Being a Ventnor native, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman would naturally love to coach in a Super Bowl in his home state.
But there is a major challenge standing in the way of the 49ers' bid to earn a berth in the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. To reach the Super Bowl for a second straight year, they have to beat host Seattle at rowdy CenturyLink Field.
Roman, a 1990 Holy Spirit High School graduate and former assistant coach for the Spartans, faces two formidable obstacles: Seattle's aggressive defense and the crowd. Seahawks fans are the loudest in the league, producing deafening roars that make life miserable for opposing offenses.
"Their defense is very fast and physical," Roman said in a phone interview from San Francisco on Thursday night. "And they really feed off the crowd there. It's good that the guys have already played there before, so they understand what we're getting into. They know how loud that stadium can get."
The 49ers were there when the noise level was at a record high.
The Seahawks' fans set a Guinness World Records mark for loudest stadium during the 49ers' 29-3 loss there on Sept. 16. Fans celebrated a sack of the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in the first quarter with a roar that reached 131.9 decibels, breaking the record of 131.76 decibels set in 2011 at a soccer match at Turk Telekom Arena in Turkey. Seahawks fans raised the decibel level to 136.6 decibels against the Niners later in the third quarter, according to a report in the Seattle Times.
Fans at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium roared at a rate of 137.5 decibels later this season against Oakland. Seattle's fans, famously known as "The 12th Man," reclaimed the record at 137.6 in Seattle's game against New Orleans last month.
Unless Kaepernick can find a way to fit the headphones he uses to block out noise into his helmet, however, the Niners will try to find other ways to handle the ruckus. They practiced the past week with loud music blaring from speakers - the Eagles did that for every practice this season - and the offensive linemen will wear ear plugs while the offense operates on a silent count.
"Whether it helps or not, I guess we'll find out," Kaepernick told the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday.
Seattle has lost just one home game in the past two seasons, going 16-1 in that span. San Francisco endured two of those losses by a combined 71-16 score. Kaepernick threw a combined four interceptions and one touchdown pass in those games.
But the 49ers know how to beat the Seahawks. Their current, eight-game winning streak includes a 19-17 victory over Seattle on Dec. 8. They also are familiar with winning on the road in the playoffs, having earned a berth in today's NFC title game with wins at Green Bay and Carolina.
"I think our team's been in a lot of good primers," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told the Sacramento Bee on Thursday.
"Been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums. Been everywhere, man. Just like the Johnny Cash song: 'We've been everywhere, man.' "
Roman, a 1990 Holy Spirit High School graduate, is more concerned with solving an outstanding Seahawks defense that ranked first in the NFL in total defense and pass defense while allowing a league-best 14.4 points per game.
Critics ripped him for his conservative play-calling earlier this season, but the 49ers' offense has been on a roll lately. Kaepernick, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and company have averaged 25.6 points per game during the winning streak and 27.2 points in the past 15 games after scoring 10 total points in back-to-back losses to Seattle and Indianapolis early in the season.
"We sprung a whole new set of problems on (opposing) defenses during the playoffs last year, and that was by design," said Roman, whose 49ers lost to Baltimore in last season's Super Bowl. "Teams made adjustments to what we were doing early this season, and that was expected. It gave us the opportunity to create some more problems for them during these playoffs."
Roman had to rebuild the offense last season once Kaepernick became the full-time starter over Alex Smith. Roman wanted to find ways to take advantage of Kaepernick's versatility as a passer and runner.
He picked up some tips from Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who coached against Roman when Kelly was at the University of Oregon and Roman was coaching with Harbaugh at Stanford.
Kelly's high-energy offense set franchise records for total points (442), net yards (6,676), touchdowns (51) this season while also leading the league in rushing with 160.4 yards per game. The Eagles won the NFC East with a 10-6 record before losing 26-24 to New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs.
"I had Chip here as a guest at practice last season, and I spent a couple of days up at Oregon in the spring of 2012," said Roman, who grew up as an Eagles fan. "He likes to spread things out, and we run more tight formations, but there are some similarities with our offenses.
"I think the world of Chip. He forced teams to try and play catch-up with the things he brought to the NFL and had a great year.
"Teams will try to adjust to what he's doing, but he has a lot of talent in Philly with Shady (Eagles running back LeSean McCoy) and (wide receiver) DeSean (Jackson). And I thought (quarterback Nick) Foles played very well."
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