Asked if he would take his Chicago Bears outside to practice this week, the tone in coach Lovie Smith's voice sounded as if he thought the answer was absurdly obvious.
"Of course we are," he replied during a conference call on Thursday.
Smith and his counterpart in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy, have differing perspectives on the importance of practicing in the type of cold weather that awaits these ancient rivals on Monday night.
"That's how you play. You play in the snow, you practice in it, right?," Smith asked.
"I think you have to get used to the elements," he added. "We have a nice indoor facility. We won't practice outside all the week, but we try to at least get out once a week, no matter what the conditions are. I do think you have to prepare for it. It does help a little bit. You don't want it to be a shock to the guys at all."
McCarthy, however, elects to hold practice in the Don Hutson Center. One big difference between the teams is the Packers' outdoor field does not have Lambeau Field-style heating elements to keep the turf free of dangerous ice and snow. Thus, McCarthy said on Thursday, it's a safety issue, and the hazards of someone pulling a muscle outweigh the benefits of running, catching, blocking and throwing in the elements. The Bears' practice field, on the other hand, does have the heating coils.
"We have our situation with our training facility that if we were to go outside we would go out for the team periods, but based on the recommendation of the equipment manager and the field and so forth, it's not in our best interest to be out on that field right now," McCarthy said.
While long-range forecasts tend to change, the outlook for Monday night in Chicago is breezy with a low of 6, according to the National Weather Service. Winds are expected to be 15 to 20 mph. During last year's game in Chicago, it was 16 with winds whipping to 40 mph.
"Records are made to be broken, right? I hear we may even break that this week, so we're pretty pumped up about that," Smith said of last year's weather.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the wind, not the cold, is the bigger issue, calling the weather for last year's year game in Chicago worse than the bitter cold for the NFC championship game. Former quarterback Brett Favre, renowned for his strong play in the worst of conditions, was 2-for-7 passing for 9 yards in the first half at Chicago and finished 17-for-32 for 153 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of just 40.2
Receiver Greg Jennings remembers the challenge of catching the wind-blown ball.
"Throwing, I want to say, towards our sideline, anytime the ball was thrown towards our sideline, the wind just caught it," he said. "And throwing towards their sideline, the wind was a little different. You have to concentrate a lot more and just make sure you focus in and make the plays."
McCarthy wasn't happy with how the team handled the weather that day. Green Bay, for instance, hadn't had a punt blocked in 929 attempts over 12 years but had two blocked by the Bears. Mix in Favre's woes and a productive day by his counterpart, Kyle Orton, and the powerhouse Packers were routed 35-7.
"They handled it better than we did, but the game went a different direction for us," McCarthy recalled. "You definitely don't want to be in a two-score game behind in that type of wind. I played in a very identical game down there two years prior when I was with the 49ers. It was déjà vu. I have experience going through that, and we did some things in that game that I would never do again. Living in this part of the country, it's really part of playing football here in December."
McCarthy said the weather won't change his game plan but he'll be ready just in case. "Just in case" seems like a foregone conclusion.
"It's Chicago in December," Smith said. "You know how that goes. It will be cold here."
No big deal, McCarthy said.
"We live in this weather," McCarthy said. "We're comfortable with the fact it'll be cold."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coaches brrrrave cold in own ways
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