Ready or not, Vikings must hit road to chase title
For all his playoff experience, 23 career contests to be precise, Brett Favre hasn't participated in a postseason road game in six years.
It's been 12 years since he's won one.
Well, here comes his - and Minnesota's - latest chance to go marching in to an unfriendly place and come away with a big victory.
Favre and the Vikings were nearly flawless this season in their raucous roofed stadium, sleek as ever on the artificial grass with the thermostat set near 70 degrees and the only breeze coming from the air conditioning ducts.
To reach the Super Bowl, though, they must prove the boundaries of their comfort zone can stretch this weekend beyond the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, all the way to the other end of the Mississippi River.
After dismantling the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round, the Vikings drew a visit to New Orleans to play the Saints in the NFC championship game on Sunday evening.
``I enjoyed every minute of that game,'' Favre said after the 34-3 victory, ``knowing that we would not be back in this dome.''
The Louisiana Superdome will provide the same controlled climate and fast surface, without the mass of pro-purple fans. Instead of using the noise to their advantage, the Vikings must fend it off and stay focused on the snap counts to avoid being rattled.
For a team whose stars are mostly veterans, including the venerable 40-year-old quarterback, poise should not be a problem. Last month, though, the Vikings lost all three of their road games - all nationally televised at night with the spotlight on bright.
For the season, their 4-4 record away from Mall of America Field, as the Metrodome is now officially prefaced, was the worst of the six NFC playoff teams.
``I think that there are too many great stories to talk about struggles on the road, really quite frankly,'' coach Brad Childress said, trying unsuccessfully to change the subject at his Monday afternoon news conference.
Favre's last playoff road game is remembered well, and not so fondly, by the Packers. Their defense melted down at Philadelphia, too, surrendering the infamous fourth-and-26 completion to set up the tying field goal, but the end of that late-blooming 2003 season was due in part to a late, crucial interception thrown by Favre.
He's on a three-game playoff road losing streak, with the last win coming at San Francisco in the NFC championship game following the 1997 season. In those three defeats, Favre was picked off a total of nine times.
The Saints? They went 6-2 at home this season, not invincible.
The Cowboys were the first team to beat them there, so quarterback Tony Romo has a unique perspective on this contest. The Vikings harassed him with a fierce pass rush all game and got the crowd going with an early lead, making it more difficult for the Cowboys to come back.
``They're really good playing in their home place,'' Romo said. ``It allows them to do what they're schematically made to do.''
Asked for his assessment of the Saints-Vikings matchup, he went with the safe pick.
``I think it will be a good football game,'' Romo said. ``I think each team is a little different in the style of football they play. One team is more of a pressure team while the other team likes to sit back and let their front four do the work. I think it will be a great test. The home field will definitely favor the Saints.''
The Vikings lost all four Super Bowls they went to in the 1970s, and since their last appearance they're 0-4 in NFC championship games. Three of those were on the road, at Dallas (1977 season), Washington (1987) and New York (2000). Their all-time road record in the playoffs is 5-14, compared to 14-7 overall at home and 6-4 at the Metrodome.
Since Childress took over in 2006, the Vikings are 14-18 overall on the road, though 5-2 when under a roof other than their own.
The numbers aren't great, no matter what the view is, but none of those previous experiences involved Favre.
He had his share of failures in important games while with Green Bay, sporting a 3-6 career playoff road record, but he also gained plenty of experience playing against a loud crowd all those years with the Packers when they visited Minnesota.
``He's the guy. He's the captain of the ship. He's been there and done that,'' tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said, adding: ``He knows how to conduct this.''
Both Shiancoe (with the Giants) and kicker Ryan Longwell (with the Packers) named games at the Metrodome as a visiting player the loudest they've ever heard a stadium, putting last year's Monday night win at New Orleans a close second. The Vikings know they'll be in for a similar experience on Sunday with the Saints and their loyal fans.
``It will be a tough thing, but we do play well inside and we do play well on turf,'' Longwell said. ``We'll give it our best shot.''
The Vikings will crank up faux crowd noise at their practice facility this week and try to simulate the communication challenges they'll face in such an environment this weekend.
They're confident the Superdome turf will help them play at the same speed they're used to.
``It's always good to play on another field that's just like home for you,'' cornerback Benny Sapp said, conveniently overlooking the crowd noise factor. ``We just have to go out there and beat their tempo.''