Special Teams Nightmare

Heading into Pittsburgh this week, the San Diego Chargers special teams will play a key role. Their road game with the Steelers marks the first time this year that they will play in a cold weather climate in an outdoor stadium. Perils around every corner await, from the winds to the frigid air and what it does to the ball.

"Western Illinois played in Hamilton, New York versus Colgate and it was ridiculous," Mike Scifres recalled of a game just two weeks ago. "I was watching a little bit of it and it was, ‘how the heck are they doing that?'

"I was talking to the kicker because the kicker had called me the night before. ‘Mike you have some tips for me kicking in the snow.' I said, ‘No Justin, I never kicked in the snow.'

"I have kicked on frozen ground before, but I have never kicked in the snow. Frozen ground you can put some spikes on and dig into that. Snow – you are not digging into that.

"He told me it was just a sheet of ice and then just snow covered it. ‘How am I going to kick?'

"Luckily, Steve Christie, in Buffalo for those ten years, he was like, ‘All I can tell you to do is shorten up your steps.' And that is what the kid did and he called me the next day and said, ‘You guys really know what you're talking about.' I said, ‘Don't look at me because I had to ask Steve.'"

Scifres leans heavily on veterans such as Christie and Darren Bennett. They have played in all sorts of conditions. All year the team has missed the cold weather. It is reminiscent to Tampa Bay, the team that was so bad in cold weather for so many years. Nothing can prepare the team for what they will face this Sunday, and it all starts on special teams.

The forecast for Sunday shows winds between 10-15 miles per hour and temperatures in the low 30's. Since game time is 4 PM, the night will descend upon the game by the end of the first quarter. As night drops, colder temperatures will come.

What does it mean to the warm blooded San Diego Chargers and their kickers?

"I don't know. I have never kicked in snow," Scifres said. "Feet are going to be so numb, you are not going to feel the ball. I am going to be bundled up. Staying in the hotel for both days we are there. It's going to be too cold to go outside. I am going to have everything I can imagine on. I have been in cold weather but that is going to be a different kind of cold out there. You go numb after the first two minutes anyway."

Snow does not figure to be on the horizon, although some accumulation is expected between Friday night and Saturday night. But one never really knows. With the Chargers in hotels Friday night, the mere thought of snow can damage the psyche. With so much worry about the "what ifs", it will be harder to concentrate.

Playing at Western Illinois, Scifres has battled cold weather before.

"Now that is going to be a little different," says Scifres. "I have had the 25 degree with 30 mile per hour wind games, but that is going to be a different kind of cold out there. A little snowy probably."

Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed didn't dissuade Scifres' feelings saying, "At this time of the year, the balls are so hard and so cold."

Reed has known problems from the cold weather. He has missed seven of his last thirteen attempts. He knows what the cold can do to the ball.

"That's why my 40-yarder a couple of weeks ago almost was short," Reed said. "From 47, I hit it solid and was short. There's no room for error in kicking. It's not 90 degrees every day."

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in San Diego anymore.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

Dale Lolley contributed to this report

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