GREEN BAY, Wis. — Cold hands and a hard football make for tough catches on chilly winter afternoons at Lambeau Field.
But the arctic front expected to push through Wisconsin in time for this weekend’s NFC wild-card game promises to bring conditions considered frigid even for the famous home of the “frozen tundra.”
Temperatures will be in the single digits and dropping when the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers kick off Sunday afternoon. Maybe the teeth-chattering cold will give the Packers an edge to snap a three-game skid against San Francisco.
“It stings a little bit more outside,” cornerback Tramon Williams said Thursday about ball drills. Wearing a stocking cap, wind pants and snow boots, Williams looked as if he was getting ready to join a sub-zero tailgate.
“Can’t dodge it, man,” he said with a laugh. “Can’t dodge it at all. But, yeah, it’s going to be a cold one, one of those rare ones.”
The Packers (8-7-1) might have an advantage in that they’ll have practiced two days outdoors this week. They’re soaring with confidence after beating the Bears on a cold day at Chicago’s Soldier Field last weekend to win the NFC North title.
But the already below-normal temperatures in the teens Thursday might feel balmy compared to Sunday’s big chill.
The coldest game on record is the 1967 championship game, known as the “Ice Bowl” won by the Packers 21-17 over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau on New Year’s Eve. The temperature dipped to minus-13, and the wind chill that day made it feel like minus-48.
Lambeau Field also has the distinction of hosting the third-coldest game on record when it was minus-1 on Jan. 20, 2008 for the NFC Championship game won by the New York Giants over the Packers 23-20 in overtime.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said ball security is a top priority in the cold, and the conditions might also affect how he calls the game. Green Bay has a good one-two punch at running back with Eddie Lacy and James Starks if McCarthy decides to run more.
“The weather elements are part of it, and that’s something you continue to talk about throughout the week,” McCarthy said. “But, really, the game day gives you the final path of how you’re going to call it.”
Weather may be one reason that the team still had about 3,000 tickets available Thursday afternoon with a Friday deadline to sell them to avoid a local TV blackout of the game. The team said it was handing out 70,000 packets of hand warmers, in conjunction with sponsor Mills Fleet Farm, to ticket-holders sitting outside on Sunday.
At the 49ers training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., players have been enjoying relatively balmy weather with highs in the upper 60s. Offensive linemen — a position group known for toughing out the cold in short sleeves — aren’t going to take chances when they arrive in Wisconsin.
“It’s safe to say you’ll see something on my arms,” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “I gave up on the ‘don’t wear sleeves to look tough’ a long time ago.”
There’s not much that San Francisco can do to prepare for the deep freeze. The 49ers do have a running game ranked third in the league and a nasty defense, which could help.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee but went to college at Nevada, where he said it was 20 degrees at kickoff in his coldest game — it doesn’t change the grip on the ball, or the release, said Kaepernick, who isn’t planning to wear a glove.
“The ball is going to be harder and that’s really the No. 1 obstacle,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s more about the ball and the grip.”
Roman, known for walking laps around the field each game day, plans to do so a little bit earlier Sunday in an effort to get a feel for the field conditions. He thinks footing will also be a key issue.