NEW ORLEANS — The Saints think there’s something special about the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the postseason, and it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
The Saints are 5-0 in postseason games in the Superdome in the coach Sean Payton era, compared to 1-5 on the road (not counting neutral site games), in that same time period. If the road to the Super Bowl goes through New Orleans, the Saints will be a tough opponent to defeat.
“It’s wild. It’s energetic. It’s beautiful,” said left tackle Terron Armstead. “From my point of view, I love it. I love to look back at the crowd from behind the benches and see people screaming and going crazy, jumping. I love it, man.”
But why, exactly, is it like that?
The Superdome certainly isn’t the fanciest stadium, as it’s the seventh-oldest NFL stadium currently in use. It’s technically not even the loudest, although it ranks up there on its best days.
A 2013 attempt to set the record for world’s loudest indoor stadium failed when the noise level got to only 122.6 decibels, short of the record and well short of the 136.6 that was registered at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field that same year.
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“I think it’s the nature of the crowd,” Armstead said. “It’s the people that are in the crowd. … Some people wake up and get their daiquiris going. … It’s the people in the crowd in New Orleans that make our Dome such an advantage.”
Saints tight end Benjamin Watson put the Dome right up there with Seattle’s stadium and the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis as one of the loudest in the league.
“It’s probably, other than some of those SEC games in college, it’s definitely the loudest NFL stadium,” he said.
There was a time when the Dome wasn’t much of an advantage of all, as Payton quickly pointed out. In the years before he arrived, the Saints were routinely beaten at home. They weren’t exactly unbeatable at home during non-playoff years from 2014-2016, either, and Payton would be the first to admit that.
“It’s a tough place to play when you have a good team,” he emphasized. “But if you went back and looked at the records in the Dome prior to ’06, 3-5, 3-5, 4-4, 3-5, 3-5 with the playoff win. Not too long ago here, it wasn’t too tough a place to play when we were struggling. I think part of that is what kind of team you’re fielding and when you get the combinations of a good team and then the crowd noise and then you have something. I think a lot has to do with the talent level of your football team.”
When the Saints are at their best, the Dome is an incredibly difficult venue for an opposing team. New Orleans went 6-2 at home during the regular season. There’s no denying the talent level of this team, which went 13-3 overall and earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
The 2009 Saints, the only team in franchise history to win a Lombardi Trophy, played two games at the Superdome in the postseason, soundly defeating the Cardinals 45-14 and beating the Vikings 31-28 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Superdome was special that year, and Watson, then a member of the Patriots, recalled coming in to play there on Monday Night Football earlier that year. It was so loud that he could barely hear his teammates next to him. The Saints walloped the Patriots, 38-17.
“It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship where, obviously if the fans are into it, and we come out and go three-and-out, and the defense lets them drive all the way down the field, then it’s not going to be as intimidating of an atmosphere,” Watson said. “But if we come out, score a touchdown or two, the defense makes a stop, then it kind of creates this avalanche that makes it very difficult for opposing teams to come in.”
Watson noted it’s difficult enough for the Saints themselves to communicate during some games at home, but opposing teams often have to switch to silent counts just to get plays off.
Added defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins: “We know how special it is to play there. We know the advantage it gives us with the noise level. When teams come in here, to a degree they gotta simplify things. They can’t come in here with a bunch of exotic key words and a whole bunch of things to say. Because it’s damn near impossible for us to communicate as a defense, let alone an offense trying to sit up there and check things with three, four seconds on the clock. So it helps us. We love it — sometimes we hate it, because we can’t communicate among ourselves. But we’d much rather have that than a quiet place.”
If the team is at the top of its game, then the crowd will be as well.
“You can have a crowd going crazy, but you’ve got to give them a reason to to crazy. You’ve got to give them a reason to celebrate,” Armstead said. “But the Dome is an advantage, for sure. I wouldn’t try to downplay it.”