A winter front’s arrival from the north is calling for single-digit temperatures Sunday during the Seahawks’ wild-card round game at Minnesota. If the bitter cold ends up compromising Seattle’s talent advantage, I presume you know the drill:
Pro football players are wired differently from the rest of us. Like Weather Channel correspondents struggling to maintain their footing amid the gusts of an impending hurricane, they understand their job requires them to confront perilous conditions with a poise that approaches valor.
Unlike Weather Channel correspondents, pro football players aren’t privy to the empathetic voice of a television studio anchor who suggests that packing up and getting out of harm’s way is, like, an option.
As former All-Pro Dallas Cowboys guard John Niland once put it: “Pain and injuries are in the contract.”
So is the commitment to compete in conditions colder than a happy hour spent with Vladimir Putin’s bodyguards. It’s a commitment that found quarterback Russell Wilson insisting the frigid afternoon awaiting him Sunday “is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Uh, sure, Russ. Whatever floats your boat.
But the weather figures to be an issue, and the colder it gets in Minnesota, the more the favored Seahawks will be on the heat seat to sustain their quest of three consecutive Super Bowl appearances. This is not a prediction wholly predicated on anecdotal evidence, although there is plenty of that.
This prediction is based on statistics analyzed by Brian Nemhauser, the tireless numbers cruncher at hawkblogger.com. Combing through the archives of Pro Football Reference last week, Nemhauser determined that since 1960, home teams are 28-11 in games when the kickoff temperature has been under 10 degrees.
Of the 11 road teams that won, only two managed to win by more than seven points.
While extreme cold has a minimal effect on total yardage, Nemhauser learned, there’s a substantial link between cold weather and an increase in turnovers, as well as a decrease in points. Both developments bode well for the Vikings.
No cold-weather game in pro football history proved more of a detriment to the visitors than the 1981 AFC championship between the Chargers and Bengals at Cincinnati, played on an afternoon the temperature dipped to nine degrees below zero. Combined with 27 mph gusts swirling around Riverfront Stadium, the wind-chill factor for what became known as the “Freezer Bowl” — 59 below — surpassed that of the 1967 “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay.
The Chargers arrived in Cincinnati with Don Coryell’s cutting-edge offense operating at Mach 1 efficiency. Thanks to the contributions of three Pro Football Hall of Famers (quarterback Dan Fouts, wide receiver Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow), along with Pro Bowl running back Chuck Muncie, San Diego led the league in scoring during the regular season, averaging 29.9 points per game.
A week previous, the Chargers beat Miami, 41-38, in an overtime thriller that challenged them to cope with elements of a different kind: A suffocating relative humidity of 80 percent on a 76-degree day famous for the iconic scene of a dehydrated Winslow carried off the field by teammates.
Said Winslow, borrowing Muhammad Ali’s description of fighting Joe Frazier in Manila: “I’ve never felt so close to death before.”
Little did he know he was going from the frying pan to the freezer, where his team’s “Air Coryell” offense would be limited to 15 completions for 185 yards. Fouts threw two picks and the Chargers lost two fumbles in a 27-7 defeat they saw as a debacle.
Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson had more success throwing spirals, and not just because he was a Midwestern native accustomed to cold weather. (Nobody is accustomed to a wind-chill factor of 59-below.)
Anderson’s advantage was that he had a grip. Literally. His hands were larger than those of Fouts, which might explain Wilson’s eagerness to take on the extreme cold Sunday. He also has large hands.
Still, the forecast Sunday is calling for three hours of uncomfortable bordering on unbearable. The Seahawks’ ability to overcome the latter looms as still another obstacle in a season distinguished by them.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org