Tests to weather
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The question is: Sleeves or no sleeves?
When the New York Giants play the Green Bay Packers for the NFC championship today, a fair amount of attention will be paid to what the players wear under their jerseys.
That’s because the forecast calls for a low temperature of minus-8 degrees with a wind-chill factor dipping to minus-30.
Though it could rank among the coldest games in the history of Lambeau Field -- and the NFL -- a number of Green Bay players have vowed to combat the elements with sheer attitude.
Which means no long-sleeved shirts under their pads.
“No sleeves,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “In the pregame you go out there and you’re like, ‘Man it’s cold.’ You talk to the other guy, ‘It’s cold out here.’ Once that game starts, all of that is underneath the turf.”
The Giants, it seems, are taking a different approach.
“I will be dressed extremely warm,” linebacker Kawika Mitchell said, explaining that he will “make sure I have as much clothing on as I can have on.”
Both teams have played in frigid conditions. The Packers lost, 35-7, at Chicago in a December game when the winds howled and the temperature was 16 degrees at kickoff. The same day, the Giants clinched a playoff spot with a 38-21 victory in rain, sleet and snow at Buffalo.
But this game could be worse. After all, Lambeau was the site of the infamous “Ice Bowl,” the 1967 NFL championship game between Green Bay and the Dallas Cowboys when the wind chill factor registered at minus-46.
As Packers running back Ryan Grant said: “I don’t know if anybody wants to play in the Ice Bowl.”
In pure football terms -- the winner advancing to Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3 -- today’s game features a battle of quarterbacks with different stories.
The Packers’ Brett Favre is the veteran in a resurgent season, leading a young team deep into the playoffs. His trademark grit and seat-of-the-pants style have been tempered by second-year Coach Mike McCarthy, who favors a more judicious passing game.
“Did I agree with everything? No,” Favre said of McCarthy’s philosophy. “But it was believable coming from him. He had this matter-of-fact attitude that we’ll make it work.”
While Favre has clicked with Jennings and the other receivers, the offense has gotten a boost from Grant, who came to Green Bay from the Giants in a preseason trade and has gone from unknown to unbelievable, accounting for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a snowy playoff win over Seattle last week.
The defense has chipped in too, with Nick Barnett at middle linebacker and a secondary that likes to play man-to-man and press receivers.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants are a surprise story thanks to the play of young quarterback Eli Manning.
That’s the same Eli Manning who had four passes intercepted -- three of them returned for touchdowns -- against Minnesota in late November. Manning says he has improved by “just playing smart.”
“We are not having to force things down the field,” he said. “Our defense is doing a great job, or we are jumping out and getting a lead and we are not trying to catch up where you feel like you have to make plays.”
Instead, the Giants are winning slow and steady behind that defense, ranked seventh in the league during the regular season, and a ground game featuring 1,000-yard rusher Brandon Jacobs.
A sprained knee ligament sidelined Jacobs when the Giants and Packers met in mid-September. He says his team simply did not play well, losing, 35-13, as the offense sputtered -- Manning had a sore shoulder -- and the defense could not contain Favre.
The third-year running back says he believes the Giants are different now. As for the forecast, he isn’t too concerned -- in 2002, while at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, Jacobs played in six-degree weather.
“I rushed for about 240,” he said, adding that “it’s going to be cold for those guys too, so you just have to go out, block it all out and play football.”
Some extra clothing might help in what Giants defensive back R.W. McQuarters reportedly called “the icebox of the world.” Manning has worn a glove on his non-throwing hand in practice.
“If it does get cold, if those balls get slick and whatnot, just having that little extra grip on your left hand [might help] so you don’t drop any snaps,” Manning said.
That’s what happened to Green Bay in the Chicago game, mishandled snaps contributing to the loss.
So, while a local newspaper columnist wondered if too much was being made of the weather -- “It’s January in Wisconsin,” he wrote -- McCarthy stored footballs in a freezer, then brought them out for practice this week. Mike Eayrs, the team’s director of research and development, gave the players a get-tough message.
“He says, ‘You know, nobody’s going to go to the hospital from the weather, so you guys will live through it,’ ” offensive tackle Chad Clifton said.
Clifton learned as a rookie that the Packers’ offensive line plays bare-armed no matter what. This week, receiver Donald Driver plans to follow suit.
Machismo has nothing to do with Driver’s decision. The last time he wore extra clothing, he struggled to grasp the ball.
“After that, I stopped wearing sleeves,” he said. “I’d just rather freeze than fumble again.”
N.Y. GIANTS (12-6) AT GREEN BAY (14-3)
Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., Channel 11.
Story line: The Packers have one of the best postseason home-field advantages in the NFL and it should be in full effect as temperatures are supposed to bottom out below zero. The Packers are 13-2 all time in playoff games at Lambeau Field. That might not intimidate the Giants, who are 9-1 on the road this season, including victories at Tampa Bay and Dallas in the playoffs. The Giants will try to contain Brett Favre with a pass rush that led the league with 53 sacks, but they’ll also have to deal with emerging running back Ryan Grant, a Giants castoff in the preseason who rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns last week. Eli Manning critics are waiting for the Giants quarterback to falter, but he has yet to have a pass intercepted in this postseason.
Injury report: GIANTS -- Out: CB Kevin Dockery (hip). Questionable: WR Plaxico Burress (ankle), CB Sam Madison (abdomen), CB Aaron Ross (shoulder). Probable: T Kareem McKenzie (ankle). PACKERS -- Questionable: CB Will Blackmon (foot). Probable: LB Nick Barnett (hamstring), TE Bubba Franks (knee), WR Koren Robinson (knee), C Scott Wells (glute), CB Charles Woodson (knee).
Peter Yoon’s pick: Green Bay. Favre always seems to rise to the occasion when he’s a sentimental favorite and he’s definitely become that this season.
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