Packers prepare for deep freeze
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Ryan Pickett laughed at the suggestion. He’s too old to worry about proving how tough he is.
And so, while some of his Green Bay Packers brethren may brave the frigid temperatures late Sunday afternoon and eschew that namby-pamby technologically-advanced underwear – Under Armour calls theirs ColdGear, Nike calls theirs Therma-FIT – the 34-year-old defensive tackle won’t be joining the bare-armed brigade. The oldest player on the roster learned his lesson the last time he played a home playoff game in subzero temperatures, the 2007 NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants.
“Definitely sleeves. I’m wearing sleeves, man,” Pickett said Thursday, as the Packers watched the already bitterly cold forecast get even colder in advance of Sunday’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. “I tried the no-sleeves thing (against the Giants) and it took me three days to thaw out. I’m wearing sleeves.”
As of Thursday evening, the National Weather Service was predicting a high of 2 degrees on Sunday and a low of minus-18. The Packers and 49ers are slated to kick off at 3:40 p.m. CST. The official kickoff temperature for the 2007 NFC Championship Game was minus-1, with the wind chill calculated at minus-23.
At the start of the week, Sunday’s forecast called for temperatures right around the zero mark.
“It just keeps going down,” cornerback Tramon Williams said.
The outlook is so severe that the NWS issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook on Thursday predicting wind chills of minus-30 to minus-50 degrees.
And yet, while the old man on the roster is thinking ahead, the kid at the other end of the age gap is, too.
“No sleeves,” rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, who at 22 is the team’s youngest player, said proudly. “Weather’s weather. It’s going to be cold for everyone.”
That is true. And the team that handles it best will be at an advantage.
In an effort to prepare his guys for the unfathomable cold, Packers coach Mike McCarthy had his team outside for part of Thursday’s practice. As they have in recent weeks before home games or cold-weather games, the Packers were inside the Don Hutson Center for individual drills and some other aspects of practice, then went outside to Ray Nitschke Field after the media access period for 11-on-11 work. Half of Nitschke Field is heated underground, allowing the team to practice there despite the cold. The official high temperature in Green Bay Thursday was 10 degrees. (Normal for Jan. 2, according to StormCenter2 at WBAY-TV, is a high of 25 degrees and a low of 10.)
“We had a normal Thursday practice, basically the way we’ve been practicing the last five weeks. We go outside for a limited part based on the size of the field,” McCarthy said. Asked if weather factors into his game plan, McCarthy replied: “Absolutely. The weather elements are a part of it. That’s something that you continue to talk about throughout the week. But really the game day gives you the final path of how you’re going to call it.”
According to the NFL, four of the 10 coldest games in league history have been played at Lambeau Field, with the coldest being the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys – better known as the Ice Bowl. The official game-time temperature that day was minus-13 degrees, with a wind chill of minus-48.
Across the locker room from Pickett, Williams was bundling up to head home after practice. Williams, a first-year player on that 2007 team and a Louisiana native, was wearing a winter stocking cap atop his head, wind pants and Super Bowl XLV snow boots.
“Can’t dodge it, man. Can’t dodge it at all,” Williams said, laughing. “It’s going to be a cold one, one of those rare ones, so just have our mind right.
Williams said the 2007 NFC title game was actually the second-coldest game he’s ever played in, with a Dec. 23, 2007 regular-season loss at Chicago topping it. Although the kickoff temperature that day was actually 16 degrees, the official NFL game book reports a wind chill of minus-18 at kickoff with southwest winds at 22 mph. The wind had a greater impact than the cold because of what it did to balls in the air, whether passes, punts or long snaps on special etams.
“Hands down, hands down,” Williams said. “The Chicago one definitely was game-changing from the elements, but I don’t think the championship game was.”
The good news, Williams said, is that the Packers – and, for that matter, the 49ers – know ahead of time how severe the weather is supposed to be. Although that may not make it easier come game day, Williams said being able to mentally prepare for it helps.
“I don’t dread it. I’m just glad to see that it’s not going to be a drastic change,” Williams said. “Where it’s the day before and all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Oh god, the weather forecast has changed drastically, it’s going to be a negative-30 or what not from (being) 30-degree weather.’ So I’m glad I know right now.”
And while it may help that the Packers are spending every day in the cold, it’s only a slight advantage.
“It’s always a factor. You never get warm. You never get used to it. It’s going to be cold. Thankfully, we live up here and we deal with it a lot. It won’t be a big deal for us.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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