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Everyone just chill

Forecast is brisk, and many say cold weather should be part of game

January 24, 2014|Kevin Baxter
  • Snow is accumulated near an entrance to MetLife Stadium.
Snow is accumulated near an entrance to MetLife Stadium. (Julio Cortez / AP )

You never forget your first.

That is why former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Andy Russell can recall, in vivid detail, much of Super Bowl IX in 1975, the first of his two NFL championship games. And his starkest memories center on the Poly-Turf surface at New Orleans' Tulane Stadium, which overnight rains and cold weather had turned into a skating rink.

"We got out there and we couldn't stand up. It was ridiculous," Russell remembers. "We were slipping and sliding and we thought, 'You can't play like this. This is outrageous.' "

In the locker room a trainer came up with a solution, swapping the players' regular footwear for shoes with longer rubber cleats. That, Russell insists, made the difference in the Steelers' 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

"That was a huge issue," he says. "Getting those new shoes and going back out and discovering that they worked."

Thirty-nine years later that game remains memorable for another reason -- with a wind chill of 22 degrees, it was the coldest Super Bowl.

That's likely to change soon. The extended Accuweather forecast for East Rutherford, N.J., and Super Bowl XLVIII is calling for a possibility of snow and light winds with temperatures in the mid-30s and wind chill in the low 20s for the Feb. 2 game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. And that has sparked renewed debate over whether the NFL should confine its biggest game to warm-weather cities and domed stadiums or let the elements come into play.

"It's part of the game. Wherever the venue is, that's part of the adaptation," Russell says. "If there's a strong wind that's blowing across the field, well, you've got to make those adjustments."

Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, who was on the other side of the field with the Vikings during that game in New Orleans, agrees.

"The climate, it's part of the game," he says. "You should have a chance to play in the cold weather. It just seems to make the game more fair."

And Eller points to an oft-overlooked reason why -- teams such as New England, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Green Bay and Buffalo, who regularly play and practice in chilly, inclement weather, can be at a huge disadvantage in humid cities such as Tampa, Miami or Jacksonville, where 15 of the 47 previous Super Bowls have been played.

"In late winter, if we go to play in a place like Texas or California or Florida, there can be a 60- or 70-degree temperature change. And that would affect us," he says. "So it really works both ways. All of a sudden you're in hot weather and you haven't been in that weather. It can make a big difference."

Perhaps. But while rain and snow can play havoc with footing, no running back has ever tripped over a sunbeam on his way to the end zone. And in a dome the elements can be programmed.

But the NFL threw those considerations to the wind -- which figures to be chilly and gusty -- when it awarded this year's game to MetLife Stadium, making it the first open-air Super Bowl played north of San Francisco.

"A little snow would be great for us," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said shortly after awarding the game to East Rutherford, where the average low for Feb. 2 is a brisk 24 degrees.

"Some of our most memorable games were played in unusual weather circumstances. Winter and cold are part of football and snow is also."

Local organizers quickly warmed to the likelihood of record cold temperatures, with the host committee's website claiming it is "proud to host the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl." And to push that point home, the group's logo features an icy blue-and-white snowflake centered on the George Washington Bridge. On game day fans will receive welcome packs containing earmuffs, hand warmers and lip balm.

But avoiding the frigid Northeast or Midwest hasn't guaranteed the NFL a weather-free Super Bowl. In addition to the Tulane Stadium chiller between Minnesota and Pittsburgh, the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears played through a steady rain in 2007, combining for eight turnovers. That game was played in Miami, with Peyton Manning winning his first Super Bowl.

And the lowest temperature to greet a Super Bowl kickoff was 39 degrees at the start of Super Bowl VI, where the wind chill dipped to 24. That game also was played at Tulane Stadium.

Bart Starr, who won the most famous cold-weather game in NFL history, the so-called Ice Bowl, says it's time to ice all the talk about the weather. Playing with a simple long-sleeve undershirt and without gloves, Starr quarterbacked the Packers past the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 league championship game in temperatures that started at minus-13 degrees, with a wind chill making it feel like minus-36 inside Green Bay's Lambeau Field.

It was so cold that an official tore a lip when his whistle froze to his skin, and the halftime show was canceled because the marching band's instruments didn't work.

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