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Sant-Miller: Rain or shine, it’s football time (Nov. 21)

Aaron Sant-Miller | Thursday, November 21, 2013

 

On Sunday, the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens experienced a 113-minute delay as severe weather conditions featuring rain, thunder and tornado warnings descended on Soldier Field. Even after the delay, the conditions continued to influence the game. Passes were battered by the wind and players struggled to stay on their feet, tearing up divots with every step.

This was not the first time the weather affected a football game, and it surely won’t be the last.
In 2007, the Browns hosted the Bills in blizzard-like conditions. With no visible turf and a thick layer of snow, the Browns pulled out a decisive 8-0 victory.

Years earlier, in 2002, the Patriots outdueled the Raiders in the “Tuck Rule Game.” In frigid conditions, with the help of a controversial ruling and clutch cold-weather kicking, the Patriots topped the Raiders and advanced to the Super Bowl. It’s just another example of the intersection of extreme weather and the game of football.

Finally, it’s getting to be that time of year again. The northern part of our nation is starting to get a taste of the fluffy white precipitation that our hearts hold so dear. As we sit on the cusp of Thanksgiving, just shy of the last month of the year, football conditions change.

Frankly, when the weather outside is frightful, football is just delightful.

It’s an entirely different game. Teams knock the dust off of their ground-and-pound game and running backs start to earn their paychecks. The tough guys on the other side of the ball seem to be worth twice as much as the flashy players split out wide earlier in the season. The game gets back to its physical roots. In the months of November and December, half the games are played the way it was 40 years ago.

Every kid, at some point in his or her life, bundled up in late December and charged out into the snow, football in hand (think of the team-bonding scene in “Miracle”). Snow isn’t necessary either, as mud and pouring rain can suffice in warmer environments (think friendship-rebuilding scene in “Invincible”). These images are carved into our memories, and into popular culture, because they are harmonious with the game we love so much.

Football is often referred to with war metaphors and family similes. Players sacrifice their bodies for each other and their team. Why should nature’s vicious elements deter football players or the game itself?

Football is never pretty or neat. Sure, it can be spectacular and gorgeous when a receiver leaps over a defensive back, plucking the ball out of the air, but it will never be clean and tidy. There will be unsettling hits, big amorphous piles, and disconcerting injuries. It’s a messy game, where blood on the uniform is a badge of honor, not a mark for disgust. Why only play every game in pristine conditions, removed from any uniform marring elements or uncomfortable climates?

Some sports need superb field conditions; rain can destroy a baseball diamonds while other sports avoid the elements entirely, retreating indoors.

Not football.

Football is played in the snow, torrential rain, whipping winds, and even hail.

As you can imagine, I’m of the belief that playing this year’s Super Bowl in MetLife Stadium is a good thing. In the arctic conditions of East Rutherford N.J., two of the best teams in professional sports will square off. Sure, it will be controversial when one of the teams is from a southern locale and the talking heads analyze (and over analyze) its ability to adapt to cold weather. Sorry guys, but that’s just football.

In a game where the oddly shaped ball doesn’t bounce straight, weather adds even another intangible element. In football, you don’t only take on 11 other armored individuals. You are often left taking on the weather as well. Every cut becomes perilous. Every catch becomes suspect. Even just carrying the football is problematic.

In the NFL, nothing is guaranteed or clear-cut. The unexpected is expected. Last season’s champion is below .500. The top four teams this year have a combined record of 36-5. Last year, those same four teams had only a total of 33 wins and almost as many losses. Why not make things even more strange and complex?

Thank you extreme weather conditions for doing just that. Thank you winter for brining football back to its essence. Thank you for making a tough-guy game even more tough. Thank you for making football, well, football.