Mike Zimmer didn’t give his standard public service announcement, the one in which he implores fans to be loud and rowdy Sunday to make life difficult on the opposing offense.
In non-pandemic years, Zimmer’s message gets displayed on the gigantic videoboard as the Vikings defense takes the field and the place goes bonkers. Scratch that ploy.
U.S. Bank Stadium will be fan-free at Sunday’s opener, so Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense won’t have to contend with Skol chants and silent counts.
The NFL is providing teams with pre-recorded crowd noise that must be set at 70 decibels, which is basically the equivalent a vacuum cleaner. If Vikings games previously sounded like a rock concert, now they will sound like a Kenmore.
“There is a heightened sense of adrenaline before those key downs when the crowd turns up the intensity. You can feel the offensive players’ sense of anxiety as they try to hear all the communication.”
Is there even a such thing as home-field advantage this season?
“I’ll definitely miss the crowd noise, the Skol chant, everything that we do as the Vikings,” safety Harrison Smith said.
It’s going to be weird. Even weirder than the lack of crowd noise during MLB games, golf, tennis or any sporting event hosted inside a bubble.
No sport relies on fan noise to provide a competitive advantage as much as football. Home fans take delight in making it so obscenely loud that opponents cannot hear their quarterback’s calls. The 12th man isn’t just some cutesy term devoid of meaning. Crowd noise can impact games.
The loudest sporting event I’ve ever experienced was the 2009 NFC Championship Game at New Orleans. The Superdome noise was so powerful that my head felt like someone pounded a bass drum next to my ears for three consecutive hours.
The Vikings have long maintained a decisive home-field advantage, whether in the Metrodome or U.S. Bank Stadium, which ranks as one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums. The ringing in my head after games usually takes until the next morning to dissipate.
Decibel readings at Vikings home games routinely hit 115 on critical third-down situations. The spontaneous roar on Stefon Diggs’ miracle touchdown in the playoff game sounded like a Blue Angels jet taking off in your backyard.
Deafening noise has an undeniable effect. We’ve all seen quarterbacks look flustered as they frantically call for the ball to be snapped before the play clock expires. The Metrodome produced some of the highest number of false start penalties in the NFL for opponents.
“From a defensive standpoint, the home crowd noise was a huge advantage,” former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said in a text message. “There is a heightened sense of adrenaline before those key downs when the crowd turns up the intensity. You can feel the offensive players’ sense of anxiety as they try to hear all the communication.”
Hearing calls won’t be a problem now, which Leber believes might create a unique perspective for road teams.
“I do think smart quarterbacks are going to pick up on defensive audibles much more often, as these calls are usually one-word orders,” he said. “And because the defensive linemen talk about which stunt/twist they want to run, the offensive line may start to hear those calls as well.”
Jared Allen used to feast on left tackles who had to operate by silent count in the Metrodome noise. His pass rush was like a 5-yard dash in which one runner gets a split-second head start.
“As a defensive line, it’s going to stink because when the offensive line has to look in at the ball [to see the snap] it gives you an advantage on the get off,” Allen texted Monday. “Now that won’t be happening.”
That works both ways, of course. The Vikings schedule takes them to two of the loudest venues in the NFL — Seattle and New Orleans. But their offense will catch a break with CenturyLink Field empty in Week 5 and the Superdome unlikely to be near capacity on Christmas.
Only a handful of teams are planning to allow fans at the start of the season, though at much reduced capacity. The Vikings are hopeful to have a percentage of fans in the building at some point.
A Vikings-Packers game unplugged will be odd. Rodgers won’t need to cup his hands over his helmet in order to hear play calls from the sideline. A silent count won’t be necessary. Piped-in noise will be more background ambiance than disruptive.
I’ll miss the postgame headache.