Certainly, the Chicago Bears' visit to the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility to prepare for Sunday's NFC playoff game with the New York Giants is not without irony. For instance:
*The Bears, whose 15-1 record is the best in the NFL, are lifting the weights and trampling the grass on which the Atlanta Falcons, one of the worst teams in the NFL, toiled all season to win four games.
*The Bears came south to escape the Chicago weather and found themselves working out Tuesday in 40-degree temperatures and pouring rain. It's an improvement over the foot of snow that covers the Bears' practice field in Lake Forest, Ill., but just barely. Chicago's weather Tuesday was in the mid-30s with partly cloudy skies.
"It's great to be here in Antarctica -- I mean, Atlanta," Bears Coach Mike Ditka joked after a 2 1/2-hour practice Tuesday. "We brought our own weather here. I guarantee you, it won't be much colder in Chicago Sunday than it was here."
Today, the Bears finally got some of the weather they came South for, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s. "Today it was really ideal. It was just a perfect workout and we got some extra running in," said Ditka, calling the practice "great for being the day after New Year's Eve."
*Ditka is on a massive security kick for these workouts, trying to keep people away from the Falcons' practice fields and the adjacent Falcon Inn. By the end of the Falcons' season, you couldn't have gotten local fans on these grounds if you offered free beer.
But the Bears are taking it very seriously. They've hired 10 Gwinnett County patrolmen, at $15 an hour, to secure both the hotel and the practice fields. Only Bears players or officials may occupy rooms on the side of the hotel facing the field. Ditka was even upset that reporters were using the Falcons' press room, fearing they could see the field.
The hillside area of the field is almost impossible to secure, but Ditka is trying. "You're right," said Patrolman Craig Friel. "We're going to watch for people coming through the woods."
For the Bears, it isn't exactly isolation. The normally large Chicago media contingent has been joined by reporters from New York. Combined with other national reporters and some Atlanta press, the assemblage at news conferences is reminiscent of a mini-Super Bowl mob.
"It's not exactly like being in prison," said running back Walter Payton. Of the weather, he said, "It's not that bad. At least you don't have that white stuff on the ground."
Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, in punk sunglasses and spandex tights, was asked about the security.
"There's not enough," he said. "You guys made it in."
The Bears had alternatives to coming to Suwanee, 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, for the second straight year. They considered Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the possibility of erecting a bubble over a grass surface at the University of Illinois. Suwanee offered a mid-range temperature and excellent turf, the rain notwithstanding. The Bears probably will return next week if they beat the Giants.
"The ideal conditions," said safety Gary Fencik, "would have been to have a suitable practice facility in Chicago, but the Bears apparently have not made much effort to do that. We're just lucky that a facility like this is available. God knows what we'd do if they (the Falcons) were in the playoffs. We'd probably have to go to Northern Iowa."
The Bears were to complete practices in Georgia Friday morning, with temperatures expected in the mid-50s, and then return to Chicago for probable weather in the 20s. By then, thoughts of the Giants will have taken total priority over discussions of the climate.
"I think it's going to come down to who gets to the black coffee the quickest," said Payton.
Awakened, the Bears promise to be in a frame of mind that they are 0-0, as opposed to 15-1.
"What we did this season, doesn't mean a damn thing," said McMahon. "It starts over right now. They won their first playoff game. It's a new season. It's sudden death."