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'There was no noise': Empty U.S. Bank Stadium creates eerie atmosphere for Packers, Vikings

Ryan Wood   | Packers News

MINNEAPOLIS – Downtown was quiet. Quieter than quiet. Somewhere in Minneapolis, two hours before noon, you could hear a bell tower chime in the distant background. There were almost more bicyclists than cars. Zero pedestrian traffic. 

A purple city was awash in grey concrete Sunday morning. The usual droning of NFL gameday was replaced with tranquil silence. It was the kind of quiet you might expect from a movie, the cliched calm before a big battle, only this was real life.  

And the battle was only the Green Bay Packers’ opening game of the 2020 season at the Minnesota Vikings. 

Everywhere, there were reminders of how different this Packers game was than any played in the 101 seasons before it. COVID-19 was written more than “Skol” around the interior of U.S. Bank Stadium. There were no fans filing inside, but a voice recording issued precautions anyway. 

The numbers:

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“COVID-19 is a dangerous virus,” the recording said on a loop. 

The sea of empty, purple seats in Minnesota might have been the starkest example Sunday’s game was played amidst a pandemic, but it was the sounds that were especially eerie. As players filed onto the field 40 minutes before kickoff, their voices could be heard from the press box. About the only thing you couldn’t hear inside the stadium was a cough. 

“I expected a bunch of boos coming out of the tunnel,” cornerback Jaire Alexander said. “When I didn’t receive that, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, OK, all right, cool. This is a good different.’” 

Ten minutes before kickoff, both teams back in their locker rooms, the stadium felt like the world’s largest hotel lobby. There was no buzz, no anticipation. Music played softly in the background, the kind of background filler you might expect to hear when you’re on hold.  

The awkward hush broke when smoke spouted from the dragon fixed atop the Viking ship in the end zone of U.S. Bank Stadium. It is a staple of the Minnesota Vikings’ gameday experience. Players run out of the tunnel, through that ship, as starting lineups are announced. Usually, U.S. Bank Stadium is an ear-splitting pitch as each name is introduced, culminating with newly extended running back Dalvin Cook. 

The players surely never heard the smoke from that ship before. 

“We knew that coming into the game that it’s going to be a lot different,” Vikings receiver Adams Thielen said. “That there’s not going to be those jitters maybe you get from fans and the energy. There’s just not going to be that. so we’ve got to create our own energy. How do you do that? You make plays. I mean, that’s what they did. That keeps their sideline ampted up. That keeps them going. 

“You’ve got to make some big plays to create momentum, to create some excitement, especially now with no fans.” 

The maximum 70 decibels of ambient noise the Vikings were allowed to pipe into their stadium hardly was enough to drown out players’ voices. On the field, it surely had an effect on the game. Aaron Rodgers took full advantage. 

Using his hard count, Rodgers twice enticed the Vikings to jump offside on third down. For a Packers offense that was miserable on third down last season, the pair of free first downs were big momentum swings. One drive led to an early 3-0 lead. The other ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams. 

“Weird,” Adams said. “Really weird, and it will probably take some more time to get used to all the way. … Score a touchdown, and I don’t know really what to do. I don’t know if I should signal first down when I’m getting up because there’s nobody there to watch. But, yeah, definitely different.” 

It was a career day for Adams, whose 14 receptions tied Don Hutson for the most during a single game in Packers history. It was the kind of day when the silence would have been deafening, deflating a raucous road crowd with catch after catch. 

Instead, the silence was just … normal. 

Rodgers said it was one of the strangest experiences he’s had in the NFL. It’s an experience that will repeat next week when the Packers host the Detroit Lions in their home opener before an empty Lambeau Field, and perhaps the rest of this season. 

“It was more of just a strange feeling with nobody in the stands,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t let you know if a play is a good play sometimes. You’re so used to, if noise persists, it’s probably an incompletion or a good play by the defense. If the noise stops, it’s a good play for the offense.  

“There was no noise. So we had to bring our own kind of energy today.” 

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