How winter storm weather could affect Bears-Bills game


To wear sleeves, or not to wear sleeves? That is the question for many Bears players as they prepare to play in bitter cold conditions when the Bills travel to Soldier Field on Christmas Eve. Players try lots of things to protect themselves from the elements, like using petroleum jelly on exposed skin to prevent frostbite or huddling near heaters on the sidelines. For the record, most players said they plan on skipping out on the sleeves, too.

“The biggest thing is trying to keep my hands warm,” N’Keal Harry said. “The worst part is TV timeouts when we’re just out there on the field and you’re sitting there waiting for the commercial break to be over.”

The Bears are no strangers to playing in wild and wacky weather. In fact, they started the year in one of the craziest climates of the season when a deluge hit Soldier Field in the fourth quarter of the 49ers game.

“It was a wrap from there,” Matt Eberflus said when remembering the monsoon-like conditions in Week 1. “Really couldn’t move the ball anywhere, either side of the ball.”

Preparing to play in wet conditions is one thing, and all teams have different ways to simulate the experience. The Bears take water bottles and douse the balls in practice.

“(Bears long snapper Patrick) Scales hates it,” said Richard Hightower. “His hands are all wet. And right before he snaps the ball, he dries ‘em, we wet ‘em again. Because that’s what going to happen in the game.”

But playing in the bitter cold is something different. The ball can feel like a rock, which affects every phase of the game. Players’ bodies don’t react and respond as they typically do, and teams need to be extra adaptive as the day goes on.

“You’re adjusting everything: your kick lines, when you’re going to punt, when you’re going to go for it,” said Eberflus. “Just the game management side of it, No. 1, that’s a big part of it. Then the plays you can run. Can you run certain plays in certain directions of the field offensively? Then knowing what they can and cannot do when you’re on defense.”

It’s tougher to simulate the experience, too. The Bears practiced outside on Wednesday to get their bodies used to the cold, but the mid-20s temperatures at Lake Forest during the week of practice will feel practically balmy compared to the -10 wind chill forecast at gametime this Saturday. Eberflus has experienced the unique experience first hand, and knows how it can affect play on the field.

“I was on the losing end at Soldier Field in 2013,” Eberflus said earlier this week. “I do remember it. Couldn’t feel my feet.”

Eberflus is referencing 2013’s Monday Night Football showdown with the Cowboys, when Josh McCown accounted for five touchdowns and led the Bears to a 45-28 victory. According to contemporary reporting, the windchill was -9 that night.

“It was bitter cold,” Eberflus said. “You had to really make sure all your skin was covered because you would potentially get frostbite and all that, so you had to make sure you used Vaseline on your face to make sure everything’s covered up right. It was cold and the helmets sound weird when they hit. It was cold.”

The one key that came up consistently for players and coaches trying to stay warm this Saturday was trusting equipment manager Tony Medlin.

“He's been here for 45 years,” Eberflus said. “He knows this Bear weather pretty good, so he’s going to hook me up. I’ll be taken care of, for sure.”

The Bears have other little tricks for preparing for the cold, but Hightower wouldn’t reveal their secret tactics in the kicking game on Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy did share one plan to combat the cold, though.

“How you stay warm is stepping on the field and playing violently, and playing together and celebrating together,” Getsy said. “That’s how you stay warm. We’re gonna focus on that and executing our stuff. You deal with it, and if it’s on your mind and it’s distracting you, then you’re not gonna be able to execute at the highest level. Fortunately, we’ve got a couple days that we get to go practice at it, get our minds, get our heads straight.”

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