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For Indoor Teams, There's No Place Like Dome

From News Services
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page E12

The Atlanta Falcons will attempt to accomplish what no other dome team has managed: winning a conference championship game outdoors.

Teams that play indoors are 0-8 in outdoor title games. St. Louis and Atlanta are the only dome teams to have reached the Super Bowl.

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The Rams won NFC titles at home in 1999 and 2001, while the Falcons advanced by winning at Minnesota's Metrodome in 1998.

"I'm not sure there's any disadvantage for a dome team that's going outdoors," Ravens Coach Brian Billick, the offensive coordinator for the 16-1 Vikings when they lost to Atlanta, said this week.

"In fact, looking back on my experience in Minnesota, it's probably a lot harder the other way around. When teams used to playing outdoors came into a dome, they had difficulty dealing with all that noise."

Still, statistics don't lie. The NFL's dome teams are 11-32 in outdoor playoff games, 6-26 in cold-weather cities.

"Oh, I think [going from a dome to outdoors] can be a factor, no question," said Chiefs Coach Dick Vermeil, whose '99 Rams played the entire postseason indoors en route to their Super Bowl triumph.

"But I think it's the change in surface and not the weather that's the big difference. Dome teams tend to be built for speed.

"In St. Louis, we found receivers who were quick and, on that turf we had there, they could plant and make a quick cut. They could get separation. They couldn't do that on a lot of grass fields. It's the same with teams that have speed pass-rushers."

According to Billick, any disadvantage that changing turfs might produce has been diminished in recent years by such new artificial surfaces as NexTurf and Field Turf, which are more grass-like than the older versions.

"The new surfaces have really mitigated things," Billick said. "The only places where you have the old stuff now is in Indianapolis and St. Louis, and quite frankly, it ought to be outlawed there. Not because it gives those two teams an advantage, but because it's just not safe."

Of all the dome teams, Billick said, these Falcons might be best equipped to make the transition.

"When you think of dome teams," he said, "you think of teams that are built for speed and passing, like Indianapolis and St. Louis. The Falcons run the ball. And this is the time of the year when your ability to run the ball is the most important thing you have going for you."

New Rams Assistant

St. Louis fired special teams coach Mike Stock on Friday and replaced him with Bob Ligashesky, who becomes the fourth man to try to turn around a unit that has struggled since Mike Martz took over as head coach in 2000.

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