Who Knows 'Weather' Best Team Won?

It's cold. It's cold. Can't type. Can't move. Face frozen. Nose runny. Fingers icicles. Toes Popsicles. Ears like Leonard Nimoy's. Somebody, please. Have mercy. Stuff charcoal down my shirt. Put firewood in my pants. Squirt lighter fluid on my shoes. Come on, baby, light my fire.

And just think, I've got a seat inside the press box. Imagine all those poor suckers down there in the stands, watching the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears play today's playoff game at Soldier Field. Blankets aren't enough. Brandy isn't enough. It's colder than cold out there. It's like sitting inside a refrigerator, and I don't mean that fat guy on the Bears.

And, speaking of the guys on the field, think about those poor slobs for a minute. The Redskins are going to be appropriately named before this game is over. They might even change to Blueskins. It isn't fair to play football when the kicker can't kick a field goal because the football is stuck to the holder's finger.

Even the quarterbacks wear gloves when they play now. Before long, they'll be using space heaters in the huddle. The center won't have a towel hanging from his belt. He'll have a fur muffler. The defensive backs won't wear stickum on their hands. They'll wear Vicks Vap-o-Rub. The quarterbacks won't wear panty hose beneath their pants. They'll wear aerobics leotards.

We're into the real football season now. We fooled around with that wild-card stuff a week ago, and let those funny little indoor teams, the Oilers, Seahawks, Saints and Vikings, have a chance to take part. Today, we force the Houston team to play in snowy Denver, which is a mile high and about a foot deep. And, we watch another in a series of football games played here in Chicago, which is experiencing temperatures in the low-to-mid minus-80s.

You know, with basketball and hockey, we inevitably find out which team is the best team before the season is over. Each series lasts as long as seven games, and each is played in climate-controlled rooms. Weather is no factor--except occasionally at Boston Garden, when the janitor sets the thermostat on "Hell."

With baseball, same thing, pretty much. OK, so sometimes October gets chilly. At least, they call off the games if the weather is too rotten, and they play as many as seven times before they determine a winner.

Football is so unfair. Football is single-elimination, and by the time January and the playoffs roll around, we can't always tell which team is the most skillful, because the players are too busy sloshing through snow, slogging through mud and wobbling passes into the wind.

Some people consider this the beauty of football, the fact that the weather can affect the outcome, affect the home-field advantage. These probably are the same people who sit home watching the game on television, stuffing their faces with potato chips.

The year is 1934. The place is the Polo Grounds. The opponents are the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. The occasion is the second National Football League championship game. The temperature is nasty. The wind is whipping. The field is frozen solid.

Ray Flaherty, All-Pro end for the Giants, kicks the dirt before the game. The dirt doesn't budge. Flaherty turns to New York Coach Steve Owen and says, "This may not matter, but we played on a field like this once in college, and we found we got better traction with basketball shoes, not cleats."

The coach files this information away. At halftime, his team is losing, 10-3. He tells the trainer to find some sneakers, pronto. The trainer calls Manhattan College, which delivers. Dozens of pairs are brought to the stadium by subway. The fourth quarter begins with the Giants behind, 13-3. The fourth quarter ends with the Giants NFL champions, 30-13.

The year is 1935. The NFL championship game is played in sleet and wild winds at Detroit. The Giants' feared passing game, led by Eddie Danowski, can't function. The Lions win easily, 26-7.

The year is 1945. The Cleveland Rams, who later will move to Los Angeles, are hosts for the NFL title game in sub-zero weather. Sammy Baugh of the Redskins can barely grip the ball. He fades back into his end zone to pass. He throws. The ball hits the goal post and bounces back at him. It's a safety. And Cleveland wins the game, by one point.

The year is 1948. Shibe Park, Philadelphia, is 100 yards of snow. Commissioner Bert Bell, taking an unprecedented step, asks the players if they want to go through with this. They do, even though they can't even see the yard markers. Jack Ferrante catches a touchdown pass. But his team was offside.

"Who was it, dammit?" Ferrante screams at an official.

"You, that's who," the official replies, and the final score is 7-0, Philadelphia.

The year is 1949. At last, the NFL is out west, where it doesn't snow. But, it rains. The Coliseum is a quagmire. Bob Waterfield of the Rams can't get his footing. Crazylegs Hirsch can't get his legs to go crazy. Ram owner Dan Reeves tries Bert Bell about one of those postponements. Sorry, the commissioner says, we have radio commitments. The media age has arrived, and the Rams are blanked by the Eagles, 14-0.

Weather has been ruining football games for years. We will never know if some of the better teams got cheated out of their deserved glory. We will never know if the horrible conditions at Yankee Stadium kept the Giants from beating the Packers in 1962, or if the pass Del Shofner's frozen hands dropped cost the Giants the 1963 championship at Chicago, or if Cleveland could have beaten Green Bay in 1965 if the electrical coils at Lambeau Field hadn't turned the snow and rain to mud.

We will never know if the 1967 Dallas Cowboys were better than the Packers, because nobody cares about the minus-13 temperature any more. They only care about Jerry Kramer's block.

Walter Payton couldn't break O.J. Simpson's single-season rushing record because of snow. San Diego couldn't cope at Cincinnati one day because it was so cold. New England and Miami had a game decided once by an ex-convict on a work-release program, who rode a snowplow onto the field and cleared a path for the kicker.

Big games shouldn't be determined like this. Forget tradition. Forget the legends of famous games in the snow. Support progress. Help build more indoor stadiums for football. If not for me, if not for the players, if not for the fans, then for the cheerleader with the frozen thighs, and the tuba player in the marching band, whose lips are stuck to the horn.

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