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Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.

You would struggle to count on two hands the number of times that US Bank Stadium has been either half empty or very angry since it opened in 2016.

Let’s think about that one for a second.

The final game against the Chicago Bears in 2016 was pretty miserable. It was essentially a preseason game. A protester hung from a truss in the middle of the game. Chicago invented the “Philly Special” with Matt Barkley and the only people who were there to see it got preseason prices.

When the Vikings lost to the Bills in 2018, I don’t recall anything outside of complete shock. Boos didn’t rain down. People didn’t litter the field. They just sat in stunned silence.

In 2019, you could sense some frustration starting to build in a game against the Denver Broncos leading into the bye week. The Vikings got down 20-0 at half and were booed off the field. Despite the fact that they were 8-3 and had won the previous week on national TV versus the Cowboys, there was a prevailing feeling that stemmed from the early part of the year and they were always capable of underachieving.

Kirk Cousins eventually led a second-half comeback to beat the Broncos and the annoyed crowd wouldn’t return until they hit a pothole against the Packers in Week 16 in a 23-10 loss. Folks left that game early and were deeply unhappy.

Last year, the Vikings avoided the jeers that would have come along with their 1-5 start because the stadium was empty due to COVID.

So in total, rarely has the place been hostile to its home squad. Basically never. How many teams have had full stadiums with difference-making crowd enthusiasm for as long as the Vikings? Safe guess is only a handful.

Conversely, it’s been crazy hostile to opposing players. Around the league, players have talked about US Bank Stadium as being on par with the Superdome and Arrowhead Stadium as the loudest and most challenging places to play.

But the juice hasn’t been the same this year.

“It wasn’t quite as loud as it has been in some of those past games,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers commented following the Vikings’ win over Green Bay.

Something was a little off from the start. During a slow preseason game, fans grew frustrated with the lack of offensive fireworks and began throwing their programs up in the air to stay entertained. It looked like a snowball fight. Once they were scolded by the venue’s PA announcer, they did the wave for a really long time.

It isn’t hard to figure out the cause and effect here. Since the Vikings lost to the 49ers in the playoffs, they have 12 wins and 17 losses. Over the last four years, they are 16th in total wins, which is two behind the Chicago Bears and three ahead of the Houston Texans. That doesn’t exactly inspire fans to scream their brains out.

Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers has the potential to be the most uncomfortable home environment that US Bank Stadium has seen. If things go sideways, this isn’t going to be a sorry Week 17 where folks are apathetic. This isn’t going to be a disappointing first half where fans hope that their insults will inspire players to give the old college try when they come back out of the locker room. This could be a culmination of years of disappointment.

If the Vikings get down in the game, we could see the reaction to promises unkept since the team reached the NFC Championship in 2017. They set out to make their first Super Bowl appearance since Elvis was still alive and instead they have watched the Packers own the division year after year. They have seen far too many of these playoffs-on-the-line games end with arms thrown up in the air.

We might also see the stadium half full of the Midwest’s Steelers contingent. Earlier this year against Dallas, we heard something never seen before inside US Bank Stadium: Opposing fans cheering big plays by their squad. Every time Amari Cooper caught a pass for the Cowboys, an audible, “Coooooop” echoed throughout the stadium.

It’s supposed to be the other way around. Vikings fans are the ones who we usually talk about infiltrating hostile grounds and forcing opponents to use silent counts inside their own buildings.

If the Vikings don’t steamroll the middling Steelers, will the place become more black and gold than purple?

You might say that it doesn’t really matter. The playoff odds are what they are, either way. And the impact of fans on what happens on the field has long been overstated in football. But when the Vikings’ owners agreed to pay $84 million in guaranteed money to Kirk Cousins in 2018 or when they signed up to extend him in 2020, this wasn’t the environment they dreamed about. They imagined the Steelers looking confused and irritated with the noise of 65,000 people trying to will their team into the top playoff seed.

Will it matter in the owner’s box if they see Terrible Towels and deafening boos at every punt toward making decisions for the future? Without public statements, we can’t be sure. You can guess, though.

There’s another side to this coin. If fans do show up in droves to SKOL chant like they’ve never SKOL chanted before with hopes of giving all of their support to the current leadership and roster, it would be another story. It feels like that time has passed.

It’s possible the Vikings will blow out the Steelers and we’ll never find out how the crowd would react. It’s possible the next two home games after Thursday are so important to the playoff race that we don’t have this conversation again.

Thursday night, however, holds the potential to represent the feelings of a fan base that hasn’t had reason to believe in their team in quite some time. We’ll see if that sentiment is on display.

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