As the Vikings began preparations this week for their first NFC divisional playoff game in eight years, the team rolled out a new slogan for the playoffs: "Bring It Home."
The mantra is an obvious reference to the Vikings' attempt to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. And if the Vikings were to win the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 21, they'd spend Super Bowl week practicing and dressing in their normal environs, even though they'd technically be the road team on Feb. 4.
The "home" team for the Super Bowl is determined on an alternating basis, and the AFC team is scheduled to be the home club for Super Bowl LII. The NFL plans for that team to use the Vikings' practice facility in Eden Prairie, and have the NFC team practice at the University of Minnesota football facility. On game day, the AFC champion would use the Vikings' locker room, while the NFC team would use the visiting locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium.
All that will change, however, if the Vikings win the NFC. They'd be able to practice in Eden Prairie, with their AFC opponent instead using the U of M facilities. Instead of staying at the Radisson Blu (the NFC hotel) at the Mall of America, the Vikings might also have the option to allow players and coaches to sleep in their own beds. And on Feb. 4, the Vikings would be in their home locker room and on their normal sideline.
NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy said it's "always anticipated that a competing team that hosts [the Super Bowl] would stay in its own facility." Rarely, however, has that possibility even been this close to taking place.
Only seven teams have made the playoffs in a year where the Super Bowl is in their home stadium (including the Houston Texans a year ago). None of those seven have even advanced to a conference championship game. Four — the 1970, 1994 and 1998 Dolphins, as well as the 2016 Texans — lost in the division round.
Next Sunday, the Vikings will be the first team to host a divisional playoff game in a year where they host the Super Bowl. And even by winning their first playoff game at home, the Vikings would be closer to a home Super Bowl than any team has ever come. Two playoff victories would put them in arguably the most unique Super Bowl environment in history, even as the NFL has mechanisms in place to make it as neutral as possible.
Competing teams ordinarily get 17.5 percent of Super Bowl tickets, with the league retaining 25.2 percent of the tickets and distributing 34.8 percent of them to the 29 clubs not playing in or hosting the game. The last five percent of tickets ordinarily go to the host team, though a 1998 resolution required each team to receive the same number of tickets for the game. That means if the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl, each club would receive roughly 20 percent of the ticket manifest for the game.
And while the Vikings haven't been told whether or not they'll be able to utilize their typical gameday production elements, the NFL's focus on equity means use of normal home-game features — the Gjallarhorn, the fire-breathing dragon ship during player introductions, the exhortations for fans to send decibel levels soaring on opposing offense's third downs — likely would be limited, if available at all.
Vikings fans who wanted to attend the game, though, wouldn't be dissuaded by the often-prohibitive travel and hotel costs associated with the Super Bowl, and might have more money to snap up tickets on secondary markets. And as the team has talked openly of finishing the season at home, players know there's a benefit, however nebulous it might be, of being so familiar with the stadium.
"It just feels right down there," quarterback Case Keenum said. "The turf, the surface feels fast. Even the lighting in there, and then you add the fans coming in pregame. Just the whole atmosphere in there, it's incredible. All my friends and family that have come in from Texas, my friends from other teams that come in, text me after the games, and they're like, 'Dude, that place is ridiculous.' It's a cool place to play, and I think it's going to be even better in the postseason."