As the weather tilts toward winter, the conversation soon will turn to the notion of "Bear Weather" and the supposed advantage it offers. As the story goes, if a team accustomed to warm weather or playing in a dome travels to Chicago in November or December, they will be so flustered by the cold that they will walk off the field before the game even starts.
That's the idea, anyway. The latest case study will be Sunday, when the temperature is expected to top out in the 40s when the Bears host Minnesota.
But is that a myth? After all, the Bears roster is full of guys from Florida, California and Texas, just as Tampa Bay has guys from Utah, Michigan and Washington. According to the Bears, though, where you are now outweighs where you came from.
"We practice outside all the time," safety Craig Steltz said. He grew up in Louisiana and played at LSU before the Bears drafted him in 2008, but he's used to the cold because "we're always around it. ... It's not just that we fly up there, [are] in it for a couple hours and play in the game."
Guard Roberto Garza, who grew up in Texas, agrees, though he did have a cold-weather baptism his first season in Chicago. It came against Atlanta, which plays its home games in a dome.
"My first year here, 2005 … we played [the Falcons] at like 7:30 [p.m.], and it was minus-15 degrees," he said. "I had already been here, and we'd had some cold games, but nothing like that."
The Bears won that game, which actually featured a wind chill of minus-3, by a score of 16-3. Both teams struggled offensively, but by the second half, the Falcons' cold-weather fatigue showed.
"You could see in the second half, they didn't deal with the weather as well as we did," Garza said. "We were able to win that game and get more physical than they were."
Receiver Eric Weems also knows about the physical toll of cold weather.
"Being cold, it has that extra sting to it when you get tackled," he said. "It adds another 'umph' to it. So yeah, you have to get ready."
Weems grew up in Florida and played his first five years in Atlanta. He is in his first year in Chicago.
"I gotta start sledding and moving snow and all that other good stuff," he said, joking.
To help his transition, Weems talked to Devin Hester, a fellow native Floridian.
"He's just telling me, you know, I haven't seen anything yet," Weems said. "He said, 'Get prepared for it best way you can. Bundle up, lots of long johns, pants and all that other good stuff.' "
Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who was born in Nigeria and played football in Alabama (high school), Kentucky (college) and Texas (NFL) before joining the Bears last year, had two words for cold-weather newbies. "Tune out." He added that "just practicing in the cold sucks."
However, Okoye knows cold weather is just another challenge of football.
"In south Texas, it's hot and humid," Garza said. "You deal with it. Here it's cold. You deal with it. … We don't wear sleeves. You just do it, you know what I mean? You don't let it become an issue."
Like most Bears, Louisiana native Matt Forte has a cold-weather story. His was a game at Soldier Field against Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2008. The temperature was 2 degrees, the coldest Bears home game on record, with a wind chill of minus-13. "The field was frozen," Forte said. He thinks there might be a slight advantage for cold-weather teams hosting warm-weather opponents. However, "it really comes down to football, not the weather."
So the weather probably won't ever turn a game completely, but if there is an advantage, it goes to the team that lives in it year-round.
"If it affects one guy on their team, that's Bear Weather, right?" Garza said. "Simple as that. There are guys who deal with it and guys who don't deal with it. Is it going to affect the whole team? Probably not. But if it gets one guy, that's a plus for us."
Special contributor Jack M Silverstein covers the Bears for RedEye. Say hey at @readjack.
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