CLEVELAND – Just a day out from kickoff, the chances for a forecast mistake by the lake tend to get slimmer and slimmer.
It’s December 7th in Northeast Ohio and the forecast is, well, rather balmy.
That’s what sun and 38 degrees translates to at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland-a major break from a stadium in which grey and cold are as much a staple as their famed “Dawg Pound” cheering section.
It’s not something Chuck Pagano is used to. From his time as a defensive backs coach with the Browns between 2001 and 2004 the weather was quite a bit different from what he’ll face when the takes his team Cleveland for their first December game in 2014.
Even so, the coach said he’ll be ready for the cold and the treats that come with it.
“Cold, frozen field, playing on the frozen tundra as they say. They had great chicken broth in that locker room, hot chocolate, chili, hot chili, Fritos in it. I don’t know what they call that, is it a ‘ball park stack’ or something?,” said Pagano jokingly earlier this week. “No, it’s football at its finest. I love playing in the confines of home, believe me, better than anything.
“Nothing better than playing at Lucas Oil Stadium but it’s also great getting outside, playing in the elements. I love playing when the breeze is blowing off that lake.”
But what’s most important for the Colts is to prevent the winds of change from knocking them off course as the final month of the season begins. For a third-straight year the Colts enter December 8-4 and each season they’ve come out with identical 3-1 records.
It aided a pair of runs to the playoffs-once for a Wild Card spot and the other the AFC South title. While the latter may already be nearly sealed up (The Colts have a two-game lead over the Texans with four to play), a December sweep would increase the team’s chances of having a favorable January game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It is fun to play on the road in a hostile environment outside, especially in December. We had the chance a couple years ago to go to Kansas City late in the year and the field is frozen. It’s fun,” said quarterback Andrew Luck. “I think it makes you focus in a little more. I don’t know if it draws you back to the roots of football, whatever that is, there’s something special about it.”
Sunday is about the only time the Colts expect to face any truly adverse weather temperature-wise for the rest of the regular season. The final home game is next week against the Texans and then the Colts play another indoor game in Arlington.
While susceptible to some chilly conditions, the Colts final game in Nashville against the Titans wouldn’t be considered a true cold weather challenge.
For Pagano and his team the key is to take care of some of their issues against four teams in which the Colts may enter as favorites. Cutting down on turnovers and lulls in play would go a long way to getting the Colts playoff-ready this December.
“We can’t turn the ball over. We can’t have missed assignments. We can’t have mental errors. We know that for those things to happen, that comes within this locker room,” said receiver Reggie Wayne. “You want to go out there and all 32 teams want to have great starts. It’s just being able to fight that adversity, just drawing down a little bit to the things that we practice.”
Could Sunday be practice for a potential cold weather game in the Divisional Playoff or AFC Championship? Wayne says don’t get ahead of yourself.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a football game. It’s just that it’s in cold weather. That’s why we practice outside. It is what it is,” said Wayne. “A lot of people feel like that’s the ideal football climate depending on who you ask. I’m definitely not the one to agree to that. But that’s the way it is.
“You’re going to have those type of games. It’ll be a nice warmup to our journey.”
Thought they hope that mother nature will provide a little more heat than their used to on the shores of Lake Erie.