Robert Griffith’s hearing is just fine, but the noise made in the Metrodome provided a distinct advantage for the Vikings … and one huge disadvantage that may have cost the Vikings a chance at going to the Super Bowl following the 1998 season.
“I just remember having an unfair advantage here because of noise. You see all these studies where they have all the meters going in Arrowhead, Superdome and all that, but if they would have did that in the Dome here, I think we would have won that. It was probably the loudest place I played in,” Griffith said while standing outside the Metrodome earlier this month getting ready to be honored as part of the Vikings’ All-Mall of America Field team. “Our offense, we were always up 14, 21 points, 10 points, so I always remember the crowd.”
The Metrodome might never have been louder for the Vikings than during their 1998 season. Fans were thrilled with the record-setting offense that put up 556 points – at the time, that was the NFL record. Rookie Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed were flying high on offense, and the defense was trying to take advantage of the deafening noise of the Dome while opposing offenses tried to operate.
It was a difficult task for the opposition, but Griffith remembers one devastating moment when the noise worked against the Vikings. It was 1998 and the defense was trying to make a stop against Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
“I wish I would have told Jimmy Hitchcock not to bite on that out-and-up. Stuff like that. We all kind of know you get caught in the moment,” Griffith said. “I remember that play specifically because I was going to wave him back, but I remember (Falcons QB) Jim Miller got under center so I had to go right to my key and I couldn’t tell Jimmy to back up.”
The 1998 NFC Championship loss stings, but Griffith’s memories of the Metrodome are mostly positive. He even remembers the songs that played to get the crowd tilting on loud.
“When I’m at home watching a game and I hear it, I’m like, ‘Oh, that place is rocking.’ I get goosebumps and know what that’s about,” he said. “I knew, I was kind of waving him, but I couldn’t tell him.”
As painful as the NFC Championship Game was for the Vikings, Griffith’s favorite game was the one right before that, a dominating win against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Jake Plummer was the quarterback and I had two picks that game. That was a real signature game,” he said. “It was the game before Atlanta. I felt like, because I prepared so much, some of those plays I made because I recognized a couple formations and I was like, man, I’m here now. I felt like I was the player I wanted to be.”
Griffith started his career as an undrafted safety out of San Diego State and worked his way up into not only a starting role, but a prominent leader of the defense.
He now lives in the Los Angeles area and grew up in Southern California. He was certainly thankful to have a dome over his head during the winter games in Minnesota.
“Every year I would look on the schedule and (see) Green Bay, Chicago, we knew we would have Detroit, but I would always look at the cold games first. It was definitely an advantage for me,” he said. “We got to play in the real turf with tennis shoes. It was a little different for me. I like playing in my tennis shoes.”
He said other teams would have to get into a track meet with the Vikings offense. The Vikings had the speed with Moss, Carter, Reed and Robert Smith, but then they had the second-half change of pace with bullish back Leroy Hoard.
Griffith said they always won the same way – get a big lead and then wear teams out later in the game.
He’s been back for other Vikings games besides being honored earlier this month as part of the All-Metrodome team, including the team’s only previous game in TCF Bank Stadium when the Metrodome collapsed in 2010.
But, despite all of its shortcomings as an NFL stadium, Griffith will miss the Metrodome … a little bit.
“It’s a little sad,” he said. “I started my career here and made my hay. It’s just a good honor to come back and see it one last time. I’m going to come back when the new one is here.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.