Patriots prepare for cold by practicing in it
The chilly contest in the Windy City could be a two-hoodie game for Bill Belichick.
''That's a good idea,'' the fashion-challenged coach of the Patriots said with a smile Friday. ''I'll give that a shot today, see if that works.''
New England's boss might warm up to the idea of adding an extra layer to his familiar game-day attire with strong winds, temperatures in the teens - and possibly lower - and maybe a snowy field expected for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears (9-3).
A well-known devotee of substance over style, Belichick saw his Patriots (10-2) follow his lead at their final full-scale practice for the game between division leaders.
All of them wore long-sleeve shirts under their jerseys. Several donned face masks covering their entire heads except for their eyes and noses before they put on their helmets. Their breath was visible as they loosened up on the field with the temperature in Foxborough a nippy 21 degrees.
Wes Welker joked that he even started preparing before dressing for the practice.
''I put myself in the fridge,'' the wide receiver said.
Before venturing out from their locker room Friday, players sounded only mildly concerned about the bitter conditions they expect to face in Soldier Field alongside Lake Michigan.
''I've been playing in the cold weather all my life,'' said cornerback Devin McCourty, who grew up in New Jersey and played at Rutgers. ''It's more mental than anything, just getting ready, knowing it's going to be cold.''
Besides, the teeth-chattering weather affects players from both teams, even those who grew up in it.
''You're used to wearing bigger jackets. That's what I always say,'' said long-snapper Matt Katula, who remembers bundling up as a kid during the Milwaukee winters and then in college at Wisconsin. ''You don't really enjoy the freezing cold. I don't know anybody who does. But you just deal with it because everybody has to deal with it.''
Here's the deal:
Sunday's forecast calls for temperatures from 6 to 20 degrees with raw winds of 20 to 30 mph blowing from one end of the field to the other. The wind chill is likely to be in the single digits. Snow, expected to start tapering off before the 4:15 p.m. EST start, might coat the field.
It takes tough souls to brave that skin-numbing air in short sleeves - guys like the Patriots offensive linemen.
''We kind of pride ourselves on that,'' said wisecracking left tackle Matt Light, his bushy red beard sure to keep his cheeks and chin warm. ''I think it's the fact that we have a high level of fat content. That seems to bode well for us.''
Welker also prefers to go sleeveless. ''If I wear sleeves,'' he said with a grin, ''you know it's cold.''
Seriously, Belichick is concerned not only with conditions at kickoff but how they change throughout the game.
''Sometimes, what it was three hours ago and what it is at that moment in time may or may not be the same thing,'' he said. ''That's something you want to try and find out.''
The frigid air also could have a real impact on the kicking game. The ball is harder and doesn't fly as far.
''You use pregame warmup to try to get a scope of how much it's going to affect your ball,'' said placekicker Shayne Graham, who played the past seven seasons for Cincinnati. ''You know how to keep yourself warm on the sidelines. We've all been doing this job long enough to know how to do that.''
Not Aaron Hernandez.
The rookie tight end is just 21 and spent the past three seasons at Florida. He did play at Bristol Central High School in Connecticut, but its season usually ended before the snow and freezing temperatures set in.
''I just love football, so whatever weather it's in'' is fine, Hernandez said. ''I prefer the warm, but if it's not warm, we'll work with it.''
On the chair in front of his locker were two red, yellow and black packages of ''MEGA WARMER,'' promising 12-plus hours of instant heat when worn inside his gloves. He even admitted he might wear long sleeves as protection against the Chicago chill.
''To each their own, man,'' Light scoffed.
But Hernandez is prepared if his teammates tease him.
''If it happens,'' he said, ''I'll just let it go through one ear and out the other.''
Assuming, that is, that he can hear through the head covering beneath his helmet.