The loudest NFL game I’ve ever watched was the NFC Championship in the 2009 season when Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings went to New Orleans.
The Saints never had been to the Super Bowl. They were just three years removed from their return to the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Big Easy fans were willing their team forward on every snap. It was awesome. (Never mind that some of the Saints players were being spurred on by the lure of bounty money.)
This is the environment the Bills enter today when they visit New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It is, by my subjective estimation, the third toughest environment in the league for a visiting team.
It probably won’t be quite as loud today as it was for the epic Vikings-Saints game, since a regular-season, non-conference meeting doesn’t mean as much. But the noise will be a big factor. The Bills haven’t played in New Orleans since a meaningless 1998 regular-season finale.
Saints tight end Ben Watson visited the Superdome with New England for a regular-season game in 2009 and vouches for the dome-field advantage.
“The time we played here and lost, it probably was the loudest game I’ve heard in the NFL,” Watson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune this summer about a game in which the Saints routed the Pats, 38-17.
“It’s impossible to communicate,” Watson said. “There were times where we couldn’t hear each other in the huddle, and you were this close. A foot away from each other, and you can’t hear while you’re yelling and screaming.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone, who coached in New Orleans, was reluctant to dwell on the noise factor this week.
“Tough, very tough,” Marrone said. “We just have to be focused and concentrate.”
The list of the toughest places to play in the NFL tends to fluctuate because no losing team can consistently drive its fan base into a frenzy. Ralph Wilson Stadium was one of the toughest places to play during the Jim Kelly era. The atmosphere for the 2007 Monday night game against Dallas arguably was the best and wildest for any game since 2000. But it’s hard to keep that kind of noise going when the losses pile up.
Here are the NFL’s top five toughest venues:
1. Seattle. The Seahawks have had a huge home-field edge since their inception in 1976 because their old stadium, the Kingdome, was a concrete circus tent. It was relatively small for a dome, and the fans in the Northwest immediately recognized their potential for influencing a game, given the acoustics in the place. Ex-Bills coach Chuck Knox arrived in Seattle in 1983 and built the team into a winner, which ramped up the noise even more. Seattle retired the jersey No. 12 in 1984 as a tribute to the fans.
The NFL even passed a rule in 1985 that allowed for a penalty to be called against any home team if the opposing offense could not run a play, and everyone knew the rule was aimed at Seattle. Commissioner Pete Rozelle essentially neutered the idea by discouraging officials from calling it, and the rule quietly was killed in 1991.
Seattle’s new stadium, CenturyLink Field, specifically was designed with noise in mind. The upper deck hangs over the lower to a greater degree to make the stands more vertical. The northwest end zone stands are aluminum, to allow foot-stomping fans to create more noise. Seattle set a Guinness book record for the loudest stadium noise level in a September Sunday night game against the Niners by reaching 136.6 decibels.
2. Kansas City. The AFC West became the front line of the NFL’s “noise war” after Knox made the Seahawks a winner. Denver, which had aluminum stands in old Mile High Stadium, responded. Kansas City had been losers through most of the mid-70s to 1990. But the Chiefs’ crowds came alive starting in a 1991 Monday night game against Kelly and the Bills. It was a 33-6 Chiefs win that handed Buffalo its first loss of the season.
“The sound never went down,” said longtime K.C. broadcaster Bob Gretz. “Even in the commercial timeouts it was a dull roar. That was the moment the fans announced they were back.”
The KC fans have embraced the noise ever since. Last week, the Chiefs broke Seattle’s noise record by pushing the decibel meter to 137.5 for a game against the Raiders.
3. New Orleans. The fact New Orleans has a hard-shelled dome gives it an advantage. And the Saints’ fans have ramped up their collective civic pride since the team returned from the Katrina disaster.
4. Minnesota. The Metrodome is hands-down the worst stadium in the NFL, because the noise is so annoying and the team pumps in loud music. The roof is fabric. But the building is on the small side, so the noise is more insufferable than in the newer domes. It’s so loud, it’s common to see Vikings season-ticket holders wearing ear plugs. Thankfully, the Metrodome will be torn down after this season.
5. Washington. The Redskins can seat up to 85,000 and FedEx Field is especially loud. It gets the nod over two domes. Indianapolis is loud, but its Midwestern fans lean toward the polite. Dallas is loud but it has too big of a corporate clientele to make the top five.
High scoring teams
Eleven teams are averaging 25 or more points a game. The most teams ever to hit that 25-point mark for a full season was nine – done both last season and in 2008. The top-scoring teams:
1. Denver (42.6). 2. Chicago (30.4). 3. Dallas (28.6). 4. Green Bay (28.0). 5. Seattle (27.3).
6. New Orleans (26.8). 7. Indianapolis (26.7). 8. Detroit (26.6). 9. Atlanta (25.5). 10. Washington (25.3). 11. San Francisco (25.1).
With a 30-point output today against Washington, Denver can become the third team to hit at least 30 points for each of the first eight games of the season. The others to do it were New England’s unbeaten 2007 team and St. Louis’ “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2000. Neither the Pats or Rams scored 30 in their ninth game those seasons.
Jason Tarver, defensive coordinator, Oakland. He is the defensive counterpart to Buffalo’s Nathaniel Hackett. He’s young (39). He’s relentlessly positive and energetic. He majored in biochemistry in college. (Hackett majored in neurobiology.) He played small-college California football. Unlike Hackett, the son of a coach, Tarver’s father is a research chemist. Tarver spent five years coaching linebackers for San Francisco, then served as defensive coordinator at Stanford in 2011. Oakland hired him last year. The Raiders’ tradition is to live by a four-man rush with talented defensive linemen. Tarver and head coach Dennis Allen are blitzing a lot more and stacking the line of scrimmage. Oakland ranks 12th in yards allowed.
• The Pats can become the fifth team since 1970 to win 14 straight division home games with a win over Miami today. Green Bay holds the division record with 18 straight home wins from 1994 to 1998. The Bills won 17 straight home division games from 1988 to 1992.
• Miami fans get picked on in this space for their relative indifference. The stands were a third empty last week even though the game was a sellout. But as a lot of Bills fans who traveled to the game found for games the first half of the season, it is so hot in the stands when the sun is shining it’s nearly impossible to stay in the seats on the sunny, or visitors, side of the field. Fans have little choice but to go into the concourse for relief.
• Buffalo-to-Nashville update: Andy Levitre is doing fine as left guard for the Titans. He’s the team’s second-highest graded lineman, behind tackle Michael Roos. Safety George Wilson is playing 28 percent of the snaps. Ryan Fitzpatrick had to fill in two starts for Jake Locker and drew the two toughest foes on the Titans’ schedule. Fitz played in a 26-17 loss to Kansas City and a 20-13 loss at Seattle. He hit 52 percent of his passes with two TDs and four INTs.
• Reggie Rogers, who Detroit took with the seventh overall pick in 1987, was found dead in his Seattle home at age 49 this week. Rogers was the subject of debate in the Bills’ draft room in ‘87. Bills chief scout Norm Pollom saw Rogers as a future Pro Bowler. Coach Marv Levy responded with words to the effect: “We’re looking for guys who will get us to the Super Bowl.” The Bills picked linebacker Shane Conlan at No. 6.
• Jim Harbaugh is 29-9-1 as Niners coach. With a win over Jacksonville today, he will become the fourth fastest coach to 30 career wins. George Seifert did it fastest, winning 30 in just 36 games with the Niners from 1989 to ’91.
• Jacksonville is on pace to become just the sixth team in the last 30 years to score fewer than 11 points a game. The Jags are averaging 10.8. The low is 8.8 by Seattle in 1992.
• Miami’s Jelani Jenkins was fined $15,750 for the hit that knocked the helmet off Buffalo’s Thad Lewis last week.