INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have thrived for years with vibrant home atmospheres.
The RCA Dome was filled with loud, natural sound for years. As the Colts started creating a winning heritage in 1999, they began playing in one of the loudest venues in the National Football League.
Today, Lucas Oil Stadium is populated by the same loud and dedicated fans, and Colts players long have lauded the environment.
Road games always present a different matter. Tonight in New Orleans will find the Colts in the noisy Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Built in 1975 at a cost of $168 million, the structure stands approximately 27 stories high. It has been refurbished in recent years, and the Saints faithful cheer in Mardi Gras-esque fashion. It is surround sound – New Orleans style.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell is aware of the setting and its challenges. Like always, he has planned ahead of time in preparing his team.
"This one would rank right up there near the top," said Caldwell. "It is a noisy, noisy place, I'm going to be honest with you. For the most part, with us over the years, it's always been a situation where teams, fans and everyone else has been really geared up to beat us. So oftentimes we've run into some very, very noisy and hostile crowds, but this one is as noisy as they get."
Indianapolis always has been meticulous in practice strategies, planning for all sorts of things that must be contended with on the road. Weather elements are taken into account. For years, the club also has practiced with sound blasting.
That tradition continued this week as the Colts prepared to enter the Superdome for the first time since 2003. Caldwell spoke about the club's work with noise during practice.
"Every away game we typically do the same thing in that regard (practice with noise during the week)," said Caldwell. "For home games we do it for our defense, and for away games we do it for our offense. We try to make certain that they (our players) have a difficult time in practice hearing. They have to communicate and stress making certain that the word is passed along the line and out to the flank.
"We do try to recreate that atmosphere, but there are some places that you can work at it as hard and as long as you like, and it's still going to be difficult. (The Superdome) is one of those places, because it's extremely loud."
Offensive guard Mike Pollak has been with the team for four years. Pollak is well-schooled in the club's practice of using sound in practice to get ready for game days. He knows the approach has proven its worth through the years.
"When you practice with it (noise) during the week, it doesn't surprise you when you get there (to a road site)," said Pollak. "It doesn't shock you when the crowd starts getting real loud. You're used to it and you can execute your communication along the line."
Pollak was inactive in 2008 when the Colts visited the Metrodome in Minneapolis, one of the league's noisiest sites. He remembers the sound there, but he knows of other places that have presented challenges.
"I did not play in Minnesota. Houston is always a loud venue," said Pollak. "It always helps you to practice in that environment during the week. It helps prepare you for the game."
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne has witnessed all manner of road crowds during his 11-year career. He is returning to his hometown in facing the Saints, and he knows the club's approach and what the Saints fans have to offer is standard for what he has experienced.
"We don't expect it to be quiet on any away game," said Wayne. "It's (crowd noise) something we practice for. We expect it to be noisy."
Caldwell will be marching his troops into battle with quarterback Curtis Painter starting his fourth career game. Two of his first three starts have come on the road, at Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. Neither venue seemed to generate as much noise as what could be expected tonight in the Superdome.
Caldwell believes his young quarterback has held up well under all circumstances, including on the road. Painter will have to contend with more than just a vocal audience.
"Curtis has been able to manage it pretty well," said Caldwell. "I do think that, because of the fact that we practice those situations, he is accustomed to functioning within that kind of environment. That makes things a bit easier. When you add to that the multiple looks, changing defenses and adjustments that New Orleans will give you, then it presents even more of a challenge, because it does require a little bit more communication. But, all in all, he's been fairly good, and this week he's going to have to really be good."