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Cold Football (and Other Chilly Events) I Have Covered

January 9th, 2016 · 1 Comment · Football, Golf, Lists, London 2012, NFL, Olympics, soccer, Sports Journalism, The National, UAE

Much is being made about the brutal cold expected at the NFL playoffs game in Minneapolis on Sunday.

The Minnesota Vikings versus the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Minnesota — with a forecast temperature at kickoff of 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

That will make it one of the coldest games in NFL history, though the record of minus-13, for the infamous Ice Bowl of 1967, seems to be safe.

It is something of a fluke the game is being played at all. This is the second of two seasons the Vikings are playing at the University of Minnesota, which has an open-air stadium. The game required the Vikings to be good enough to get a home playoffs game, which seemed unlikely right up till the final day of the regular season and, of course, required them to do it during the 2014 or 2015 seasons.

It is so cold, many fans are expected to stay home and let their tickets go unused.

And all this chatter (of teeth, too) led me to muse about cold events I have covered as a journalist.

This is all a matter of perspective, of course. My career was largely spend in Southern California and the UAE, so I have nothing that will impress the residents of the upper Midwest.

But poor planning and a lack of proper clothing can lead to a body being quite cold — without setting any records. And a SoCal guy is likely to show up with one or the other, particularly if he is a slow learner.

Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns, November 27, 1977. Temperature at kickoff was 21, which seems pretty respectable, even for a Californian. The game was played at the awful Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which even in 1977 was a rusting mess built on the edge of Lake Erie. The press box was small and overheated, and I remember a warming machine with hotdogs on spikes turning in the corner. Our view was slightly obstructed by poles supporting the upper deck.

My exposure to the elements was limited to getting to the press box … and leaving it … for post-game interviews. My ears were cold, no doubt, because I rarely had a hat, let alone something that covered my ears.

My greatest excitement/agitation came long after the Rams’ 9-0 victory. It was when I tried to exit the stadium. Reporters visiting from time zones west of the game site often leave the stadium much later than most everyone else; that day, I had a three-hour advantage on the hometown guys in Eastern Daylight Time. I was one of the final three or four reporters to leave, and the ground level of the stadium was nearly pitch dark. I set off … and my memory suggests I walked completely around the stadium, looking for a way out; egery door/gate appeared to be locked. It was night by now, of course, and colder yet, and after 20-plus minutes of wandering in the dark of an empty stadium, encountering not one person, I finally spotted a small door I had overlooked, earlier. It was unmarked, but I walked over and gave it a push … and it opened. I trudged out to the street and hailed a cab and have never forgotten how cold I was before I escaped that awful stadium.

(I returned to the Mistake on the Lake 364 days later, for another Rams game, giving me two trips to Cleveland inside a year, but in this case it was a balmy 36 with a wild chill of 28. Brian Sipe, a San Diego guy, led the Browns to a 30-19 victory.)

L.A. Rams at New York Giants, December 3, 1978. This one was a week after the game mentioned just above, and you would think I would have learned to respect the cold in the east at that time of year … but apparently I convinced myself that East Rutherford, New Jersey (where the new Giants Stadium was the site of the game) couldn’t possibly be as cold as Cleveland. It damn near was. (This is just another of the major stadiums I have been in that have since been demolished.)

Temp at kickoff was 37, with a wind chill of 28, and by the end of the game it was much colder. And for the occasions I wore a buttoned cotton shirt, a corduroy coat (which was next to useless) and maybe had a cap. Or it might have been the Browns ski cap I may have bought the week before.

Anyway, at NFL games then (and now?), reporters were allowed on the field for the final two minutes so they could follow the teams into the lockerroom … and that was the longest two minutes of 1978, for me. I recall shivering so hard I certainly could not write, as the wind whipped through the stadium. Goes back to the “poorly prepared, just as cold” concept. Weather probably was not mentioned at all in the New York papers.

Opening Ceremonies, Salt Lake City Winter Games, February 8, 2002. Colleague Steve Dilbeck and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the opening, always one of the big events of an Olympics, and we sat in the upper-right-hand corner of the West grandstand at Rice-Eccles Stadium — and were ridiculously cold. It was 30 when the event began, and the wind from the Wasatch Mountains was blowing in our faces.

Steve is not much better than I am at dressing for the occasion (you would think the word “winter” in the event title would have been sufficient warning), and we were a couple of aging popsicles by the time the parade of nations ended. We hung on for the arrival of the World Trade Center flag, but soon after we decided that it would be a better idea to thaw out in the media room and write from there, as the artistic stuff began. Another one of those times were your body is so cold it refuses to behave; writing becomes impossible, snot freezes on your face, your eyes water constantly. (And, note to Vikings fans on Sunday, yes, it’s much worse to sit in the cold than move around in it; but you know that.)

–Opening Ceremonies, 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, February 8, 1984. It’s the Balkans. In early February. And I am not dressed for it. It was held during daylight, thank goodness for that, in something that was rather like a second-tier soccer stadium, but I was freezing.

Men’s giant slalom, 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, February 14, 1984. My primary responsibility at the 1984 Olympics, my first, was to cover ice hockey, which kept me safely indoors most of the time. Thus, it must have been a day off from pucks because I decided to go to the men’s course at Bjelasnica and cover my first skiing event … and I was unprepared even by my harebrained standards. And this is the truth: I thought reporters covered skiing from inside a lodge. Really. We would be behind glass, watching the skiers come down the hill. It makes sense, right? Why should reporters go stand in the snow? It’s patently crazy, and I knew it to be so without actually asking anyone. So, I prepped for the event by wearing a second pair of socks with my Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes.

The sad reality is … that reporters cover skiing by standing outside, in the snow, in something called “the corral” — a roped off area next to where skiers exit the course after finishing. And the event lasted hours. At least two. By the end, I feared I might have frostbite on one or two toes. (I didn’t, but not for lack of trying.)

UAE at Uzbekistan, 2012 Olympic football qualifying, March 14, 2012. Perhaps the one instance when I was truly cold while on the job at The National in Abu Dhabi. It was not dangerously cold, and it certainly could have been, in Tashkent, in mid-March — perhaps 40, with light rain. The key to this one was … beyond having not experienced cold in years, was that I forgot to take a coat to Uzbekistan. In March. Left it at the apartment; realized it about halfway to the airport in Dubai. I had a sweater, but I had to get a coat, and I went shopping the day before the match, and some villain inside a sort of souq ripped me off horribly for some faux-leather thing that hardly helped warm me at all but was more than I arrived with. I threw out that coat a few weeks ago. I was cold, and a bit wet, but the story was so big — a 3-2 come-from-behind victory that sent the UAE to London — that it warmed me. No, really.

Geez. The bad memories keep rolling.

I was cold at lots of high school football games in November or December, or Saturday afternoon games at Big Bear (altitude, 7,000 feet), where you feel it in your hands most of all because you have to write and not many of us can do it with gloves on … and then if it rains you are well and truly chilled to the bone and also in trouble because Bic pens do not write when wet.

And I know I was seriously cold after sundown at any number of Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournaments — because everyone knows how cold a desert can get once the sun goes down. And after Rose Bowls or Super Bowls at the Rose Bowl, because the canyon there experiences major temperature drops after dark.

And I am sure I was frozen solid at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games opening ceremonies, where I was high up in the stands, and at Columbus, Ohio, for World Cup qualifiers with Mexico in 2001 and 2005 … and well, just about anywhere it could be cold, I was cold.

Anyway, good luck, Vikings fans.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Ben Bolch // Jan 19, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Coldest I’ve ever been at an event was covering a high school football game on the South Side of Chicago in November 1996. It was in the teens and my Trash-80 took the cold worse than I did, literally transposing letters as I wrote. I had to go into my car and crank up the heat for about 15 minutes before the thing started working properly again. Pretty sure I made deadline, though. Barely.

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