Cold reality

The Baltimore Sun

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- By the time the Green Bay Packers players and coaches met the media yesterday afternoon, the temperature in town had rocketed to 13 degrees, with a wind chill of just minus 3. Soak it up now, Titletown residents and NFC championship game combatants, because tomorrow night, it's supposed to get cold again.

File this under "O" for "obvious," but weather will be a factor when the New York Giants and Packers meet.

Then again, don't file it so fast.

The mythology surrounding the Packers - because of their history and because of who has played quarterback for them the past decade and a half - is that Lambeau Field in January is their ace in the hole. "We relish [the weather] because it's at home," Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "We play all year to get home-field advantage."

Yet as much fun as it has been to debate sleeves vs. no sleeves, and mind vs. matter - and to see the old clips of the 1967 Packers-Cowboys Ice Bowl, with the visible breath and the rotating temperature sign - there are several practical reasons to indicate that the Giants aren't going to come close to being bothered by the conditions.

They play in a nasty, windy pit themselves, Giants Stadium, for one thing. Their offensive and defensive style works in any weather. And they've won nine straight games on the road, tied for the most in a single season in NFL history.

Think it's tough overcoming Brett Favre, the Lambeau crowd and the elements with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line? How can that possibly be tougher than winning every time you venture into an alien environment for three months, then doing it twice in the playoffs, including once at the home of the conference's No. 1 seed?

"I think we're a team that has good character," Giants coach Tom Coughlin told reporters in East Rutherford, N.J., yesterday. "I think we have good leadership, as I've said many times before. I think our leaders are able to bring our players right back into focus when something doesn't go our way. We do have some toughness; we've got some mental toughness. We are resilient; we've proved that many times."

This, of course, is not to say the Giants are crazy enough to act as if they're playing in Miami. Eli Manning, for example, has been practicing with one glove, on his non-throwing hand, to help handle snaps. But if he is able to hand off, with gloved hand or not, to Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and see them perform the way they have as the season progressed, it will negate the conditions nicely.

When the Packers have the ball, meanwhile, they'll be facing a pass rush that has gotten better every week, peaking in the win at Dallas on Sunday.

The real wild card in this weather equation? The team with the signature poor performance in extreme conditions is ... the Packers, at Chicago in Week 16, a 35-7 loss. That turnover-fest produced the biggest concession to weather by either team; this week, without his players' knowledge, coach Mike McCarthy sneaked frozen footballs into practices to get them used to handling them.

"The failed test in Chicago really starts with me; the responsibility starts with myself," McCarthy said. "Our focus was not what it needed to be; it showed up in our fundamentals. We did not handle the ball very well all [that] week."

It's probably no coincidence that the Giants, that very same week, won in windy, snowy Buffalo by scoring 21 fourth-quarter points. Jacobs and Bradshaw combined for 296 rushing yards.

Contrary to the legend, crossing the frozen tundra might be the least of the Giants' worries on their path to a Super Bowl.

Listen to David Steele on Tuesday at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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