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What the freezing weather means for holiday football games

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

As below-freezing temperatures continue across the U.S. today and this weekend, many of you have probably heard something like this from your weather forecaster - if you can, stay inside. Well, there are a number of football teams that cannot follow those guidelines tomorrow. Eleven NFL games are still on the schedule, and one of them is taking place at Soldier Field in Chicago, where the Chicago Bears face off against the Buffalo Bills. Temperatures are expected to be in the single digits. And to tell us more about how NFL players and fans are prepping for this frigid weather, we're joined by WGN sports reporter Larry Hawley in Chicago. Hi there.

LARRY HAWLEY: Hi, Juana. How are you today?

SUMMERS: I'm well. Thanks for being here. I'm a Midwesterner. And that means I know that usually Chicago just shrugs off the cold. I'll be trying to do that myself at the game in Baltimore tomorrow. But what can fans who are headed to Soldier Field expect when it comes to weather conditions?

HAWLEY: Well, you're going to see a game that's going to probably, at least based on the temperature projections right now, that's going to kick off under 10 degrees. What's going to make the game really uncomfortable is that wind. And that wind's going to be coming out of the west per the projections of the WGN News weather department. It's going to come out of the west at 20 miles an hour, with gusts to 30 to 35 miles an hour. So those wind chills are going to be between about 10 below and 20 below. And Soldier Field is a stadium in which the wind swirls. The wind is very prominent. When you talk about bundling up, it's not just, you know, something to just say to say. You really have to do that because for a fan sitting down there, it can be dangerous, especially with that wind. That wind's going to be a huge factor.

SUMMERS: All right. You've mentioned the fans, but I want to ask you about the game itself and the players. How can this kind of cold, those kinds of swirling winds, impact what happens on the field?

HAWLEY: The wind can play a huge factor, especially when it comes to the passing games, especially when it comes to teams that like to throw. Where it might be a little different here is the fact that I believe - looking at the matchup here, Buffalo has a very good quarterback in Josh Allen, who can not only throw but also run. And the Bears themselves are a running team, with Justin Fields, who's approaching the NFL regular season record for rushing yardage for a quarterback. So how much it'll affect this game? I don't really know. What, for me, it's going to be interesting to see are the field goal kickers because how it swirls at Soldier Field, those kicks can go from one upright to the other. That's where I think it's going to be really interesting to see with the field goal kickers, how it ends up working out.

SUMMERS: So Soldier Field and Bears fans are no strangers to cold, and I know neither are you. Is there any game that you've been to that sticks out in your mind as having especially extreme weather conditions?

HAWLEY: So the game that I'll think of was actually 14 years ago, this Thursday, December 22 of 2008 - the coldest Bears home game at Soldier Field in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: On a frigid night, a very meaningful game - the Bears and the Packers. The temperatures in the single digits, the windchill below zero.

HAWLEY: I was there with a friend, and we watched the game from the upper deck. We were very lucky the wind was down, so the wind chill was actually OK. A really thrilling game. It was basically a sellout. The Bears were still playing with hopes for a division title. And then Robbie Gould, a very popular kicker here in Chicago, hit a game-winning 38-yard field goal very early in overtime. I remember having, I think, three sweaters, big jacket, two hats, two gloves, sweatpants underneath jeans. But really memorable day - I remember how the thud of the football sounded when they kicked off. I remember the crispness of the hit, the pads. As a fan, there's a ton of them watching the Bears through the years. But being there for the cold, this was something really special.

SUMMERS: That's Larry Hawley, sports reporter at WGN. Thanks, Larry, and stay warm.

HAWLEY: Thank you very much. Have a good holidays and New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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