Sunday, January 05, 2014

Temperate Zone Blocking

The New Orleans Saints offered further proof last night of a football fact that seems to require endless proof, as it is forgotten before the start of every season.

There is no such thing as a "cold weather" football team, or a "hot weather" football team or a "fill in your weather here" team. There are teams that can move the ball consistently on third and short and those that can't. There are teams that make tackles on first contact and those that can't. All the rest, even the powers of the sea and skies, is just so much blah to fill up pregame shows.

A team, like the Saints, can play its games in a domed stadium, and have a wretched record on the road. Its road playoff game can be in subfreezing or subzero temperatures for that matter, with howling winds to boot. But if it can run the ball, and complete shorter passes, and keep its quarterback off his ass, presto chango, it is as well suited to miserable conditions as any Northeastern or Upper Midwestern franchise in the NFL.

I get a kick every year right around Thanksgiving when the more yahooee segment of Patriots fans and commentators cite the team's outstanding historic December record as somehow related to the elements. What then, I wonder, accounts for the team's historic record of success in September? And it is possible the two facts are somehow related?

By the same token, the idea that snow, wet and cold are why the Patriots are prohibitive favorites in home playoff games is also daft. Three of New England's last four playoff losses (all but Super Bowl LXVI) were at Foxboro. All were played in the cold, and all were more or less ignominious butt-whippins'

Why ignore the obvious. The Pats have a terrific home playoff record for the same two reasons other teams do. 1. Home teams win more games than visiting teams as a matter of course. 2. To get home games, especially games not in the wild-card round, a team has to have already won a lot of games of all kinds in the regular season, meaning it's a damn good team -- period.

I think the popular assumption that weather is as important as field position or special teams in pro football comes from the common human error of relying on the evidence of one's own five senses. Let's face it. In these parts, and in many other parts of this country, January is a felonious assault on those senses. Spend a few hours shoveling snow or negotiating traffic in freezing rain and there's a natural tendency to believe that the weather must be as disruptive for football as it is for your own life.

This belief is magnified immensely among season ticket holders. How could it not be? Sitting outside nearly motionless (the real problem) in cold and/or wet for three or four hours is just the pits anyway you slice it. For the fans, bad weather changes the football experience dramatically, even dangerously. Let me just offer this friendly reminder to the good people of Green Bay this morning. Baby, it's HD inside.

 But for the players it changes only in degree, not in kind. Playing NFL ball is always a painful experience made palatable through adrenaline and exhilaration. Severe cold, or wet, or wind merely adds frosting to the hurt cake. The basic principles of the sport remain untouched. You guys with the ball, push those other guys backwards. You guys without the ball, knock those other guys down. Hurts like hell when it's cold. Hurts like hell when it's nice out, too.

 The hothouse Saints did both of those better than did the Eagles. So they won. Mother Nature didn't have a thing to do with it. When it comes to the NFL, she's as neutral as a bookie.


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