The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is not a place where Mark Barron feels uncomfortable.
While playing in college for Alabama, the Rams linebacker won the second of two Bowl Championship Series titles at the stadium as the Crimson Tide defeated Louisiana State in the final to end the 2011 season.
The Rams return the Superdome on Sunday for the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints defeated the Rams, 45-35, at the Superdome in November. Barron, who grew up about two hours away in Mobile, Ala., is looking forward to another opportunity to perform in the raucous atmosphere.
“Love playing in the Superdome,” Barron said Friday. “Love playing on the fast surface. They have a great fan base, so it always creates an intense environment, so I like that part of it.
“And it’s close to home, so I can have my family come out. ... So I love everything about playing in New Orleans.”
Barron said about 25 to 30 family members and friends would be on hand when the Rams play for a chance at their first Super Bowl berth since the 2001 season.
In the loss to the Saints, the Rams got off to a slow start and trailed by 21 points in the second quarter. They came back to tie the score in the fourth quarter but then gave up a field goal and long touchdown pass.
“We didn’t come out playing at our best level, at the level we should have been playing, and we put ourselves in a hole and had to climb back,” Barron said. “So we most definitely need to come out firing on all cylinders from the beginning.”
Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh is coming off his best game of the season. Linebacker Dante Fowler, who made his Rams debut against the Saints after he was acquired at the trade deadline, is now acclimated to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system. And cornerback Aqib Talib, sidelined against the Saints because of an ankle injury, is back in the lineup and has fortified the secondary.
The Rams defense is better than it was in November, Barron said.
“We are in a good place right now,” he said. “We’re playing well.”
Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, in his ninth season with the Rams, said it remains “surreal” that the team is one victory from playing in the Super Bowl.
“Although there’s a lot of excitement, I think that the focus has more taken over,” he said. “It’s one of those things, you’re going to have to really feel it at the beginning of the game.
“When the national anthem is going, I think that’s when you really take in the gravity of the situation. Then, you have a little bit of a self-check so that you can get ready for the game.”
The Rams practiced Friday and they will depart for New Orleans Saturday morning. In November, the Rams traveled to New Orleans on the Friday before the game, which is typical for longer trips. Coach Sean McVay said the decision to travel Saturday was made “because kickoff is going to be at 12 o’clock on our time zone — like in our head — we didn’t feel like we wanted to travel two days out. Wanted to try to stay here as long as possible.”… After dealing with rain for most of the week, the Rams practiced under sunshine Friday. “It’s crazy how the football gods work when it’s time to get things going,” defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. … Saints tight end Ben Watson is not expected to play because of appendicitis, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein