Mike Ditka hated the Metrodome. The former Bears coach called it a big livestock hall. So the Vikings put up huge fake cows on the field. Then he called it the Rollerdome. The Vikings laughed and dressed their cheerleaders in roller skates. It’s easy for Minnesota to chuckle. Chicago sports fans hate the Metrodome more than any other stadium.
Mike Ditka hated the Metrodome.
The former Bears coach called it a big livestock hall. So the Vikings put up huge fake cows on the field. Then he called it the Rollerdome. The Vikings laughed and dressed their cheerleaders in roller skates.
It’s easy for Minnesota to chuckle. Chicago sports fans hate the Metrodome more than any other stadium. In late September, the Chicago Sun-Times put a huge picture of the Metrodome on its back page cover under the headline “Where Bad Things Happen.”. The Twins then swept the White Sox in a three-game series for first place. The Sox came back to win the AL Central in a one-game playoff at U.S. Cellular Field, but they finished 1-8 at the hated Metrodome.
The Bears often haven’t been much better. They are 1-5 in their last six trips to Minnesota and 6-14 the last two decades.
But Minnesota’s big marshmallow of a stadium isn’t getting under the Bears’ skin this week as Chicago (6-5) prepares to play the Vikings (6-5) Sunday night in a showdown for first place in the NFC North. Rather than being their kryptonite, domes are bringing out the best in this Bears’ team.
Chicago is 3-1 in domes this year.
Chicago’s three most lopsided wins – 34-7 at Detroit, 27-3 at St. Louis and 29-13 at Indianapolis – were in domes.
Even in Chicago’s one dome loss, the Bears led Atlanta until a 27-yard pass with one second left led to a game-winning field goal for the Falcons.
Cold-weather outdoor teams aren’t supposed to play well in domes. Green Bay’s best teams with Brett Favre had an infamously tough time on turf, even losing inside at the 0-10 Colts in the Packers’ last Super Bowl season.
So why are the Bears so good under the roof?
“You can’t really explain it sometimes,” center Olin Kreutz said. “This team was built for any stadium, any venue. We believe we can play anywhere.”
They haven’t done it, though. The Bears are 0-2 in outdoor road games. Their 3-1 dome record even tops their 3-2 home record at Soldier Field. And their road win against the Colts (7-4) was a win against arguably the best team they’ve faced all year.
The dome success might start with Chicago’s star rookie running back. Matt Forte has averaged 93.5 yards rushing and 4.7 yards per carry in four games in domes. In seven games on grass, he’s averaged 77.4 yards and 3.7 per carry. He’s also scored five of his six rushing touchdowns in domes.
“The turf is faster,” Forte explained. “On grass, you can slip a lot. On turf, you rarely slip.”
Turf favors speed and explosiveness over power. That fits Forte’s game. His only two runs over 20 yards both came in domes – a 50-yard touchdown in the debut of the Colts’ new dome and a 47-yard touchdown last week in St. Louis.
It also fits Chicago’s defense, which became noticeably quicker and smaller when Lovie Smith was hired as coach. Gone are massive defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, who anchored Chicago’s 13-3 team in 2001. The Bears’ current defensive line is all about quickness, not girth. That change may explain why the Bears have gone from being 1-8 in domes from 2002-04 to 9-4 the past four seasons.
“Our team is built on speed,” kicker Robbie Gould said. “We have a lot of guys in here who play fast on turf. They make quick decisions and are good football players.”
“We feel comfortable inside,” quarterback Kyle Orton added. “We’ve got a quick team. I know some of the speed guys, when they get on turf, they feel pretty good.”
That goes for the defense, too.
Three of Chicago’s four best defensive games have been in domes as the Bears held the Lions, Rams and Colts to 185, 207 and 293 total yards. Their only other opponent under 300 yards is the Panthers with 216.
“You go a little faster out there when you are playing in domes,” cornerback Corey Graham said. “When you are a cornerback, you want to play on a fast surface.”
Even some of the big not-so-fast guys have taken a liking to turf.
“When you play outside in the cold, you can grind through that,” left tackle John St. Clair said. “Once you get inside in warm weather, it makes it all easier. Everybody feels faster on turf. In a warm environment – and I know they keep that place warm up in Minnesota – your hamstring, your quad, your body, they are all warm. You can do more things. When you are outside, you are a lot more stiff, especially in cold weather.”
The biggest problem for road teams in domes can be the offense trying to hear over the din.
Forte dismissed that concern.
“We’ve played in a lot of loud stadiums,” Forte said. “Loud is loud. It’s the same experience.”
And working harder to hear doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
“Going into a dome, especially a place like this, you have to really, really focus,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “It’s loud, so you’ve got to concentrate and focus.
“Maybe that’s it,” Turner said of the Bears’ newfound winning dome ways. “Maybe it just helps our guys focus a little bit.”
In truth, the Bears don’t care why they’ve started to win in domes. They just want it to continue. Especially on Sunday night.
“We’re an outdoor team,” St. Clair said, “but we want to keep it going. If we keep playing well in domes, I’d like to play all our games like that. So let’s keep it going.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.
Home sweet dome?
The Bears are 9-4 in domed stadiums the last four years after going 1-8 under a roof the previous three seasons:
Year Opponent W-L Score
2008 Colts W 29-13
2008 Falcons L 20-22
2008 Lions W 34-7
2008 Rams W 27-3
2007 Lions L 27-37
2007 Vikings L 13-20
2006 Vikings W 19-16
2006 Cardinals W 24-23
2006 Rams W 42-27
2006 Lions W 26-21
2005 Lions W 19-13
2005 Saints W 20-17
2005 Vikings L 10-34
2004 Vikings L 22-27
2004 Lions L 13-19
2003 Vikings L 13-24
2003 Saints L 13-20
2003 Lions L 10-12
2002 Falcons W 14-13
2002 Lions L 20-23
2002 Vikings L 7-25
2002 Rams L 16-21