The Cold Hard Facts of Bad-Weather Football

Sunday's NFC title game calls for single-digit highs. Here, 10 things to know.

ByABC News
February 09, 2009, 2:38 PM

Jan 17, 2008 — -- The weather forecast for Green Bay on Sunday: a high of 11 degrees. For Foxborough: a high of 16. In other words, baby, it's gonna be cold outside for this weekend's conference championship games. To get you prepared, here are answers to 10 hot ... er, whatever ... topics about frozen football.

It really is hard to explain how a man who spent more than half his life in the South can have a 43-5 record at home when the temperature dips below 34 degrees at kickoff. But Packers quarterback Brett Favre, if you haven't noticed by now, is a unique individual. He's also a great player. And great players can produce under any conditions.

"Brett is a mentally tough individual, so that plays a big part in his success [in the cold]," said Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who served as Favre's quarterbacks coach in Green Bay in 1996. "He also has huge hands and a really strong arm. So you know he's not going to have problems holding onto the football and he's going to get it where it has to go regardless of the conditions.

"I've seen a lot of guys who can't throw once the temperatures drop or the wind picks up. He's not one of those players."

Mornhinweg added that the tougher adjustment is on the receivers who have to catch Favre's passes. The velocity on the quarterback's passes can be so great that it can feel like bricks are flying through the air when it's cold.

But one thing that doesn't change in frigid weather is Favre's preparation. He's never been known to do anything different when a cold-weather game is on the schedule and he probably won't start with this weekend's NFC Championship Game against the Giants.

"Whether it's hot, cold, rainy or windy," Mornhinweg said, "Brett has no problems playing football." -- Jeffri Chadiha

When former Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves led the Falcons to a 27-7 NFC wild-card win over Green Bay in 2002 -- the Packers' first home playoff loss at Lambeau Field -- he didn't change a thing.

"Everybody says you have to prepare for [the cold] but concentration is the most important thing," Reeves said. "You have to worry about getting your job done and then you see how much the elements affect the guy across from you. When it comes to weather, you adjust to it as the game goes on. You can't go into a game expecting it to be a certain way because things can change."

Reeves added that technology has improved to the point that players are more capable of dealing with the cold these days. Most players will wear insulated tights under their uniforms and will keep chemical-warming devices inside their gloves and socks.

Former NFL running back Eddie George was with the Titans when they played at New England in a Saturday night playoff game in the 2003 season. The game-time temperature was 4 degrees and the wind-chill factor was minus-10.

George placed foot warmers in his shoes and hand warmers in a pouch that was attached to his waist. He also wore thicker socks than normal.

"You can't go out there thinking that you are going to be able to beat the elements," George said. "... The key is to keep your extremities warm; then you are fine. But for the most part, you need to treat it like it is a normal football game."

When Reeves played in the famed Ice Bowl game in Green Bay back in 1967 -- he was a running back on the Dallas Cowboys team that lost to the Packers in that year's NFL Championship game -- players used cotton gloves and long underwear to combat temperatures that fell to a frigid 13 degrees below zero. And as Reeves noted, "Nobody can prepare for the weather when it's that cold."

Of course, Reeves' Atlanta team did catch a great break in 2002. Instead of facing the typical sub-zero weather that can hit Green Bay in January, the Falcons played in conditions that were far more optimal (the game-time temperature at kickoff was 31 degrees and the wind registered at just 4 mph). -- Jeffri Chadiha (additional reporting by William Bendetson)

This one all comes down to personal preference. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has worn gloves during some cold weather games and it obviously hasn't hurt his postseason record. Other players -- like Favre and the New York Giants' Eli Manning -- have never had much use for the extra equipment. They'd rather risk comfort than lose their feel on the football.

Then there's the case of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. He started wearing gloves in cold weather when he played at Miami (Ohio), but that habit created plenty of controversy during his rookie season in 2004. Though he became the first quarterback to go 13-0 in the regular season, critics wondered if his gloves were the reason for his erratic play during that year's postseason.

Of course, nobody was complaining a year later when Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl victory. And now that he's a Pro Bowl quarterback, his preference for gloves probably will never be questioned again.

So what we're saying here is that quarterbacks should go with what feels right. As former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher told The New York Times when asked about Roethlisberger's preference for gloves during the 2004 season: "Just throw the ball to a receiver, with or without a glove. I don't want to get into all the idiosyncrasies. If the guy's open, just throw it to him, and whatever that entails, that's what you wear." -- Jeffri Chadiha

Because the Super Bowl is a week-long corporate event, as much as it is a football game, the NFL owners will always be reluctant to position the game is a so-called "Northern Tier" city. And playing the game in a city with an open-air stadium is probably never going to happen.

Of course, if some league precinct ever builds a non-domed stadium with a 100,000-seat capacity, anything is possible. Owners demonstrated last spring, when they awarded Dallas a title game over Indianapolis, that the millions in extra revenues created by all those extra seats definitely counts for something.

Essentially, there are 12 cold-weather cities with open-air stadiums (the Giants and Jets continuing to play in the same building). Here are our five favorites if the Super Bowl was ever awarded to one of them:

1. Chicago: The new Soldier Field looks like a space ship that landed along the shore of Lake Michigan, but the game is only one day anyway. Great neighborhoods, terrific restaurants in every price range, and visitors could spend days touring the Museum Campus alone, not to mention dropping big bucks shopping along the Magnificent Mile.

2. Green Bay: Don't know how the celebrities and A-listers who attend Super Bowls would like noshing on beer and brats instead of caviar and champagne, but it would be a heck of an experience. A day touring the Packers' Hall of Fame alone makes it worth the trip.

3. Pittsburgh: What, you thought I wasn't going to include my beloved hometown? The view from Mount Washington, after a ride up The Incline, is still breathtaking. Like Chicago, great ethnic neighborhoods and food, and a fun time in The Strip District (although it's not what you think).

4. Cleveland: Spend a day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then motor down to Canton the next day and tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The best of all worlds, right?

5. New York: No more Broadway Joe, but still Broadway, period. -- Len Pasquarelli

Coldest NFL cities

Lowest average temperatures in regular-season home games in December/January since the 2000 season.

Green Bay Packers 25.90 degrees (F)

Cleveland Browns 34.39

Kansas City Chiefs 35.06

Buffalo Bills 35.94

Pittsburgh Steelers 36.10

Chicago Bears 36.35

Cincinnati Bengals 36.56

New England Patriots 36.85

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

This is all about image. Linemen want to prove their toughness to the players lining up across from them and there's no better way to do that than by baring the biceps in the middle of winter. Some teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, even have a code among their blockers. The colder it gets, the less insulation they all have to wear.

However, this doesn't mean that everybody believes in this mentality.

"I personally don't agree with it," Chiefs Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen said. "A lot of guys do it to show they're tough and they're unified but I look at it differently. I'd rather be warm and kick your ass all over the field. That's how I'll prove that I'm tougher than the other guy."

Allen, who grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., said he let some teammates talk him into going without sleeves in a loss to Oakland on Nov. 25. He's since vowed to never do it again because he was freezing when temperatures eventually dipped into the 20s (game-time temperature was 43).

"I definitely take a lot of crap for it," Allen said. "But I want to be comfortable so I can perform out there." -- Jeffri Chadiha

When the weather gets cold, strange things can happen. Keith Brewster, creator of the unofficial NFL Weather Hall of Fame, ranks his five wackiest cold-weather games:

1. Snowplow Game: Dolphins at Patriots, Dec. 12, 1982

On a snowy day in Foxborough, Mass., the scoreless game hung in the balance in the fourth quarter. That's when grounds crew member Mark Henderson, a work-release prisoner who was clearing off the yardage lines with a John Deere model 314 sweeper, received orders from Pats coach Ron Meyer to veer off and clear a spot for the hometown kicker. The Patriots' John Smith then connected on a 33-yard field goal for the 3-0 win.

2. Sneaker Game: Bears at Giants, Dec. 9, 1934

In the days before modern shoe technology, these two titans slipped around on a sheet of ice at the New York Polo Grounds. The Giants were trailing the Bears, 10-3, when end Ray Flaherty suggested that sneakers would provide better traction. Giants coach Steve Owen then ordered his equipment manager to get sneakers. The manager returned with the sneakers, the Giants made the switch, and eventually scored 27 second-half points to win, 30-13. Amazingly, two decades later, in 1956, the Giants would again use sneakers to defeat the cleat-clad Bears on the icy Polo Grounds, 47-7.

3. Leon Lett's Skating Rink: Dolphins at Cowboys, Nov. 25, 1993

Snow and mist froze on the concrete-like artificial Texas Stadium turf for the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving affair. In the game's waning moments, the Cowboys blocked Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich's game-winning field goal attempt. Rather than let the ball come harmlessly to rest, the Cowboys' Leon Lett inexplicably tried to recover it. But he fumbled the ball, allowing the Dolphins' Jeff Dellenbach to recover at the one-yard-line. With a second chance to win the game, Stoyanovich nailed the 19-yarder for the 16-14 win. Eleven years later, readers named it the third-biggest sports blunder of the previous 25 years.

4. Goal Post Safety: Redskins at Cleveland Rams, Dec. 16, 1945

In sub-zero temperatures and windy conditions at Cleveland Stadium, Redskins QB Sammy Baugh decided to throw a first-quarter pass from deep in his own end zone. But whether it was the wind or just his inaccuracy, Baugh's pass hit the goal post and bounced back. Under rules of the day, the play was ruled a safety, proving to be the key points in the Rams' 15-14 win. The next year, the Rams gave up their home-field weather advantage by moving to Los Angeles.

5. Snowball Defense: 49ers at Broncos, Nov. 11, 1985

Late in the second quarter at Mile High Stadium, 49ers kicker Ray Wersching was attempting a 19-yard field goal when a snowball flew in from the stands, distracting holder Matt Cavanaugh. The hold was botched, and Cavanaugh threw incomplete while attempting to salvage the play. The officials allowed the play to stand and the Broncos won, 17-16.

The 1975 AFC Championship Game wasn't the coldest, but it was still memorable. A cold front came through Pittsburgh that weekend, taking temperatures into the teens. But the winds off the three rivers that define the city were fierce. Game-time wind chills dropped to 12 below zero.

Even colder was the icy relationship between the Steelers and the visiting Oakland Raiders.

Yet, the true story came on the eve of the game. With the winds, the Three Rivers Stadium grounds crew was having an impossible time keeping the artificial turf from freezing. Dirt Denardo, the creative leader of the grounds crew, pieced together several tarps to cover the field, but the extra tarps gave him an idea. Denardo added the extra tarps in order to create a system to blow dry the field with heat to try to keep it warm. He placed powerful heaters under the tarps and let them blow.

I was still a college student at Duquesne University at the time -- but in my third year of covering the Steelers for various local publication -- I attended an AFC Championship party that night at the Allegheny Club, located on the third level of the stadium by the 50-yard line. While most enjoyed the cocktails and food, I kept looking outside at the unbelievable scene. The cold winds kept turning the tarps into air balloons. Later, after everyone left the Allegheny Club to get ready for the game the next day, the winds got worse and ripped apart the tarps, exposing the Tartan turf to the elements.

What no one realized is that blowing hot air into tarps during sleeting conditions put water underneath the tarps. Ice formed, so the field was in bad shape. By the time kickoff arrived, the sidelines were frozen, causing the Raiders to complain that the Steelers were trying to take away their vertical, sideline passing game. Years before, the Steelers accused the Raiders of watering their home field to slow down opposing defenses when big back Marv Hubbard carried the ball.

Yet Denardo had no intentions of altering field conditions. He was simply trying to make the most of a bad situation. In a game that featured turnovers and incredible hitting -- Steelers WR Lynn Swann was knocked out by a cheap shot from George Atkinson -- Pittsburgh won, 16-10. -- John Clayton

Definitely. In fact, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown has a ritual when he finds himself playing in brutal weather. "When we get ready to go back on the field on defense, I'll go stand by the heater for a few minutes longer, just in case we have a TV timeout coming up," Brown said. "That way I can get a little warmer on the sidelines instead of standing on the field and freezing. To be honest, I don't know how they played back in the day without those things."

Brown actually has learned how to deal with adverse weather after growing up in South Carolina. But there are still moments when he finds himself amazed at how the body reacts to the cold.

For example, he tackled Seattle running back Maurice Morris during a frigid, late-season loss to Seattle in 2005 and dislocated a finger. The only problem was that Brown didn't know he'd injured himself until he saw his finger pointing at an awkward angle.

"That's how cold it was that day," Brown said. "My whole body was numb and I couldn't feel the pain. They just popped it right back into place and I just kept on playing. These are the kinds of things that happen when you play in really cold weather." -- Jeffri Chadiha

1. Jack Snow: The former L.A. Rams receiver caught 340 passes for 6,012 yards and 45 touchdowns during his NFL career from 1965-75. The father of baseball player J.T. Snow, he died at the age of 62 two years ago.

2. Derrick Frost: Redskins punter averaged 36.4 yards per kick this season. Just completed his fourth NFL season.

3. Bobby Blizzard: Tight end was on the practice squad for the Cardinals ('04) and Ravens ('05) and spent the 2007 training camp with the Bengals.

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