Packers, 49ers talk sleeve strategy
GREEN BAY—Josh Boyd isn’t into making a fashion statement, and he doesn’t think he needs to go sleeveless to show off his toughness.
All the Packers defensive lineman wants is to stay warm in the subzero weather when Green Bay hosts the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC wild-card showdown that could be one of the coldest playoff games in NFL history.
So many intriguing story lines between these two NFC powers, and yet the arctic cold may trump them all.
“Yeah, I’m definitely going sleeves,” said Boyd, a rookie from Mississippi. “I mean, I don’t see it as a tough guy thing. I just see it as being comfortable.”
The National Weather Service forecast called for a high temperature in Green Bay today of 2 degrees, with north-northwest winds making it feel more like minus-15 to minus-20.
The coldest NFL game on record is the 1967 championship game, known as the “Ice Bowl” won by the Packers 21-17 over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field on New Year’s Eve. The temperature dipped to minus-13, and the wind chill that day was minus-48.
This might be little consolation to Boyd, for whom cold games in college meant playing in 30- or 40-degree weather.
“I’m from Mississippi, so this is a whole other animal,” Boyd said. “I’ve never seen negatives until I got here.”
Linemen are renowned for toughing out inclement weather without sleeves under jerseys. Don’t want to give the opponent even the slightest idea that you’re soft, the line of thinking goes.
Well, 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith is as tough as they come, and even he might wear sleeves for what he estimates would be just the second or third time in his 13-year career.
“You’re not going to have an advantage having no sleeves. You’re not going to scare the opponent,” said Smith, who has 6½ sacks.
Across the line of scrimmage, center Jonathan Goodwin said he had no problem wearing sleeves.
“I gave up on the ‘don’t wear sleeves to look tough’ a long time ago,” he said.
In some ways, players might be warmer than the 80,000 fans expected to pack frigid Lambeau. Once they get to the sideline, players can take a break on heated benches. They’ll likely wear long, heavy coats while not in the game.
“This is not the norm. Anytime you get outside the norm for whatever your occupation, it’s obviously challenging mentally and physically,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s definitely going to be the case Sunday.”
Footing on the field will be a key issue. Lambeau does have a heating system buried beneath the turf, encompassing 30 miles of pipes. There was supposed to be a brief “break” in the cold snap with temperatures rising into the upper 20s on Saturday, which McCarthy said would give groundskeepers a key day to work on the field.
“It could be just a normal game that’s played at a little slower pace. Or it could be where there’s a lot of slipping and sliding going on, then you have to adjust a little bit,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “You need to wait to see Sunday exactly see how the field affects the game.”
Another key for players will be to stay hydrated, though McCarthy jokingly put his index finger to his lips as if to tell a reporter to not let out the secret when asked the question Friday.
“We’ve seen it in past games where guys do cramp, so yes, it’s all part of our preparation,” McCarthy said.
If not for the arctic front marching into Wisconsin, more of the attention before Sunday’s game might be focused on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s mastery of Green Bay in the teams’ last two meetings. Or quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ triumphant return from a left collarbone injury to help the resurgent Packers get back into the playoffs.
Instead, San Francisco and Green Bay will have to deal with an unwelcome extra opponent: the bitter cold.
Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels seems to subscribe to the sleeves-are-soft philosophy. He doesn’t like wearing them and plans to just play through the big chill and block out the conditions.
And don’t get him started on hand warmers.
“I see offensive linemen with hand warmers, that tells me about them, man,” Daniels said. “A defensive line coach in college said that, so I kind of kept that mentality.”