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Packers-49ers wild-card matchup could be coldest game in NFL history

The famous Ice Bowl of 1967 could be relegated to the third coldest game in NFL history this weekend. The famous Ice Bowl of 1967 could be relegated to the third coldest game in NFL history Sunday. (Neil Leifer/SI)

On Jan. 10, 1982, the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals faced off in the AFC Championship game for the 1981 season in conditions that were fit for neither man nor beast. The temperature at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium registered at -9 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind chill dropped to -59 degrees using the calculations of the time, or -37 using modern calculations. It's recognized as the coldest game in NFL history, outdoing the 1967 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. The Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field featured a low temperature of -13 degrees, and the wind chill dropped to around -48 degrees.

When the San Francisco 49ers set foot on the frozen tundra of Lambeau this Sunday, the weather could set a new record for an NFL game. According to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, an AccuWeather forecast for the wild-card contest calls for a high temperature of -5 degrees, and a wind chill that could drop to as low as -51 degrees.

Even for the Packers and their backers, that's pretty intense. Seats for the game were not sold out until Friday morning -- a supreme rarity for that particular setting -- and Mike McCarthy's players already have the weather in mind.

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"It's always a factor," said defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. "You never get warm. You never get used to it. So it's going to be cold. Thankfully, we live up here. We deal with it a lot."

Some players go sleeveless and refuse to change their playing attire no matter the conditions -- Vince Lombardi famously didn't let his players wear gloves in the Ice Bowl -- but the Packers of today are open to changes.

"I don't really subscribe to 'the less clothes I have on, the tougher I am,'" tight end Ryan Taylor said. "The guys who think they're the toughest guys in the world go out wearing no sleeves. It doesn't make any sense. Being cold doesn't make you tough. It makes you stupid."

Running backs coach Alex Van Pelt concurred. "If you have to wear sleeves, wear sleeves. Nobody's going to call you soft."

Receivers coach Edgar Bennett played halfback and fullback for the Pack from 1992 through 1996, so he's been through it -- and he knows the different types of challenges players face in these conditions.

"You have to rely on your fundamentals and trust your training more than anything. "So when you talk about hand placement, focus, looking the ball in to the tuck, plucking the ball out of the air. The little things. You have to go back, focus on your fundamentals and make sure you're extremely detailed."

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The 49ers aren't intimidated. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick pointed this week to cold-weather games he played at Nevada, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio mentioned one game from his past -- the 1996 NFC Championship game, a game in which he was Carolina's defensive coordinator and the Panthers lost to the Packers 30-13 in a similar situation. The aforementioned Mr. Bennett ran for 99 yards on 25 carries and scored a touchdown.

“I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I know going into the game it was supposed to be colder than the famous Ice Bowl," Fangio recalled. "I don’t know if it got to that point or not, but it was real cold ... to me it all depends upon what the footing’s like. It could be just a normal game that’s played at a little slower pace. Or it could be where there’s a lot of slipping and sliding going on then you have to adjust a little bit. You need to wait to see Sunday exactly how the field affects the game.”

One thing's for sure -- it will be cold in ways that are unusual even for the league's most inhospitable January home.

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