If the road back to the Super Bowl wasn’t hard enough facing the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, Bill Belichick’s Patriots also will have to grapple with crowd noise in Kansas City that can exceed the volume of a jet engine.
Welcome to Arrowhead Stadium, where more than 76,000 screaming Chiefs fans can ruin an opposing offense’s communication. Despite playing in an open air stadium — and not a noise-trapping dome — Kansas City has made a tradition out of generating home-field advantage through sheer volume.
It might sound like hyperbole, since NFL teams communicate play calls from the sideline using wireless earpieces, but only one offensive and one defensive player can wear such a device. This makes play calls or snap counts for the rest of the team — as well as any audibles — complicated in a noisy environment.
The impact of the Arrowhead crowd has produced moments in the past that were both stunning and comical. In a Monday night game in 1992, the Raiders faced a preposterous third and 43 because of a personal foul and succeeding delay-of-game penalties.
“Third and a long 43,’’ remarked a bemused Al Michaels.
On another Monday night in 1990, Broncos quarterback John Elway even had officials stop the game to try and lower the volume.
“Again, I have asked the defense to help lower the crowd noise,’’ referee Gordon McCarter explained to the attendees at Arrowhead. “Any further crowd noise problem will result in a charged timeout against Kansas City.’’
The interesting footnote to Elway’s plight was that there actually was a rule at the time meant to police how loud a crowd could cheer. Instituted in 1989 because of the increase in domed stadiums, the rule stated that a crowd would be warned by the official if the noise prevented a quarterback from calling signals. If the noise continued, the home team would be charged a timeout. If the team had no more timeouts, it would be penalized 5 yards.
Not surprisingly, the rule instantly became universally unpopular, and was only called twice (both in 1989 preseason games). Still, it continued to officially exist for years afterward. By 1994, quarterbacks began using radios in their helmets. And in 2013, the league relaxed rules against teams actively encouraging fans to make noise. The result has been more of the same for Chiefs fans: Full-throated support of the home team.
The cacophony of Kansas City crowd noise that Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will endure on Sunday is nothing new. The team’s last trip to Kansas City was notable for more than one reason.
On Sept. 29, 2014 — another Monday night game — the Patriots were overwhelmed by the Chiefs at Arrowhead, 41-14. It was one of the worst losses of the Belichick-Brady era, and ultimately served as a turning point in a season which culminated with the team’s fourth Super Bowl win. For Patriots fans, the game is memorable for its postgame sounds — ESPN’s Trent Dilfer erroneously asserting the Patriots “aren’t good anymore,’’ and Belichick’s audible scoff at the mere mention of benching Brady.
For the Chiefs, it was a historic night for a different reason. With a Guinness Book of World Records representative present, the Arrowhead crowd crescendoed at an ear-splitting 142.2 decibels in the second quarter. It was a world record for stadium noise, breaking the mark of 137.6 set in Seattle the year before. The crowd’s roar even went beyond the decibel level of a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier, which a Purdue University study found to be around 130 decibels.
While Belichick noted before the 2014 game that “it might be a little louder there,’’ it’s apparent that the Patriots in 2019 are placing an emphasis on crowd noise. During practices leading up to the AFC Championship, the team has blasted music over the Gillette Stadium speakers in an attempt to simulate the difficult conditions.
How Brady and the offense handle the volume could prove to be a significant subplot in a game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, and it’s a safe bet that Kansas City fans will test New England’s preparation.