Decibel level challenges visitors to the Metrodome   « Back

by Pete Dougherty

Sep. 29, 2007

In the playoffs after the 2000 NFL season, Mike McCarthy was the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator for a playoff game at Minneapolis' Metrodome.

McCarthy recalls four or five times that day when his quarterback, Aaron Brooks, couldn't hear the play call through his helmet transmitter because of the crowd noise.

The Green Bay Packers' coach remains convinced the Vikings were augmenting the crowd noise through the public-address system that day.

"It did go on," McCarthy said. "I had family at the game and they sat next to a speaker and they were passing out ear plugs (before the game)."

This week, the Packers make their annual trek to the Metrodome, which in the past was notorious for suspicions the Vikings amplified crowd noise via the public-address system, especially during the Denny Green coaching era from 1992 to 2000. Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren complained regularly about it, and there was constant gamesmanship between the teams in the 1990s and much of the 2000s about game-day operations in general often more specifically on whether the Vikings were enhancing the deafening Metrodome in ways that violated league rules.

One incident in 1999, McCarthy's lone season as the Packers' quarterbacks coach, is well known among members of the football side of the Packers' organization.

Before that game, there were two speakers directly behind the Packers' bench. NFL rules state the speakers have to be between the goal line and the 20. The Packers' security and equipment staffs complained, but Vikings employees refused to move the speakers. So one of the Packers' equipment men threatened to cut the speakers' wires, and that, along with a conversation with the NFL's on-site observer, convinced the Vikings to move the speakers.

NFL game-operation rules are back in the news in large part because New England coach Bill Belichick recently was fined and docked a first-round draft pick for violating league rules by videotaping the signals of opposing defensive coordinators. Early this week, Sirius NFL radio had a fan on the show hosted by former NFL player Randy Cross accusing the Redskins of piping in extra fan noise via FedExField's public-address system last week against the New York Giants.

Teams could augment crowd noise in a couple of ways, most likely either by playing fake crowd noise on top of the natural crowd noise or by capturing the crowd noise via a microphone and pumping it through the P.A. system.

The Packers don't seem as concerned about the Vikings possibly augmenting crowd noise through their P.A. system as in the past, though it's something their security staff monitors.

Asked this week whether he thinks the Vikings artificially augment their crowd noise, General Manager Ted Thompson said: "I think everybody plays by the rules. I was smirking when I said that. No, the league goes to extraordinary lengths to try to make things competitively balanced, and when you play on the road, it's going to be more difficult than when you play at home, and that's the way it's supposed to be."

The NFL has a game-operations policy manual with rules regarding crowd noise, and in early September last year, the league sent a memo informing all teams it was emphasizing enforcement of the rules regarding noise.

There are no rules about spontaneous noise. However, there are restrictions on when artificial noise can be played and what home teams can do to coax the crowd.

n Home teams are allowed only four speakers on the field, and they must be between the goal line and the 20s and can't face either the opposing team's bench or the field. During pregame warm-ups, those speakers cannot be in the visiting team's end zone.

n When the visiting team has the ball, noise of any kind under the home team's control music or other noise broadcast over the P.A. system, for instance must cease when the play clock begins counting down.

n "Flagrant" attempts to induce crowd noise by a mascot, cheerleaders or scoreboard messages are prohibited at all times. This includes showing noise meters, displaying messages such as "raise the roof," "let's go crazy" and "pump it up," as well as team-controlled efforts to start the wave. More "conventional" inducements, such as flashing "defense" on the scoreboard, have to stop when the offense breaks the huddle.

n Megaphones, blow horns, whistles and other noisemakers are prohibited.

A representative hired by the NFL's office attends every game to supervise the officials and game-day operations. If a visiting team believes these or any other rules are being violated, they contact him immediately, and he warns the home team's public-relations director if he thinks there's a violation. The NFL can fine a team up to $50,000 for a first offense.

"It was loud last year," McCarthy said of his first visit to the Metrodome as the Packers' coach. "That's a different building. Domes are different, and their sound system, the music's so loud and P.A. announcer (is so loud). You should have been down there in the Hutson Center (Thursday), I had that (noise) pumped up pretty high."

The Packers have had much more success in the Metrodome in recent years than when they were one of the NFL's premier teams in the '90s, though Minnesota also had good teams under Green at that time. When Holmgren was coach, the Packers were 1-6 at the Metrodome but since then are 4-4, including winning three of their last four. McCarthy won his first game there 23-17 last season.

Regardless of whether the Vikings used to or still augment the noise, the Metrodome, like all domes, is an exceptionally loud venue.

The Packers routinely practice for such circumstances, even occasionally in the offseason, and use a silent count if the guards, tackles and receivers can't hear the quarterback's cadence.

"You know what, those things didn't win or lose the ballgame over there," said Rob Davis, the Packers' long snapper since 1997. "You have to go out and execute on the road as you do at home. We've been a pretty good road team, and we're looking forward to the challenge. It's a rare opportunity for them to play us undefeated,
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