Wisconsin native Jerry Wunsch has some experience with the cold and doesn't believe the Bucs will be adversely affected
Can a hot Buccaneer team thaw out frigid Lambeau Field? The Bucs are almost guaranteed another shot at their cold-weather 'jinx'
It almost sounds like the punch line to a joke: The Green Bay Packers are soliciting volunteers this week to shovel Lambeau Field – a.k.a. The Frozen Tundra – out from under Monday's six-inch snowfall.
It's BYOS – bring your own shovel.
Two-hundred locals teaming up to unearth the stadium for Sunday's game might be a heartwarming chunk of Americana, but it also might be irrelevant, as another three to five inches is due to fall on Green Bay on Wednesday afternoon and evening.
If you like that little bit of meteorology, then check out our extended forecast for the weekend: Cold.
All of which is to say that hottest of hot Buccaneer topics – the cold – is going to descend on One Buccaneer Place like a blanket of snow this week. Everyone together now…'Tampa Bay is 0-18 in franchise history in games played at a kickoff temperature of less than 40 degrees.'
It's a history that Tony Dungy, the winningest head coach in Buccaneer history, feels is immaterial to his current team, but that doesn't stop it from being the first question he hears at each interview session. The Bucs had an opportunity to put an end to that ignominious streak a month ago when it visited Chicago on November 19, but fumbled the chance away.
It was 37 degrees at kickoff in Soldier Field and the Bucs, winners of three straight, were favored to beat the Bears. Normally sure-handed running back Warrick Dunn lost a key fumble, however, and Tampa Bay suffered its only loss in the last two months, a 13-10 shocker that left the cold-weather loss streak intact.
The thing is – and this is what Dungy constantly stresses – the Buccaneer players didn't feel at a disadvantage in that game due to the elements. They really didn't even feel very cold.
"Actually, when you get to playing, you're not cold," said WR Jacquez Green. The only time you're cold is when you first come out to warm up. Cold weather really doesn't have anything to do with the way we've lost. When we lost to Chicago, it was the turnovers. The cold weather didn't have anything to do with it."
Of course, the type of chill that Green Bay is sure to offer in late December will be a little tougher to ignore, but that doesn't mean the Bucs will be inherently worse off than the Packers.
"The colder it gets, the tougher it gets, no doubt about it", admitted Dungy. "But it gets tougher for both teams, and as good as Brett Favre is in that weather, it gets tougher for him to throw in exceptional cold. Both teams are going to be affected in the same way. You have to go up there and play and have it in your mind that you're going up to win, not to stay warm, because you're not going to stay warm."
Dungy is referring to Favre's nearly mystical record when Mother Nature starts to pitch a fit in Wisconsin. In 24 career home games in which the game-time temperature is 34 degrees or below, Favre is a perfect 24-0 as the Packers' starter. Of course, that stands to reason for a hurler who grew up and played his college ball in…Mississippi?
Favre's immediate acclimation to the conditions in Green Bay actually lends credence to the Bucs' belief that the weather has its largest effect not on your ears but between them.
"It's not really a physical thing," said Dungy. "It's a mental thing when you play in the cold. We just have to go up there and perform."
Tackle Jerry Wunsch, unlike Favre, grew up in Wisconsin and played college ball at the state university, so he's no stranger to the cold. Wunsch concurs with Dungy's assessment.
"How do you deal with it?" asked Wunsch, rhetorically. "Just keep your mind on the task at hand. Don't think about exactly how cold it is and just keep plugging away. Once you're into the game and you're focused on what you need to do, just stay there and don't let your mind wander and start thinking about the cold."
That should help the Buccaneers deal with the few areas in which the cold may actually affect the play on the field. Green, whose coldest experiences before reaching the NFL where Georgia high school games in the 20s, explained how the receivers cope.
"The ball is a lot slicker, so you have to concentrate a lot more," he said. "Our hands are warm, because we have insulation in our gloves and we have heating pockets in the jerseys. Other than the ball being really hard and tight from the cold weather…that's the only thing that's difficult about it."
If there is snow or some other sort of precipitation, that could affect each team's ability to put the ball in the air.
"You can still throw the ball in cold weather, it's just hard to throw the ball in pouring-down rain, like it was in Miami," said Green. "So we'll pretty much have a balanced attack, and whatever is working, we'll stick to it more. If we come out and the running game's working, we'll probably stick with the run. But we're still going to throw the football."
Dungy believes his team's triumph in that waterlogged Dolphins game, followed by a dry but somewhat chilly shootout with St. Louis on Monday night, are examples of his team's adaptability.
"In Miami, it was tough to throw and you couldn't throw the ball deep, and we had to win a defensive game," he said. "However you have to win it, you've got to win. The elements are a factor when it's hot, when it rains, when it's cold…that always plays into the situation. Whatever we have to do to win, we have to be prepared to play that type of game."
Wunsch, the de facto cold-weather expert on the squad, suffered through unbearable conditions with the Wisconsin Badgers in 1993, at a game in Champaign, Illinois that featured frigid wind-chill numbers. The Badgers, however, knew they needed the win to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, and their focus on that fact made the elements a secondary factor.
Thus, Wunsch has developed a very simple approach to playing under harsh conditions: "The way we have to handle it is to go out there for three-and-a-half hours and lose ourselves in the football game," he said.
In fact, this approach, in Wunsch's estimation, actually flips the cause and effect between weather and victory.
"If you're having fun, it's no big deal," he said. "If you're getting your butt kicked, it can seem real cold."