Packers warm up to playing in ’Zona
It sounds blasphemous, yes, with the Frozen Tundra reputation and all. But it was 0 degrees in Wisconsin last Saturday when the Packers boarded a plane and headed to Arizona for the regular-season finale. As comedian Ron White once asked: “What’s the temperature? Apparently they don’t have one here.”
And now, as the Packers prepare for the postseason, they made it clear they would always choose to play at home in front of their crowd and with Lambeau’s great atmosphere.
But they’re heading to Arizona again for the NFC wild-card round Sunday. And then, if they win there, they head either to a dome in New Orleans or Minnesota.
Well you don’t have to twist their frostbitten arms.
“The weather. I’m loving playing out of town right now,” said tight end and Texas native Jermichael Finley.
All that talk about the cold games in Lambeau being an advantage can really make for great drama, but the truth is it’s brutal on the already banged-up Packers. Some home-field advantage. Since the NFL moved the Super Bowl to February for the all-important “sweeps week” television ratings, the season has begun later, pushing the games further into Old Man Winter’s realm.
This is the coldest month of the year in Wisconsin. And when the Packers last enjoyed so-called home-field advantage in January 2008, a storm turned Lambeau Field into an oversized snow globe against Seattle one week and then an arctic blast slammed Green Bay with minus-1-degree temps against the New York Giants the next. Those were the latest January dates ever played in Lambeau. The rest of the winter was marked by record snowfalls of around 100 inches or more in some cities.
The ground was slush or frozen, the Packers played through chattering teeth, and the conditions were at their worst since the Ice Bowl.
“The hardest thing is to play in cold weather—I don’t care what anyone says,” said Green Bay’s longest tenured player, Donald Driver. “I mean it could be 100 degrees and be better than this. There’s more challenges when you play in the cold weather. Especially for receivers and the quarterback. It’s easier for offensive line, defensive line. But it’s hard for skill guys.”
Well, even that’s debatable.
“It’s easier to stay loose, especially for quicker guys” in a warm game, said defensive end Cullen Jenkins. “I like to use quickness as my strength sometimes. It’s a lot easier to stay loose and be a lot more nimble and move around when it’s warm.”
How perfect, then, that Wisconsin braces itself for the next winter snowstorm Thursday. Gosh, leave all this behind?
“You feel faster, you feel warm. You don’t have to worry about your body and tightening up,” said Driver. “A lot of guys would rather play in warm weather than cold.”
The funny thing is, Green Bay actually might be more suited to play on the NFL combine-testing type of turf anyway. They’re stocked with more playmakers than mudders anyway. As Jenkins said, he’s a speed guy.
And the Packers’ defensive backs got their league-high 30 interceptions with great reads and acrobatic jumps on the ball. Finley’s game isn’t punching someone’s lights out. It’s jumping out of the gym for the catch.
“You don’t play as fast as you do when you’re out in Arizona,” said Finley. “You come back here and of course it will slow you down and you’ll lose a couple of steps.”
Green Bay’s receivers, tight ends, their sharpshooting quarterback are all athletes who can best showcase their ability when they’re not slowed by the cold.
“I would definitely have to say that’s true,” said receiver Greg Jennings. “Not that we can’t be the type of athlete that we’re capable of being in the cold, but if you’re playing on a surface that’s almost flawless and you’re in a climate that’s conducive to anything, you’re to be so much more versatile.”
For instance, said Jennings, the playbook is entirely open to them in warm or dome games. They almost have to run in the cold. The is footing is good in warm or dome games, so they can get their yards after the catch. It’s much harder in snow or with feet that are numb.
They can do it, but it takes more effort in how they dress, how they prepare. It’s an additional opposing force. This is Jennings’ belief, and he’s a Michigan guy who knows these winters.
“You never get used to it,” said Jennings. “I remember Brett (Favre) telling me that. That’s true. I don’t love the cold weather. You learn to tolerate it and to adapt to it.”
Even Green Bay’s reliable Ryan Grant will take a friendly climate game. “We feel like fast surfaces kind of work out for us,” he said.
It’s not as if the Packers are complaining. If they had a home game, they’d be thrilled.
It’s just that they’re not too upset about leaving, either. And hey, this being Wisconsin, there will be planes filled with fed-up cheeseheads willing to go to Arizona for the game and vitamin D from the sun, too.
“Lambeau, when it’s cold, it’s tough on both teams. The only advantage for us is that we have the home crowd,” said Aaron Rodgers. “We can on some level feed off their energy. But it’s tough to hold on to the ball, it’s tough to throw and it’s tough to just stay warm. So I don’t think anybody is complaining too much except for the fact that we’d love 70,000 instead of 15,000 fans.”