Chilling out in black and gold

Steelers, Jets could face coldest playoff game ever in Pittsburgh


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The AFC championship game on Sunday might be a great matchup between two of the NFL's best teams, but there isn't a lot of bad blood between the Steelers and the New York Jets. You wouldn't call it a heated rivalry.

Especially this weekend.

The National Weather Service is predicting single-digit temperatures Sunday evening, making it possible that the players -- and the freezing fans huddled in Heinz Field -- might be experiencing the coldest Steelers home playoff game on record.

It's expected to be colder in Pittsburgh than it will be in Chicago for the Bears' afternoon game against the Green Bay Packers.

"It's shaping up as one of the coldest games here that I can remember," meteorologist Brad Rehak of the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said Friday. "Going back to the 1970s with the Raiders-Steelers games."

The coldest playoff game in Pittsburgh was the AFC championship game of Jan. 23, 2005, when the temperature dropped to 9 degrees and the New England Patriots soared to the Super Bowl. But the famous "Pittsburgh Ice Bowl" against the Oakland Raiders, on Jan. 4, 1976, was played in worse conditions, even though the temperature was a crisp 18.

The story goes that the tarp over the Three Rivers Stadium turf the night before the game leaked and the rain that fell overnight became trapped and turned to ice. Players slid all over the field, and the score was 3-0 Steelers in the third quarter before a flurry of scoring late in the game gave the Steelers a 16-10 win.

"Every time I'd take off, I'd slip," Raiders receiver Cliff Branch said at the time. "The coverage wasn't a problem. It was the field."

"The ball felt like a rock," said Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano.

"The elements were the big factor," Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw said. "It was slippery, and we were frozen. I was losing the feeling in my fingers."

Keith Brewster, 50, a meteorologist and researcher at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., lists the "Pittsburgh Ice Bowl" among the games cited at his NFL Weather Hall of Fame website. Other standouts include the original "Ice Bowl" between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, the "Snowplow Game" in which the Patriots used a plow to clear a spot for a game-winning field goal, and "Leon Lett's Skating Rink" game in Dallas.

Other games mentioned exposed the gridiron to elements such as fog, rain and even a tornado watch.

"I was born and raised in Wisconsin, so I grew up a Packers fan," said Mr. Brewster, who started noting weather conditions at games when he was young. Eventually, he said, he made up his list and shared it with friends. He set up the website about 10 years ago.

"It's my ranking, but I don't consider it authoritative," he said.

The site features brief summaries of the games. His commentaries include the occasional jab at games played in domed stadiums.

Some of the games he didn't see, but he has heard the stories about them.

"Historically, football is an all-weather game, and both teams have to deal with that," he said. "It adds to the color of the game. Does it subtract from the athleticism? I'm not sure. If a team is going to go all the way, I think they should play well even when the weather isn't perfect."

The NFL schedules most of its Super Bowls in warm-weather cities, so the event becomes more of an outdoor celebration. But teams play all season long for the right to host playoff games on their home fields.

The Steelers have a reputation of thriving in cold weather. The team has played 27 playoff games in Pittsburgh since the NFL merger in the late 1960s, boasting a 19-8 record in those games. The average game-time temperature is 32.5 degrees.

But in conference championship games in Pittsburgh, the team's record is just 5-5. Three of the losses came when the temperature was above 36 degrees. So maybe weather will work to the home team's advantage.

The cold might be more of a problem for the fans in the stands than for the players, who will have access to heaters on the sidelines.

"And with the modern clothing, I think they'll be all right," Mr. Brewster said. "And you always have a couple of guys who are old-school, who show that they're tough by coming out in short sleeves."

Perhaps with all this chattering about the cold, the Steelers would do well to remember the words of Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert after the local Ice Bowl in 1976.

"I've never minded playing in the cold," he said. "Actually, I think it's all in your mind. You condition yourself to block out the weather factor and just concentrate on what you're doing out there."


Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. The Associated Press contributed.


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