In the wake of Chicago's frigid 21-0 playoff victory over the New York Giants -- in which a quarterback finally found success with gloves and swirling winds caused a punter to mis-hit the ball -- the Bears and Los Angeles Rams weren't taking any chances going into today's NFC championship game at Soldier Field.
Both teams prepared to combat the elements in 1980s high tech style, with polypropylene underwear, scuba diver gloves, hoods and foot powder containing cayenne pepper -- all of which have replaced the Vaseline, nylons and layers of wool sweaters worn 20 years ago.
Then a funny thing happened: a January thaw, or something close to it. Temperatures around 40 were predicted for game time, although expected winds of 20 to 30 mph (the stadium is beside Lake Michigan) could make it feel much colder.
Now neither team is exactly sure what to expect. Rams Coach John Robinson said his team "brought so many dang gloves for this game, you wouldn't believe how many pairs. And we got so much damn advice on how to play in cold weather."
"We have a myriad of things," said Los Angeles equipment manager Don Hewitt. "We have a ton of extra equipment. We have thermal mittens, 15 types of gloves, the same underwear the Nordic ski team wears and cold cream like the Army used in Korea."
Inclement weather is not new to the NFL. Faced with everything from blizzards to gale-force winds and temperatures well below zero, the league has never postponed or delayed a game. The NFL has employed Dr. Ralph Goldman, an expert in environmental medicine, since 1980 as a weather consultant.
Some of the greatest championship games in NFL history have been played under the worst of circumstances. In 1948, the Chicago Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles awoke to find Philadelphia in the midst of one the worst blizzards in city history. In fact, so much snow had fallen at Shibe Park that most of the players assumed the game, although sold out, would be postponed.
League Comissioner Bert Bell met with both teams before the game to vote on whether to play. Bosh Pritchard, a running back for the Eagles, said the vote was unanimous: "We all wanted to play."
The Eagles prevailed, 7-0, but neither team dressed differently for the game. "Nobody even wore any gloves, either," Pritchard said.
In the 1962 championship game, Jerry Kramer kicked three field goals to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 16-7 win over the New York Giants. While devoid of snow, the game is remembered by its participants for the cold, 35-mph wind which blew through Yankee Stadium, buffeting Y.A. Tittle's passes and correcting Kramer's shanked field goal.
"The 1962 championship game was the coldest I've ever been," said Willie Wood, a defensive back with the Green Bay Packers then and in the famed 1967 "Ice Bowl" championship. "Just sheer, bone-chilling cold. The field was like icy concrete, and it took me about three or four days to get in touch with my body afterwards."
Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi was famous for allowing his players to wear only one pair of long underwear and restricting gloves to his linemen. "I don't think it made anybody mentally tougher," Wood said. "It just showed we were damn fools for being out there."
Yet Lombardi's strategy paid off in the 1967 championship game when the host Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17. With a minus-13 degrees temperature and 15-mph winds at game time, the metal whistle pulled the skin off the referee's lips.
So numbing was the cold that Wood didn't realize he had chipped his elbow for almost a week after the game and Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke suffered an attack of frostbite that still affects him today.
"But you just have to suck it up, go out there and perform," Nitschke said. "That's where today's players have changed most. All of the indoor stadiums and protective clothing have made them lose their edge. They aren't mentally tough anymore."
Today, that shouldn't be a deciding factor.