[dropcap2 variation="slategrey" textColor="#000000"]B[/dropcap2]y the time the Saints play the Miami Dolphins next Monday night, it will have been 1382 days (and counting) since they last lost a primetime game in the Mercedes Benz-Superdome.
It wasn’t always this way. With the exception of the Superdome’s reopening in 2006, the Payton-era Saints simply weren’t all that great under the bright lights.
In the past few years, however, the Superdome has risen into the upper pantheon of home field advantages. It’s loud. It’s boisterous. The Saints are very hard to beat there.
The natural extension of home field advantage is the added benefit of playing there for primetime games (Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night). In an essay I wrote back in 2011, I called this the Domefield Advantage, which isn’t the most creative of names, but gets across the meaning well enough: not all home games are created equal.
Primetime games carry with them a certain amount of added weight. They may not add to more than a normal game in the overall season ledger, but they dramatically affect how the media and the public perceive your team. As much as the team on the field is up for display, so are the fans.
When fans are loud or dressed up, they earn respect. In an age in which expensive tickets price out “real fans,” it’s one of the few places left where we’re rewarded for showing up drunk and loud and thus proving our loyalty.1
Think of 2009
In Table 1, you can see how the Saints matched up between early and late home games between 2006-2008.
The Saints’ modern era begins with a clear line of demarcation (the arrival of Payton/Brees, but you already knew that), but for those first few seasons, this Saints team wasn’t fully-baked. Sure, we had surprising success in 2006, but an ineffective defense and a still-evolving Drew Brees kept us from being true contenders. If you look at Table 1, you’ll see Drew’s passer rating was just 81.1 in four primetime Domefield Advantage games.
Then, in 2009 something clicked. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but that 2009 team excelled at night (well technically, they excelled pretty much everywhere, but that’s not the point). The football gods (by which I mean network executives) blessed the 2009 Saints with four primetime home games (including that gem against the New England Patriots).
In those four games, we created Domefield Advantage. I’m not saying that it was the first time the Superdome was recognized as being among the league’s best home field advantages, but it certainly [pullquote2 align="right" variation="slategrey" textColor="#000000"]At night, the Saints average 4 points more a game and increase their margin of victory by more than a touchdown[/pullquote2]cemented that status for the duration of Payton’s (very long and future) tenure as the Saints’ head coach.
The last time the Saints lost a meaningful primetime game at home was actually our fourth night gave of 2009, against the Dallas Cowbows.2
Since that Dallas game 1382 days ago, the Saints are a perfect 8-0 in the Superdome and 11-1 overall since the beginning of the 2009 season. The difference is obvious.
At night, the Saints average 4 points more a game and increase their margin of victory by more than a touchdown (8.6 points). Drew Brees is nearly unstoppable, with an average passer rating of 118.9 over 12 games.3
All this to say that, while the Saints face a surprisingly competent Dolphins team this Monday night, I have a hard time feeling nervous. For the first time since 2009, the Saints are fielding a defense that might not only benefit from the crowd, but thrive.
The season opener against the Falcons provided a great glimpse into what we might expect from Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan, and friends on Monday night, but I think overwhelming emotions will be replaced with a cold determination to dominate the Dolphins’ offense in front of a national audience. A national Saints defensive coming out party, you might say.
With Cam Jordan playing out of his mind the first three weeks, I can only imagine what he’s going to look like with 72,000 drunk fans behind him.
Domefield advantage is real, ladies and gentlemen, and I can’t wait to see it in action in 2013.
Photo via Ivan Illidge
Homepage banner image via Michael Li.