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How to Bear down when temps drop

January 11, 2012|By Mick Swasko | RedEye

Chris Petlak is all too familiar with preparing to Bear down when temperatures are below zero.

After putting on an entire dresser full of whatever looked warm, downing a few beers and snapping up some snow pants, the 26-year-old Roscoe Village resident headed to Soldier Field for what would go down as the second-coldest game ever played on Bears turf.

“Basically dress like you’re going sledding and put a jersey over it,”

Petlak said, recalling the Dec. 22, 2008, Bears-Green Bay matchup, played at 2 degrees above zero with a wind chill of 15 below. Not since 1983, when the temperature was 3 degrees with a minus-15 wind chill, had it been so cold for a Bears home game. About 62,000 people watched Chicago beat the Packers that day, but not before Petlak found his numb hands gripping a frozen beer.

Such is life for die-hard Bears fans who are willing to endure four quarters of painfully cold wind, snow and even frostbite to witness those game-winning field goals or Devin Hester kick returns. Though Sunday’s contest against Seattle is set to take place with a forgiving 43-degree high, those planning on attending can learn a thing or two from super fans who have borne the worst of it. After all, with the fifth-highest ticket prices in the NFL this season, fans can’t let a little thing like Mother Nature’s wrath get in the way of watching the Monsters on the Frozen Midway.

Tim Finnegan, director of life safety for Soldier Field, oversees medical stations and warming areas at the venue. During a cold game, he estimates about six fans on average could be taken away in an ambulance because of exposure, but medical staff usually can help before that’s necessary. Most common, he said, wind burn and frost-nip symptoms bring patrons to one of the field’s three medical stations.

He has approached bare-chested fans during winter games to check on their well-being, but his team can’t force anyone to seek warmer shelters.

In his six years on the job, Finnegan has learned an easy trick to keep himself out of harm’s way when the cold hits: Vaseline.

“Rub it on your face, ears, anything that is going to be exposed,” he said, adding it protects the skin.

The wind, Petlak said, is the enemy of any fan dedicated enough to sit in the 300 level seats for an entire game played at near-zero temperatures. An “Eddie” hat—the kind Randy Quaid wears in “Christmas Vacation”—is ideal for cutting the wind on the face, and heavy scarves, gloves and snow boots make the wind chill more manageable.

For Keith Paulson, 27, of Norwood Park, it’s knowing what you’re getting into that makes blizzardlike conditions bearable. He would know—he also was in the stands for the 2008 Packers game.

“It was a lot of expectations of how cold it was going to be,” he said of the game. “You have to set yourself right.”

Irish coffee works wonders at the pregame tailgate—which he said is by far worse than the actual stadium conditions because there’s no shield from the wind off Lake Michigan—as do multiple layers.

No matter how many layers 28-year-old Jamie Zubcic of Lakeview has on, one item is key: hand warmers.

“I bought about 50 of the hand warmers and stuck them in literally every place you could put them,” she said, recalling the same frigid matchup in 2008. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anybody say ‘keep your beer warm.’ ”

Finnegan wouldn’t recommend the boozing.

Alcohol dilates blood vessels, opening the pores in your skin and making you more susceptible to the cold, he said.

“It’s like taking your glove off. You’re decreasing that shield you had with that glove on,” he said. Additionally, overindulging will dehydrate the body, which is already working overtime to boost metabolism to keep the body’s core temperature normal.

Whether it’s 5 below or 90 degrees, Paulson said it’s the game that’s memorable, not the weather.

“The energy and electricity in Soldier Field, everyone is there for the same reason,” Paulson said. “You always have that bond, you can feel it. It takes away that bite no matter what game you go to.”  |  @mickswasko

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