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Mike Downey

Who Knows 'Weather' Best Team Won?

January 10, 1988|Mike Downey

CHICAGO — It's cold. It's cold. Can't type. Can't move. Face frozen. Nose runny. Fingers icicles. Toes Popsicles. Ears like Leonard Nimoy's. Somebody, please. Have mercy. Stuff charcoal down my shirt. Put firewood in my pants. Squirt lighter fluid on my shoes. Come on, baby, light my fire.

And just think, I've got a seat inside the press box. Imagine all those poor suckers down there in the stands, watching the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears play today's playoff game at Soldier Field. Blankets aren't enough. Brandy isn't enough. It's colder than cold out there. It's like sitting inside a refrigerator, and I don't mean that fat guy on the Bears.

And, speaking of the guys on the field, think about those poor slobs for a minute. The Redskins are going to be appropriately named before this game is over. They might even change to Blueskins. It isn't fair to play football when the kicker can't kick a field goal because the football is stuck to the holder's finger.

Even the quarterbacks wear gloves when they play now. Before long, they'll be using space heaters in the huddle. The center won't have a towel hanging from his belt. He'll have a fur muffler. The defensive backs won't wear stickum on their hands. They'll wear Vicks Vap-o-Rub. The quarterbacks won't wear panty hose beneath their pants. They'll wear aerobics leotards.

We're into the real football season now. We fooled around with that wild-card stuff a week ago, and let those funny little indoor teams, the Oilers, Seahawks, Saints and Vikings, have a chance to take part. Today, we force the Houston team to play in snowy Denver, which is a mile high and about a foot deep. And, we watch another in a series of football games played here in Chicago, which is experiencing temperatures in the low-to-mid minus-80s.

You know, with basketball and hockey, we inevitably find out which team is the best team before the season is over. Each series lasts as long as seven games, and each is played in climate-controlled rooms. Weather is no factor--except occasionally at Boston Garden, when the janitor sets the thermostat on "Hell."

With baseball, same thing, pretty much. OK, so sometimes October gets chilly. At least, they call off the games if the weather is too rotten, and they play as many as seven times before they determine a winner.

Football is so unfair. Football is single-elimination, and by the time January and the playoffs roll around, we can't always tell which team is the most skillful, because the players are too busy sloshing through snow, slogging through mud and wobbling passes into the wind.

Some people consider this the beauty of football, the fact that the weather can affect the outcome, affect the home-field advantage. These probably are the same people who sit home watching the game on television, stuffing their faces with potato chips.

The year is 1934. The place is the Polo Grounds. The opponents are the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. The occasion is the second National Football League championship game. The temperature is nasty. The wind is whipping. The field is frozen solid.

Ray Flaherty, All-Pro end for the Giants, kicks the dirt before the game. The dirt doesn't budge. Flaherty turns to New York Coach Steve Owen and says, "This may not matter, but we played on a field like this once in college, and we found we got better traction with basketball shoes, not cleats."

The coach files this information away. At halftime, his team is losing, 10-3. He tells the trainer to find some sneakers, pronto. The trainer calls Manhattan College, which delivers. Dozens of pairs are brought to the stadium by subway. The fourth quarter begins with the Giants behind, 13-3. The fourth quarter ends with the Giants NFL champions, 30-13.

The year is 1935. The NFL championship game is played in sleet and wild winds at Detroit. The Giants' feared passing game, led by Eddie Danowski, can't function. The Lions win easily, 26-7.

The year is 1945. The Cleveland Rams, who later will move to Los Angeles, are hosts for the NFL title game in sub-zero weather. Sammy Baugh of the Redskins can barely grip the ball. He fades back into his end zone to pass. He throws. The ball hits the goal post and bounces back at him. It's a safety. And Cleveland wins the game, by one point.

The year is 1948. Shibe Park, Philadelphia, is 100 yards of snow. Commissioner Bert Bell, taking an unprecedented step, asks the players if they want to go through with this. They do, even though they can't even see the yard markers. Jack Ferrante catches a touchdown pass. But his team was offside.

"Who was it, dammit?" Ferrante screams at an official.

"You, that's who," the official replies, and the final score is 7-0, Philadelphia.

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