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They're no longer outdoor Vikings

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- During more than a decade of Bud Grant, Purple People Eaters and NFC dominance, the Minnesota Vikings boasted a big advantage at wind-swept, often-frigid Metropolitan Stadium.

Upon moving to the Metrodome in 1982, they essentially became a warm-weather team -- playing in climate-controlled comfort on an artificial surface. As a result, by coincidence or a combination of both, the modern-day Vikings don't perform nearly as well without a roof over their helmets.

"It's driving me nuts," coach Mike Tice said. "I just want to block out the fact that we're having a hard time winning outside. But it sits there for everybody to see. ... Until we can win outside in the cold weather, we're going to hear about it."

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Since Tice took over for Dennis Green, Minnesota is 2-15 in outdoor games. Since the start of the 2001 season, the Vikings have lost 20 of their last 22 outside. And guess where their wild-card playoff game is on Sunday? Yep, Green Bay, where many a visitor has been defeated in less-than-desirable conditions.

"For whatever reason we haven't been successful," center Matt Birk said, "but again if we were 2-15 or 15-2, it really doesn't have any bearing on this game."

Minnesota went 1-4 outdoors this season, winning at Houston in 70-degree weather and losing at Philadelphia, Green Bay, Chicago and Washington. The Vikings opened last year with a victory against the Packers at a toasty Lambeau Field.

September it's not, but Sunday's forecast looks quite tame -- partly cloudy with a high near 40 degrees.

So what's all the fuss about? After all, the Packers went 4-4 at their hallowed home this season and lost to Jacksonville last month.

"They live in the cold, so it's not like this is new to the team," Green Bay linebacker Na'il Diggs said, referring to rival Minnesota. "By no means do we think the weather or Lambeau is going to make the Vikings roll their helmets.

"Anybody can beat you at any time. No matter what the weather."

The biggest disadvantage for the Vikings playing outside is that real grass is slower than the fake stuff. Their recent teams, especially on offense, have been built on speed. Playing outdoors obviously means they're playing on the road, too, so opposing crowds come into the equation.

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But like most things in professional football, this whole story line is probably overblown. At least that's the way the Vikings feel.

"To say we're dreading going up there, that's crazy," free safety Brian Russell said. "We're excited about going up there. It's the biggest game I've ever played in.

"I personally never feel the game temperature during the game. The adrenaline's flowing. You're hitting people. If you're really worried about it being cold, you're probably not focusing on the game."

If Minnesota loses, it's not going to be because of the venue.

"Who cares if we're outside or inside," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "Let's play."

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