The weather outside Winter Park was frightful. Inside, it was much more delightful, as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark with a mixture of rain, snow and sleet. Driving can be an adventure. Being in the elements stinks.
But while everyone else was trying to avoid personal contact with the elements on Wednesday, the Vikings specialists – kicker Blair Walsh, punter Jeff Locke and long snapper Kevin McDermott – were heading out to TCF Bank Stadium to get work in under the worst of conditions.
While nobody wants to work in conditions that make you feel like a wet dog, McDermott said the coaching staff felt it was in the team’s best interest to get them working in the worst possible conditions, because, like it or not, with two home games at The Bank and one at Lambeau Field, the chances for kicking in bad weather is always a distinct possibility.
“The reason we’re going down to TCF is to get some work in, because we want to be ready if he we have to face something like this during a game,” McDermott said on Wednesday with temperatures hovering near freezing and drizzle. “You don’t want to play in conditions like we have today, but you can’t control the weather when you’re playing outside and all three of our final three games are going to be outside and you never know what you’re going to get here or in Green Bay in December or January.”
The elements can come into play at any time, whether its rain or wind or snow. Nobody enjoys playing in them and often there are critical games late in the season or the playoffs that are decided by how a team manages the weather.
If given a choice, it would seem logical that snow would be the worst possible outcome for a bad-weather game, but McDermott said if forced to play in any of them, his preference would actually be a snowstorm.
“For us, I’d have to say if you have to one of them – snow, cold rain or wind – I’d rather have snow,” McDermott said. “Snow sticks to itself. It doesn’t get you completely soaked and it’s a lot easier to keep the ball dry. That’s the key for me is having a dry ball because there isn’t much margin for error when you’re long snapping.”
The biggest problem with days like Wednesday in Minneapolis is that, if it comes on a game day, keeping a body loose becomes the biggest obstacle. Rain is always a problem because it gets to your bones and it becomes almost impossible to get warm even with heated benches and rain gear on the sidelines.
“Once you’re wet, it’s very hard to stay warm,” McDermott said. “It can be 50 degrees and if you’re getting a lot of rain, you get cold and you stay cold. That’s never good for me or Blair or Jeff. We’re all in the same boat. The No. 1 goal is to stay warm. If you’re on offense or defense, you have a drive that goes 10 plays, you can stay warm that way. We are sitting on the bench, go out for one play and then go back to the bench. You’re continually trying to keep your body temperature up and making sure your muscles don’t get tight. It isn’t always easy.”
The one advantage the specialists have is that the K-balls the NFL uses specifically for kicking are able to be kept dryer than the balls used on most plays. The problem is that each team only gets two K-balls on a Sunday and once they get wet, they’re difficult to dry out. Being taken into and out of play after about a minute helps, but doesn’t completely alleviate the problem.
Given the minimal amount of wiggle room for error on snaps, holds on field goals and catches on punts, being prepared to do their jobs under less than ideal conditions is a premium.
“The refs try to do as good a job as they can to keep the ball dry,” McDermott said. “For me, it’s just going out and practicing in these types of conditions – doing drills and practicing in it so you’re ready for those situations if they happen.”
Like it or not, living in the Midwest often means dealing with some brutally cold conditions possible. Minnesotans claim it toughens them up by having to deal with weather extremes on both ends of the scale, but nobody complains louder than them when they’re dealing with it.
Making the best of a bad situation becomes part of the lifestyle of the Upper Midwest. As Minnesota transplants, McDermott, Walsh and Locke spent their Wednesday afternoon learning that the hard way.
McDermott understands its part of doing business in the NFL at this time of year and, as the Vikings strive for perfection wherever possible, practice helps make perfect – even in imperfect surroundings.
“That’s the thing about late-season and playoff football,” McDermott said. “You never know what the weather is going to throw at you, but you have to do your best to be prepared for it. Everybody would love to play in warm weather with the sun out and no wind or be playing inside. But that isn’t the way it works. There are a lot of outdoor stadiums in cold-weather cities, so you have to be as prepared as you can because we’re expected to do our job without a mistake. That’s why we do things like go outside when everyone else wants to be inside.”