CHICAGO — If football tests character, the best tests must come in the worst conditions.
"In '69 at Minnesota, we wore what you call broomball shoes that had a squeegee and a suction cup," George Allen said. "That worked pretty good."
"The big thing in Chicago that everyone overlooks is not the cold," Allen said. "It's the wind. We don't have a city--Detroit or Cleveland or anywhere--that has that type of wind off Lake Michigan."
"In '69 we couldn't see the markers on the field because of the snow, and the end zones were frozen ice," Allen said. "They were using a blowtorch to try to melt the ice."
Allen really didn't try to fool Mother Nature, but he worked hard to cope with her whims and, in some cases, turn them to his teams' advantage. He was the Bears' defensive coordinator when they defeated the Giants in the 1963 title game at Chicago, 14-10, and he has the game ball to prove it.
Not much offense was played on that cold day. The Bears intercepted five passes and re-turned two to set up their only touchdowns.
"It was 9 below zero, but the wind-chill factor had to be about 30 below," Allen said.
The Bear media guide says it was 11 above, but who measures frostbite? Besides, teams were sensible enough to take precautions in those days, too, as the Rams and Bears will do in the NFC championship game Sunday.
"We had our guys using gloves." Allen said. "Dick Bass played the whole game (at Milwaukee) in '67 with gloves."
Allen was head coach of the Rams when they played in playoff games against the Green Bay Packers at Milwaukee in '67 and against the Vikings at Bloomington, Minn., in '69. Later still, he coached the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League, which used Soldier Field--site of Sunday's NFC title game--as its home field in 1983.
Allen fought the elements from time to time during his coaching career and apparently got a standoff, at worst.
"The Bears--and this goes back to (Coach George) Halas--always felt we wanted to play the Rams or 49ers or any warm-weather team back in Chicago," he said. "It's a tradition of the club that you don't let the weather bother you.
"It's a hardy city. The fans are the same way. When we were visitors, they used to throw things at us and swear at us.
"The biggest advantage the Bears have in this game is that they're playing at home, and they believe they're invincible at home. If this game were played in the Coliseum or at Anaheim, the Bears' advantage would disappear.
"If it were the Meadowlands, it wouldn't be that much of a factor because the wind doesn't swirl like that. We played that '63 game in Wrigley Field, (which) doesn't have the wind problem as much as Soldier Field because it's protected by the stadium and the buildings around there. Soldier Field is almost out on the lake.
"When I was coaching the Blitz, if we won the toss and there was a good wind blowing, I'd kick off. We had the No. 1 defense in the league, and I felt we'd have good field position, and usually in the first quarter we'd be ahead, just because of that wind. I'm sure that's the reason (Giant punter Sean) Landeta missed that ball.
"One year, we played the Bears when I was (coaching) the Redskins. Curt Knight was kicking the (potential) winning field goal, and it started right out straight. Then I'll be gosh-darned if the wind didn't blow it right out of the middle of the crossbar, and we lost by one point."
The wind factor is real. The cold, Allen believes, is partly psychological.
"I think it is," he said. "In that '67 season, we played 22 games and lost 2. We lost (28-7) to (Packer Coach Vince) Lombardi in Milwaukee on an icy field--a grass field. We had beaten them two weeks earlier in L.A. (on) a blocked punt by Tony Guillory.
"We had as good a team as the Packers, or maybe better, but that weather neutralized us."
For that game, the Rams showed up their usual two days before the game, which Allen decided was a mistake.
"So," he said, "in '69 I thought, 'I'm gonna prepare the team in that climate.' We had won our first 11. We went back there on a Tuesday and practiced for the entire week in the wind and the snow."
It was Christmas week, and some of the players' wives weren't real keen on the idea.
"We stayed at a new motel, and we were the only ones at the motel," Allen said. "We had hamburgers for Christmas. We had a Christmas tree."
The only thing wrong with the strategy was that the Rams lost to the Vikings, 23-20.
"But we played a great game," Allen said. "The weather didn't bother us. We were really prepared for it. I felt if we had played them in a warmer climate, there is no question that we would have beaten them."
Allen said that Coach John Robinson had the right idea in taking the Rams to Chicago Thursday night.
"The only disadvantage you run into is if you get there and the weather is so bad that you can't practice," he said.
The AstroTurf field should not be a problem, according to Allen.