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NFC Championship: Cold brings frozen balls, no sleeves

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Baby, it's cold outside.

So cold, one team has practiced with footballs straight out of the freezer. But not so frigid that many players say they will go sleeveless.

As for the plummeting temperatures being an advantage for the Green Bay Packers in today's NFC championship game against the New York Giants, the hosts aren't quite so sure.

"It's not like they're coming from Florida," guard Daryn Colledge noted.

Of course, Colledge is from Alaska, so zero degrees might be balmy to him. Forecasts are calling for thermometer readings around 3 degrees for the 6:30 kickoff; yep, a night game in January on the Green Bay tundra. If the wind kicks up, temperatures certainly will dive below zero and head toward the NFL records.

The coldest game in NFL history was not the 1967 NFL title game at Lambeau Field when the Packers beat Dallas 21-17 in the Ice Bowl. It was minus-13 that day, and the wind chill factor was estimated at minus-48.

But in the 1981 AFC championship game, while the temperature was minus-9, the wind chill plunged to minus-59 at Cincinnati as the Bengals beat San Diego 27-7.

"You know in football we all like to think of ourselves as tough guys," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "So no matter what the weather is, I think most guys will probably go out there no sleeves and play it just like it was 80 degrees."

Even if it's 80 degrees colder.

Brett Favre, who had little trouble in last week's divisional-round win over Seattle played amid snowflakes the size of golf balls, is 43-5 when the temperature in Green Bay is 34 or lower. He will make his 275th consecutive start today in conditions suited for, well, staying inside. The NFL's career leader in most passing categories would take 34 - or even 24 - degrees for the final step to the Super Bowl.

And, no, Favre is not a big fan of icicles hanging from face masks.

"First of all, I don't know if I have ever gotten used to it," said the Mississippi native who last took the Pack to the Super Bowl 10 years ago. "It is for three hours during the week. We practice indoors - not a whole lot different than anyone else. Yeah, you live in it. I'm not out making snowmen."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy recalled how poorly his team played on Dec. 23 in a 35-7 loss at Chicago, a game that even Favre admitted he was cold throughout. So McCarthy used some frozen balls at practice this week to help simulate likely conditions today.

"Is that what was going on?" veteran wide receiver Donald Driver said with a laugh. "Basically, they never told us that the balls were coming out of the freezer, we just kind just felt it as we caught it: 'Wow, the balls are cold.' We thought most likely the balls had been outside all day, but they were in the freezer.

"Mostly, I think it's for concentration because when it's warm weather you basically don't have to concentrate too much on the ball. If you've got good hands, you're going to catch. But I don't care how good your hands is, in cold weather you have to focus on the ball and make sure you catch it before you run with it.

"You know you can't control the conditions, you can't control the weather, so you've just got to go out there and play regardless of the situation. So I think we've just been successful in it because we live here and we play and we wake up in the morning every day in it. But you still have to go out there and play."

The Giants (12-6) will show up and play, and likely play well considering they've won nine straight road games, including two in the playoffs. Both of those, of course, were in Tampa and Dallas, where anything below freezing is cause for panic.

Star defensive end Michael Strahan promises there won't be panic even if it is the coldest day any of the Giants have encountered.

"This is going to be a game of will, a game of whoever wants it the most," Strahan said. "That is what the playoffs are all about, so this is going to be a very interesting battle. Us, a team that has a strong will and plays well on the road, and that team that has a strong will and plays well at home."

So don't go sleeveless? When told fellow end Justin Tuck was planning the same fashion statement as many of the Packers, the veteran Strahan shivered.

"I told him I'm wearing layers," Strahan said. "These guys can wear short sleeves. I'm not trying to impress anybody. For what? Oh, I'm strong!"