Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The coldest game in the history of the National Football League took place back in 1967 when the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys kicked off for the NFC Championship Game with temperatures around -13 degrees Fahrenheit and a -48 degree wind chill. That contest has forever been cemented in football legacy as "The Ice Bowl".
The coldest game played in Buffalo Bills history - also one of the coldest games in NFL history - took place on Jan. 15, 1994 during the 1993 playoffs against the Los Angeles Raiders in Orchard Park. The temperature at kickoff at, then, Rich Stadium was 0 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -18 degrees. Buffalo went on to win the AFC Divisional Round matchup, 29-23, en route to a fourth-straight appearance in the Super Bowl.
Twenty years later to the day, the Bills are gearing up for another bitterly cold playoff matchup in Orchard Park against their AFC East rival, the New England Patriots.
While Saturday night's contest is not expected to be as cold as that memorable game in 1994, it is still likely to be one of the chilliest games on record.
"Saturday could be one of the coldest days we've had in a long time," said WKBW-TV meteorologist Andy Parker. "Temperatures are going to struggle just to make it to double-digits during the course of the afternoon. There will be a little bit of sunshine and a northerly breeze at about 5-10 miles per hour. But the game doesn't happen in the afternoon, that comes during the evening. Once we set the sun, that's when the temperatures begin to fall back down, dropping to around five degrees, maybe as low as three [degrees] during the course of the game."
Once the game kicks off Saturday night, the winds are expected to shift a bit, coming from the northeast at around five miles per hour. Parker says fans that are sitting at the tunnel-end of Highmark Stadium will be best-protected from the wind.
Despite there being just a slight breeze, wind chills during the game are expected to dip below zero degrees, settling in somewhere between -5 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the chances for precipitation as the night goes on in Orchard Park are expected to be minimal.
"We've had the windy game against New England, we've had a snowy game in the stadium [against the Atlanta Falcons]. This time around, the snow does not look like a factor at all, and neither does the wind, from a strength standpoint. It'll just be that combination of cold with a light breeze, and that will be the thing that dictates how the game goes, according to throwing the ball, catching the ball kicking the ball," Parker said.
So how could the extreme cold temperatures affect game play once the ball is officially kicked off at 8:15 p.m. EST on Saturday?
"Everything will get crunchy. Not just for the players, but the fans, as well," Parker explained. "Just imagine taking a football, putting it in your freezer, and then pulling it out and trying to hold on to it. It's going to have a completely different feel. The players have talked about it. Receivers, especially, knowing that instead of catching a ball, it's more like catching a rock."
While conditions on the field are expected to be treacherous, it is important for fans to know how well to bundle up for Saturday's weather, whether it's for pregame tailgating or watching the game later in the evening.
"Don't wear sneakers and a pair of tube socks," Parker advises. "You've got to have a thin pair of socks. Over top of that, pull the wool [socks] up as high up on the calves as you can go, and then you're wearing boots - something with a thick sole that'll keep you further away from the frozen ground. Then we talk about pants: Jeans aren't going to cut it. If you have a pair of sweatpants, throw them on, put the jeans over that and then it's the snow pants or a snowmobile suit. Up top, if you have something that hugs your body like Under Armor, follow that with a knit top, like a nice wool sweater that will trap your body heat, and then a nice outer shell that will knock down the wind.
"Of course all your extremities - hands, ears and head - those are going to be the ones where you feel it first, but if your core is warm, you'll get through the game, no problems."
With the potential for life-threatening cold conditions on Saturday, medical experts are also advising those to come to the game in Orchard Park well-prepared to brave the elements.
"I think it's going to be really important that people dress for the weather, make sure they're layering their clothing," said Dr. Sam Cloud from Erie County Medical Center. "If they start to feel too cold, step out of the elements if possible. And I think it's going to be really important that people limit their alcohol intake."
When it comes to bundling up for the cold, Dr. Cloud recognizes that everyone dresses differently to feel comfortable and warm. It wouldn't even be a bad idea to come a bit overdressed to allow the chance to take things off if you're too warm.
According to the Bills' website, people will be allowed to bring in certain bags so they can store any extra clothing they may need to shed during the game:
- Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12" x 6" x 12",
- One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar)
- Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand (4 ½" x 6 ½"), with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the stadium along with one of the clear bag options.
The team also says any additional clothing and blankets are also allowed upon entry, but must be carried loosely.
Knowing the passion of some Bills fans in Western New York, it is not uncommon for some people to take the term "braving the elements" to the next level. However, with temperature conditions expected to be this extreme on Saturday, Dr. Cloud does not condone fans from trying to prove a point by taking off any clothes and take on the elements without protection.
"The weather we're expecting is going to be very dangerously cold for that type of behavior. So I would advise people to leave their clothes on," Dr. Cloud said.
On top of being properly dressed for Saturday's weather, Dr. Cloud is highly advising people to party responsibly, and be aware of how much you and others you're with are drinking.
"Alcohol causes our blood vessels to dilate. That makes people feel warm and flushed even when they're in a very cold environment," Dr. Cloud said. "Alcohol also impairs people's judgements, so that when they're in a cold environment and they feel good, they may not listen to their body as well as they would if they were sober.
"I have seen some very tragic cases of people who were out in the elements drinking and had very bad outcomes, because they didn't listen to their body's cues because they weren't able to due to their alcohol-induced impairment."
It is typical, depending on a person's body size, for people to start feeling the warming sensation that alcohol can cause after two or three drinks. However, when people go beyond three drinks, it could start to impair their decisions, which Dr. Cloud says could be "catastrophic" in these type of cold conditions.
"As an E.R. doctor at ECMC, I see cold weather injuries throughout the winter, but usually the really severe ones have to do with people who have been drinking alcohol and not listening to their bodies," he stated. "This is a really happy time in Buffalo to have the Bills have back-to-back AFC East championships, so I think we don't want to spoil this weekend with any human tragedy related to the weather and alcohol."
You can listen to more of our conversation with Dr. Cloud in the player below:
Even if people do not elect to drink on Saturday, Dr. Cloud also points out hypothermia could be a significant threat to anyone who does not come to the game properly prepared.