This past season McCarthy went against the age-old routine of putting his team through the ringer during training camp with two-a-day practices every day of the week. Instead, the coach spread the practices out over the course of the off-season, beginning in May and June, and gave the players each Wednesday off. There also were many days with just one practice, in addition to a number of night practices. Instead of players trying to survive training camp without injury and exhaustion, they were much more fresh heading into the regular season.
The fans scratched their heads and wondered if McCarthy was being too soft on his team. But the players liked the changes. The coaches liked it, and as a result, the Packers' starters were fairly injury free during the season and finished with a 13-3 record before the ugly loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
That game is still gnawing on the minds of Packers fans, and the disappointing result has raised a number of questions. One includes whether the Packers should practice outdoors, even for a portion of their practices, prior to games where they know they will be playing in sub-zero conditions.
McCarthy said this week that he will think about that this off-season, but also questioned what his team would accomplish practicing in sub-zero conditions.
Quite possibly that much better of a chance to advancing in the playoffs.
Prior the NFC Championship Game, McCarthy attempted to simulate the cold by using frozen footballs during offensive plays from scrimmage while his team practiced, with the doors closed, in the Don Hutson Center. That might help some, but the players themselves are not totally chilled by the natural elements. It is one thing to catch or throw a frozen football inside a building with a warm body and hands. It's another to catch or throw a frozen ball while you're outside and half frozen. Big adjustment, and the Packers never thought about going outdoors for a couple of practices during the week, like other cold-weather teams.
The Giants and Chicago Bears practiced some outside during the week prior to the game and went on to beat the Packers. It seems to be more than a coincidence. Instead of dealing with the poor conditions that are inevitable in Green Bay and Chicago at this time year, the Packers turned their back on Mother Nature, hoping they could adopt to the conditions during the game, rather than simply getting used to it.
After an impressive season, Brett Favre was off the mark with a number of his passes against the Giants. His poor throw in overtime cost Green Bay the game. If Favre continues to lead the Packers next season, he and the team may be better prepared by practicing throwing a frozen ball with frozen fingers, and the receivers catching the ball with cold hands.
The home-field advantage for a cold-weather team doesn't necessarily come only on game days. That team, whether it's in Green Bay, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, or New England, has all week to practice and get accustomed to the elements. Teams coming from the South or West Coast don't have the luxury.
Besides, by the end of the season, or in the playoffs, how much more practice does a team need, anyway? Most teams are not going to do that much differently than what they have done all season to get them to that point. Practicing in the cold, even for half the practice, probably would accomplish much more than McCarthy might think.
It's worth a try. It might be the difference between thawing out under the spotlight of the Super Bowl for the Packers, or in the locker room packing their bags to go home.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.