MINNEAPOLIS — Leslie Frazier once played for Chicago, where winter weather was simply part of the late-season routine.
He recently recalled, perhaps with slight exaggeration brought by the passage of time, a game against Green Bay during his career in the early 1980s that went on with the biting backdrop of an unfathomable low wind chill.
“That was like, I think, minus-61 if I remember,” said Frazier, now Minnesota’s interim coach, smiling and shaking his head.
Frazier won’t be able to keep his body moving to keep warm tonight, when the Bears visit the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. He’ll be running the show from the home team sideline, bundled up as best he can.
“If you guys can recognize me, you’re doing pretty good,” Frazier said. “I won’t be Bud Grant out there.”
The Vikings take occasional late-December trips to play the Packers or the Bears, but the team from arguably the coldest city in the NFL is not accustomed to frosty conditions. They’ve played home games inside since 1982, when the Metrodome opened. The roof caved in last weekend, though, forcing an emergency relocation to this open-air location a few kilometres away.
Frazier was asked this week how much of a home-field advantage cold-weather teams have when the temperature sinks and the snow starts to fall.
“Look at these banners,” Frazier said, motioning to all the purple division and conference championship flags that hang in the Vikings’ practice facility, recognizing their dominance under Grant, their gruff-and-tough coach, throughout the 1970s.
Frazier’s Bears beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-0 in the NFC championship game after the 1985 season.
“I can remember Jackie Slater coming up to me before the game and saying, ’Man, you guys need to get a dome over this place,”’ Frazier said. “Immediately I knew, in pre-game, he ain’t thinking about winning no football game. He’s thinking about the cold.”
So who has the advantage this time?
The Vikings will have their fans in place, but the Bears are certainly more accustomed to the conditions. Last week at whited-out Soldier Field, they were blown out by the surging New England Patriots.
Though several of his players voiced concerns this week about the safety of the field, given the lack of heating coils underneath the turf, Bears coach Lovie Smith downplayed the significance and the effect of a potentially hard surface or frigid air.
“You’re going to have two teams that are going to play under the same environment and conditions,” Smith said. “So again I just don’t see that being an issue in the end. We’re not from Florida, so it’s not going to be a factor for us.”
Well, Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin is a Sunshine State native, as are others.
“Bad weather, but it’s still football,” Harvin said. “You’ve got to play it the same way, and we’ve got to approach it the same way. Unfortunately, it will be a little colder. It will be like the old days. A lot of running the ball and things like that.”
Just the way Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, two of the famed Purple People Eaters defensive linemen who led the Vikings when Grant was the coach, remember it.
Marshall shared memories this week of hard and painful spills on the cold, hard ground at Metropolitan Stadium. “But that was part of the game,” he said. “It was part of what we had to go through to be winners.”
The Vikings are honouring their 50 greatest players this weekend as part of their 50th anniversary celebration as a franchise, so the return to their roots as an outdoor team, though unexpected, is fitting.
“My fingertips kind of tingle in this kind of weather,” Eller said. “That’s a memento from the old days at the Met.”
The forecast is calling for a temperature below freezing with the possibility of a few centimetres of snow. Fans, many of whom embraced the return of outdoor baseball this season when the Twins moved to Target Field and packed the place every game, are fired up about the novelty of the event.
Many longtime season-ticket holders were upset, though, by the general admission seating plan for the game. The Vikings insisted it was the best they could do in a few days with the challenge of moving from a 64,000-seat venue to one that typically holds 50,000.
One fan, Sandy Barin, said he’s decided to stay home and watch on TV.
“There’s no guarantee that if my wife and I get up to go to the bathroom or get a hot dog that we’re going to get our seats back,” Barin said. “I will continue to support the Vikings, but the front office really let the fans down.”
Vikings chief marketing officer Steve LaCroix said the team is hoping “common sense” and “Minnesota nice” prevail when the gates open and fans start flocking to the prime seats.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and just a really fun night,” LaCroix said. “We feel very confident that everyone will be able to get in the building on game night, so come down if you have a ticket.”
The Bears, who have a first-round bye in the playoffs in their sights, are hoping to keep the fans quiet.
“It’s not like the Minnesota Vikings are going to be wearing ice skates, and we have on cleats,” Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. “We’re both going to have to try to find a way to play through it.”