EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Since entering the league in 2009, St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis has played in nearly every NFL city. Conspicuous in its absence from that list, however, is the place that Laurinaitis calls home: Minneapolis.
That will change Sunday when the Rams visit the Minnesota Vikings for the first time since the last week of the 2006 season. As a native of Plymouth, Minnesota and former Wayzata High football star, Laurinaitis is eager to play the team he grew up rooting for somewhere other than St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome.
"It’s my first time playing up there in the NFL so I’m excited about it," Laurinaitis said. "I grew up a huge Vikings fan so it’s going to be one of those cool, surreal moments. I’ll walk in, take a look around and get ready to roll like any other Sunday."
Laurinaitis wasn't just a casual Vikings fan growing up, either. His childhood bedroom came complete with Vikings memorabilia, including a poster of the Vikings receiving trio of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Moss was his favorite player.
"He was awesome," Laurinaitis said. "In ’98, I had the triple threat poster of Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed. It was phenomenal. Buckeye Robert Smith where it seemed like every screen he caught went to the house and then they came here [to St. Louis] and got destroyed in the playoffs. It’s cool, though."
Laurinaitis has long since moved past the childhood disappointment of watching his beloved Vikings lose to the Rams in a 1999 NFC playoff game. He's become one of the centerpieces of the Rams and the franchise's second-longest tenured player.
When Laurinaitis steps into his usual spot at middle linebacker on Sunday, it will be the 104th consecutive start. He's playing with a giant brace on his injured elbow but had made it clear that it will take a serious injury to keep him from playing. It's a streak that actually extends well before he arrived in the NFL as Laurinaitis estimates he hasn't missed a game since he began playing the sport in fourth grade.
Laurinaitis also hasn't been a part of a Rams team with a winning record this late in the season since he got to the NFL. A win Sunday against his former favorite team would give the Rams a 5-3 record and a three-game winning streak for only the second time in his career.
Which means that Laurinaitis and his defensive teammates' focus on Sunday will be on holding the Vikings to as little success as possible. For nobody knows better than Laurinaitis how annoying the Vikings horn that plays after every first down can be.
"Oh gosh, yeah, every first down," Laurinaitis said. "Then every touchdown is that Skol Vikings song. I think I still have it memorized but yeah, that’s one of those things that kind of reminds you of college. Penn State every time they get a first down they play that little lion roar. It just gets on your nerves. Hopefully we can limit those."
As for having extra friends and family in the stands, Laurinaitis made it clear this is mostly a business trip. He plans to see high school friends and former NFL defensive back Dominique Barber on Saturday night but that's pretty much the extent of it.
Otherwise, Laurinaitis and the Rams are looking closely at the task at hand.
"They have such a good squad, that’s where our focus has been," Laurinaitis said.