SportsProf

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Frozen Tundra

NFL Films has become an institution, and what helped cement its legacy early on not only was the deep-voiced narration of John Facenda (also a local news anchor in Philadelphia), but his epic line about the 1967 Ice Bowl in Green Bay between the Cowboys and Packers, referred to Lambeau Field as "the frozen tundra."  That game, like the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Colts and the Giants in New York, helped begin what became football's pushing baseball aside as the National Pastime (sorry, baseball fans, for while you may argue eloquently of the beauty of the sight lines, the lack of violence, the fact that you went with your grandfather and that football is so popular because it's the easiest sport to bet on and many people do, football wins because of its ratings, its action (the ball is in play for only 15 minutes of a 3 and a half hour baseball game) and the curious fact that the traumatic brain injury scandal hasn't stained the game the way the steroids era has hurt baseball).  

Fast forward to this week, when the polar vortex (which, according to meteorologists, always exists) has pushed its way far down into the U.S., particularly to Northern New Jersey, where, if you don't like wearing warm boots, layers, scarves, warm hats and gloves, it is just awfully cold.  While the Middle Atlantic region can experience temperatures from 20 degrees to 90 degrees in the same year, having an extending period of below twenty degrees or above 90 is pretty rare.   Now, though, we've had an extended freeze, with temperatures in the teens and going into the single digits at night.  Most football experts argue that the cold is something all teams can deal with, but the wind is something that teams struggle with.  Denver experiences the cold but is sunny much of the year, while Seattle is warmer and wetter.  The thing is, twenty degree temperatures with twenty-mile per hour winds at night is just flat out cold.  We might see a legendary game, or we might see fans suffer from exposure and the game slow down because the ball is hard to grip and, well, generally players play better when they're looser.

Good players will tell you, though, that the weather is the same for both teams, in the same vein that they say that you cannot argue about teams' records because "you play who you play" and have zero control over the scheduling.  The Broncos and Seahawks are professionals, and this is their biggest game, so they'll be ready, and, no doubt, their equipment managers are figuring out things about layers, balms, gloves, cleats and the like to keep their players the best prepared.  No doubt that the Packers' and Patriots' staffs have probably fielded the most phone calls about preparation for the cold.  And, yet, there will be many players who will not wear layers and who will play just wearing their short-sleeved shirts, a la the Giants' offensive line in the NFC championship game a few years back in Green Bay, when they upset the Packers.

Typically, the NFL hosts a huge, outdoor extravaganza during Super Bowl week.  I have not read up on what the NFL has prepared and where it will take place, but all I can offer is that it's pretty cold out there.  Casual walks of the dog require a scarf to keep your neck warm, one to cover your face, a warm, woolen hat, a NorthFace shell underneath a down jacket, and warm, Gore-Tex lined boots.  Wear all that, and your warm.  Wear all that at a stadium, and, well, I think you need a little more.

A few years back my son and I went to the NHL's Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  It was above freezing at game time, but as the sun dipped so did the temperatures.  We wore turtlenecks, wool sweaters, a shell beneath our heavier coats, long underwear, warm boots, the two scarves, hats, gloves, took blankets and something to sit on and something to put beneath our feet (a Sunday newspaper can suffice).  The reasons for the latter came from experience, because a rear end on cold plastic refrigerates the same way feet do on concrete.  Those buffers helped, and generally we were okay, except when wind gusts blew through (it didn't help that the humidity was somewhat high because it flurried during the game, so it was damp outside).  We enjoyed the experience, in large part because a) we were prepared and b) we had binoculars.

Sports fans in the northern regions of the country know about layers and how to be prepared, and no doubt football teams have great insight as to how to get ready.  But typically we expect the weather not to be a factor in a contest that determines who the best team is.   This weekend, like it or not, the weather will be a factor.

Because when it's really cold outside, you cannot help but notice it.

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