The Metrodome’s Monday Night Football debut was supposed to feature the Lions and Vikings on Nov. 1, 1982. But that game never took place, thanks to a 57-day NFL players strike.
Unfortunately for Detroit, the next 30 meetings were played as scheduled. The Lions went 7-23, including a current 1-14 stretch heading into what will be the final game in the Metrodome’s 31-year history on Sunday.
“I know what an emotional experience that will be, and our players will be ready,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We want our last experience there to be a Lions win.”
That would be rare, to say the least. In fact, even at 4-10-1, the Vikings are three-point favorites against an even more disappointing Lions team that’s 7-8 and out of the playoff picture after losing three in a row and five of their past six games.
“Hopefully,” said Vikings fullback Jerome Felton, “we send them home 7-24. I know what that trip feels like.”
Felton was 0-3 at the Metrodome as a member of the Lions. The first loss, in 2008, was the doozy, a 12-10 decision in which the difference was a safety that came when quarterback Dan Orlovsky accidentally ran three feet through the back of the end zone while rolling out.
“Yeah, that one I know for sure made the football follies,” Felton said. “But we weren’t mad at him. Quite honestly, we had five quarterbacks that year, and Dan was the best one we had.”
The Lions still led 10-9 when cornerback Leigh Bodden was hit with a phantom 42-yard pass interference penalty with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left. That set up Ryan Longwell’s game-winning 26-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
“Obviously,” said Felton, “that was a case of the Vikings getting some home cooking at the right time.”
The Lions, meanwhile, fell to 0-5 en route to becoming the only team in NFL history to finish 0-16.
The Lions lost their Metrodome debut 20-17 in 1983. They came back in 1984 and won 16-14. But even in victory, the Lions couldn’t celebrate because Billy Sims, their electrifying running back, suffered a serious knee injury that he blamed on the Metrodome’s notoriously bad turf at the time.
“I tried to plant — I saw the linebacker coming — and I tried to get my right leg out from under me,” Sims said in 1984. “But I just got caught in the turf. I couldn’t move.”
Sims, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1980, had 103 yards on 22 carries in that game. When he left the field, he had played 60 NFL games and recorded 5,106 yards rushing, 7,178 yards from scrimmage and 47 touchdowns.
But Sims never would play again.
The Lions, of course, struggled just about everywhere they played for about a half-century. For the most part, Vikings coaches have feasted on Detroit’s misery.
Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant had an overall winning percentage of .620. Throw out his 26-6-1 mark against the Lions, and that percentage drops to .598.
Les Steckel was 2-14 against the rest of the league, but 1-1 against Detroit. Mike Tice was 24-33 against the rest of the league, but 8-0 against the Lions.
Only Norm Van Brocklin, 3-8-1 from 1961 to 1966, and current coach Leslie Frazier, 2-4 since 2010, have records below .500 against the Lions.
Frazier’s 1-1 home record against the Lions includes a 2011 loss in which the Vikings blew a 20-0 halftime lead. That’s also the only Metrodome victory Schwartz owns.
“Sometimes, after those games at the Metrodome, it takes 48 hours to get that Viking horn out of your head,” said Schwartz, who is 1-3 at the Metrodome. “It just keeps ringing in your head. Every road game is loud. It just seems especially loud at the Metrodome.”
Seattle was quick to claim the league’s loudest venue when CenturyLink Stadium opened in 2002. According to the Seahawks, opponents have been penalized for false starts a league-leading 130 times at CenturyLink Stadium. No. 2, according to the Seahawks, is the Metrodome with 115 false starts.
“When this place is loud, you can feel the noise,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “That definitely gives you an advantage, when the other team can’t hear the snap count. I can remember countless times, when you put your hand in the ground and you can just feel the vibrations coming off.
“I can barely hear now, and I credit that to our 80,000 strong screaming at the Dome. I’m going to be 40 years old with hearing aids.”