GREEN BAY—It’s a big deal.
When the schedule was announced last spring, this was a circle game. A lot of people believed the Vikings were positioned to make a run at the Packers’ dominance of the NFC North.
The Vikings’ 1-5 start has stripped this game of its luster, but it’ll be the final time the Packers and Vikings will play a football game under the big bag, and that’s a big deal because the Metrodome has been a once-a-year home for this rivalry for the last four decades. It might be the most outdated stadium in the NFL, but it’s been a good place for big games, big plays and lasting memories, and it’s deserving of respect in this, its final Packers-Vikings game.
Let’s start with this: The Metrodome is a lot better than the stadium it replaced, Metropolitan Stadium, which was possibly the most unaccommodating and unappealing stadium in which I have ever covered a football game. Metropolitan’s charm was its lack of any. Yuk!
The Metrodome is not without personality. Its closeness gives it an excess of intimacy. I don’t remember hearing the Viking horn at Metropolitan, but I can’t think of the Metrodome without hearing that horn.
The press box is cramped and offers only a one-seater, if you know what I mean. How did it ever host a Super Bowl?
What I love about the press box is that it’s open to fan seating, which gives me a chance to feel like a real fan at a real football game. The Metrodome feels like real old-fashioned dome football. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Even worse, it’s the truth.
My most vivid memory of the Metrodome is from last year’s game, a classic confrontation between two great players, Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson, who got stronger as the game got longer. You remember the Vikings’ final drive. Peterson put the Vikings on his back and carried them to victory.
I remember experiencing a feeling of epiphany. Mark Murphy was sitting next to me and I turned to him and said, “What if he gets it all right here; the record, the playoffs, the whole shabang?” Mark arched his eyebrows. I thought I heard the music from “The Natural.”
Peterson nearly did it. He nearly went the distance on the next play. It allowed the Vikings to kick a game-winning field goal. I apologize for writing this, but it would’ve been better had he scored.
Memories make us rich. The Metrodome made us rich.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Vikings and make the final Packers-Vikings game in the Metrodome a warm memory for Packers fans.
1. Stop Peterson—It begins with that. The Vikings are likely to commit to Peterson and the run, and that means stopping him is job one.
2. Start fast—A 1-5 team is teetering on the edge. Give it a push.
3. Protect the passer—The Vikings pass defense is really struggling. If Aaron Rodgers gets time to throw, he should have a big night.
4. Wrap up—This game last year was a clinic on how not to tackle.
5. Feel at home—The Vikings’ disappointing record likely means the Metrodome will be full of green and gold on Sunday.
6. Cover kicks—The Vikings have a couple of touchdowns on returns this year. Rookie Cordarelle Patterson is the real thing.
7. Get the ball to Nelson—Jarrett Boykin’s emergence should help balance the coverage of a defense that is 29th against the pass. Jordy Nelson remains the Packers’ big-play receiver, and they need him more than ever with Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and, possibly, James Jones sidelined by injury.
8. Stop Jennings—Don’t let the Vikings rally around him.
9. Contain Ponder—Christian Ponder is at his best outside the pocket. That’s where he feels most comfortable.
10. Seize the moment—It’s a nationally televised game at an important two-week stretch of division games. This is a chance to make a statement.