a Viking playoff record with three touchdown receptions. His first was a one-handed grab against tight coverage for a 47-yard score. His second was an easy 18-yard grab after Favre pump faked a rushing Marcus Spears into the air. His third came, after making a break on Mike Jenkins, ran under Favre's perfectly-timed pass.
"He's the story," Cowboy coach Wade Phillips said of the 40-year-old Favre. "The guy is amazing."
Romo was not. The 29-year-old from Eastern Illinois lost two of three fumbles, threw an interception and was not only sacked six times, but felt the most pressure he has all season. Moments after Leber's interception, a Jessica Simpson look alike (with what appeared to be a 5 o'clock shadow) hoisted a sign in the air amidst all the towel-waving fans that read: "Tony, I miss you."
It had both Romo and Phillips wishing they had the home-field advantage. It had Romo wishing he had never had to play the Viking defensive front four of Ray Edwards, Pat and Kevin Williams and Jared Allen.
"Their ability to get off the ball in their place is pretty darn good," said Romo, who said he was unable to mix up the snap counts because of the Metrodome noise. "It's a lot more difficult to do in this place."
Which brings us to the next place the Vikings will play: the Louisiana Superdome, where 72,000 wild Cajun fans will be making the noise this time. While the Vikings finished with a perfect 9-0 record in their boisterous bubble, the Saints have a 6-2 record in their deafening dome - including a late-season loss to the Cowboys.
But the Saints made everyone forget about that loss with their impressive 45-14 Superdome shellacking of the Arizona Cardinals Saturday.
"We certainly hope we play better than Arizona and Dallas did this weekend," Favre said.
"That's alright," said John Sullivan, the Vikings' center who snaps the ball to Favre. "We've played in situations like that before."
But not too well. During the final five weeks of the regular season, three of the Vikings' four losses came on the road. Those Vikings fanatics who were yelling their lungs out Sunday are trying to forget about that 30-17 meltdown at Arizona, or that 26-7 embarrassment at Carolina or that 36-30 overtime boo-boo in Chicago.
The Vikings should take a lesson from the Cowboys - how not to blow early-game opportunities that could have very well silenced the Metrodome. Reaching Viking territory on their first three possessions, the Cowboys managed only one field goal.
"When you go into a place like this, points matter and getting the lead early," Romo said. "It's no different in New Orleans. Home field will definitely benefit New Orleans."
Next Sunday in the Superdome, the Vikings won't have Joe Kapp (the quarterback who led the Vikings to their first Super Bowl 40 years ago) blowing the gjallarhorn. That's a giant Viking horn, which according to Norse mythology, was sounded to announce the arrival of the gods.
Vikings fans - who'll be cheering this time in their living rooms - feel they have the next best thing: Brett Favre.
"Brett knows how to deal with it," Leber said.