The Metrodome and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have a lot in common.
Everybody calls them bad names and nobody wants them around. But then, lo and behold, there's a foggy night or a murky 6-6 season that's limping quickly toward elimination.
Then everyone loves that little deer and the outdated dump that has served as the Vikings' claustrophobic home since 1982. The Dome's days are now numbered, but the home-field advantage it provides might be the only thing that can rescue the 2012 season, or at least prolong the suspense beyond Sunday's NFC North game against the Bears.
"I think we have the best [home-field advantage]," said coach Leslie Frazier, saying what 31 other NFL coaches would say when asked. "That's one of the reasons I'm excited about this game at Mall of America Field on Sunday."
Frazier is a good man. He'd be excited if Santa made him shovel his own coal out of the sleigh. But in this case, the Dome really is Frazier's primary reason for hope against a Bears team that dominated the Vikings 28-10 less than two weeks ago.
While the Bears have won five in a row against the Vikings in Illinois and 11 of the last 12 meetings there, they're only 3-7 in the past 10 games at the Metrodome. More importantly, the Vikings' turnover ratio this season is even at home (10 giveaways, 10 takeaways) and minus-6 on the road (11 giveaways, five takeaways).
"It gives me energy just thinking about what that noise factor will mean for our football team on Sunday," Frazier said. "Deriving energy from our fans will be a big deal towards our success."
Causing confusion for the Bears' offense on third downs and in the red zone might come in handy as well.
Since 1982, the Vikings have 154 home victories. That ranks sixth in the league behind the Broncos (172), Steelers (168), Packers (165), Patriots (161) and 49ers (160).
The Vikings also have had only four losing seasons at home in the 30 years since moving into the Dome. The only team with fewer losing seasons at home is Pittsburgh, with just one.
In mid-October, ESPN published a story on NFL home-field advantages. Using the difference between a team's winning percentage at home and on the road, the Chiefs ranked No. 1 with a .262 differential among teams that have existed since 1982. The Broncos (.242) were second and the Vikings (.224) were third.
A year ago, the Vikings went 1-7 at home and 2-6 on the road. But that familiar home-field edge has returned this season. The Vikings are the only team in the league with at least five victories at home (5-1) and fewer than two on the road (1-5).
"We have to find a way to be able to execute on the road as well as we have at home, and that will come as we mature as a team and get better," Frazier said. "We haven't gotten there yet."
First things first. At 6-6, the Vikings are fading fast. They're two games down in the division and essentially two games down for the second NFC wild card because they've lost to Seattle, which is 7-5. The Redskins and Buccaneers, both 6-6, also beat the Vikings head to head.
In other words, it's time for the Dump to do her job. The same Dump that everyone can't wait to get rid of.
The situation is so desperate that Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway threw political correctness aside while agreeing that the season comes down to Sunday's game.
"We have to play accordingly and our fans have to show up accordingly, which we know they will," he said after Sunday's loss at Green Bay. "Hopefully, they're super- duper drunk. ... So drink liquor, not beer."
Well, that's certainly not a PSA you see attached to a noon kickoff.
"Yeah, I would say morning drinking," Greenway said. "Why not? You could pull an all-nighter. Then you'd have the drunk, tired guys who will really be obnoxious."
That's fine. But let's leave the sleigh driving to the red-nosed reindeer, not the red-nosed fan.
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org