I played and coached in my share of games with challenging weather situations over my 16 years as a player and seven as an NFL wide receivers coach. I think that’s the great thing about the NFL. You start with extremely hot and muggy weather in training camp and end up with sub-freezing temps in December and January. It’s a four-season sport in just six months.
On a cold day, all you can pray for are dry conditions. The snow this past weekend and specifically in Philadelphia was crazy. TV did a great job of super-imposing the numbers and yardage lines for viewers, but the Eagles had a hard time seeing those cards they use to signal in plays from the sideline. That’s how heavy the snow was coming down in the first half.
People always talk about a team built for the playoffs. That used to mean you have to have the ability to run the football and play great defense on the other end. In short, an ability to win a close, low-scoring game in tough conditions. Well, this past weekend, with snow piling up and the mercury going down, we set a record for points scored in an NFL weekend!
Teams get described as “dome” teams and QBs get hung with that tag too. New Orleans, Indianapolis, Detroit and St. Louis come to mind, while Houston and Dallas have avoided that label. The Vikings will be outdoors next year and those folks in Arizona are avoiding the heat not the cold. Peyton Manning was knocked as a fair-weather quarterback. Sunday, in temperatures way below freezing in Denver, Manning and his Broncos broke the mold, throwing a record 59 times for 397 yards and four touchdowns. A few hours later, in the climate-controlled Superdome, Drew Brees took apart the Carolina Panthers, which had been regarded as one of the best defenses in football until about 8:45 Eastern on Sunday night.
Yes, it is easier and more comfortable to play indoors and even at home, but it isn’t impossible to put up big numbers in the snow. I heard the announcers in the Lions-Eagles game talk about how the quick-strike Eagles would have a hard time adjusting to the elements as eight inches of snow was in the process of blanketing the field. Of course, that was before LeSean McCoy had rushed for a Philadelphia franchise record of 217 yards. Great players find a way to win in any conditions.
Hats off to the Miami Dolphins for a nice win in the cold against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cold-weather games used to be a safe haven for the northern teams, but that’s not the case any longer. When I coached for the Chargers, I had my equipment manager freeze about half a dozen footballs for me and I’d use them during our warm-up drills. The balls would stay semi cold for about 20 minutes, and at least the receivers got to feel what a rock hard ball felt like as they worked up a sweat in 70-degree weather.
Playing without sleeves doesn’t make you any tougher, but you also don’t want to overdress and look like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man. It’s a fine line.
One thing I’d like to point out. I never played in a cold game in four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. I know what you’re thinking. Put it this way: no matter the temperature, we were always headed for the playoffs, and the thoughts of a Super Bowl trip is enough to keep you warm — even if you’re headed to New York/New Jersey!
– James Lofton
James Lofton is the analyst for WestwoodOne’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This week, James will be in Pittsburgh where the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM Eastern.