Players shrug off playing in cold

Only those who win the mental challenge will survive conditions

The hot topic in the Green Bay Packers' locker room today, and most likely in the New York Giants' locker room, is the anticipated weather for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. It will be cold, even by Green Bay standards. Even by penguin standards, but there are ways around the icy conditions.

Hand and foot warmers will be popular among players. Gloves, long johns, whatever. All that material stuff is great, but the biggest challenge is inside everyone's noggin. Who can block out the weather and focus on football? That will separate the men from the boys on Sunday evening in Green Bay where the forecast currently calls for a game-time temperature of about 4 degrees with a wind chill of minus-10 to minus-20 degrees.

"Mentally you have to try to block that out and rise to the occasion," said Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "For those three hours you have to be better than the next guy. And I think in games like that, it does come down to this mental discipline. Yeah, balls will move, things will happen that ordinarily would not happen. But it's the team and the players who make the least amount of mistakes, handle it the best."

The Packers were obviously not ready for the conditions Dec. 23 at Soldier Field, and got blasted 35-7 by the Bears, who were ready mentally.

How a team prepares for the cold is subject to debate. The Packers practiced Wednesday in shorts inside the Don Hutson Center while the Giants practiced outside. The Giants also may practice outside on Thursday, but Green Bay will remain inside.

Taking their cue from head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants players say they are unconcerned about playing in the frigid weather. At least, that's what they say. Quarterback Eli Manning was asked how he is preparing to play in the extreme cold.

"I think you prepare by practicing and getting ready for their defense," Manning said. "You don't worry about the weather. There is no point in being concerned about it. You wear some warm clothes and you wear a hand warmer. It is still all going to come to how your team performs on the field."

Manning does not intend to wear gloves in the game. Favre won't, either.

In reality, the players will be the warmest people in the stadium on Sunday. They move around while the fans, for the most part, are stationary. With big heaters on the sideline, coffee and thick jackets, playing in cold weather is nothing new for either team. The Packers have played in the cold many times. This time, it's safe to say that the Packers will be better prepared mentally than they were against the Bears. Same with the Giants. "What we prefer to do really is to focus on the things that we can control," Coughlin said. "We have no way of controlling that, just as we didn't when we went to Buffalo, just as we didn't when we went to Chicago. We need to focus on the Green Bay Packers team, which is a very good football team."

The cold and wind will almost certainly affect the kicking game. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes played two seasons in the Canadian Football League and remembers a 10-degree day as a rookie with Kansas City in 2004, so he knows what it will be like Sunday.

"There's definitely going to be a difference in range and distance and hang time," Tynes said. "It's going to be a big factor in terms of how far we're going to kick the ball.

"When it's that cold, the ball's not going to compress off your foot – it's not going to give too much. That will make it travel shorter. Distance and hang time will be nowhere near what it would be if it was 50 degrees. It's going to be a big factor in the game. We're going to have to do some things kicking off-wise and punting. Just be ready for shorter kicks, that's the bottom line. It's going to be the same on their side, too."

The weather will be a factor in the title game, but probably not the deciding factor The difference will be which players can handle the conditions and which ones cave in to Mother Nature. All the Packers have to do is recall their experience in Chicago a few weeks ago to realize what can happen if you succumb to Mother Nature.

"We're going to prepare and we'll be ready to go," said Packers running back Ryan Grant. "I don't see it having an impact with us, from our standpoint, at all. It's the preparation level, and you have to be prepared."

Other cold playoff games against the Giants
-- The 1962 championship game in Yankee Stadium between the Giants and Packers had a game-time temperature of 13 degrees, with 40 mile-per-hour winds. That's a minus-11 wind chill.

-- When the Packers played host to the Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship Game in Green Bay, the temperature was 21 degrees with 10 mile-an-hour winds. That's a wind chill of four degrees.

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