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Soldier Field freeze - the Bears’ history of arctic games

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Sunday’s game is poised to break records for cold in Chicago. Another addition to a wintry Bears history.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There’s something admirable to be said about the NFL players that go sleeveless in cold-weather cities this time of year. Most often, it’s the linemen on either side of the ball that choose to “tough it out” as part of a message that cold affecting the body is all but mental.

The rational part of the brain would appeal to understanding these men’s lunacy in exposing bare skin to dangerous temperatures. The NFL fraternity knows nothing of a healthy rationale when it comes to unity, though.

Just ask the always transparent, Chicago Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee on his thoughts about bracing weather, especially in a place such as Chicago. There’s a supposed tradition among the Bears defense of not wearing sleeves in cold-weather games that McPhee wants to uphold.

“I’m at war. I’m at combat. I ain’t got time to think about sleeves,” said McPhee when asked about his Sunday plans.

Former Packers guard now turned Bear, Josh Sitton, will play in his first game against Green Bay on Sunday. He also had some thoughts for his teammates without cold experience.

“Tell them to grow up,” said Sitton of guys searching for courage.

In case you haven’t already heard, Sunday’s Bears game against the Green Bay Packers is projected to be the coldest football game ever played within Chicago’s confines and would be among the ten coldest in league history.

The forecast calls for a high of one degrees with 15 mph winds - a bone-chilling wind chill to go with trademark Chicago weather. This is all the more appropriate with the NFL’s most traditional rivalry being renewed in conjunction. Both squads practiced outside on Thursday to acclimate themselves for what’s to come.

And yet, for a regular season game, this contest should have nothing at stake considering Chicago’s 3-10 record. Unless, you count the Bears playing spoiler for the 7-6 Packers’ playoff hopes. Or, Green Bay being able to tie the all-time series between the two teams for the first time in 80 years.

Only minor details here.

Yes, there’s plenty relevant to play for, even if no one outside of the two teams playing would want to objectively subject themselves to the bitter, bitter cold.

Of course, both organizations are no strangers to having played frigid games given their proximity in the North. Green Bay has it’s own noteworthy distinguished lexicon of legendary match-ups from the famous “Ice Bowl” to more modern settings.

But there’s also something to be said of the Bears’ experiences at home in brutal conditions. They’re had more than their fair share in the past.

Here’s an oral history of a few “mentally tough” cold Bears home games. (All statistics from Pro Football Reference.)

Bears vs. Packers, Sunday, December 18th, 1983. Bears win 23-21.

Weather: Zero degrees, 13 mph winds, -17 wind chill

This was the coldest game ever played in Soldier Field, according to Bears records in the final bout of the 1983 season.

It happened of course, in the early Mike Ditka era. Chicago was not yet the juggernaut it would become in two years, but early signs were there as the talent began to come together. An 8-8 record and third place finish to Green Bay’s second, had the future bright.

What better way to close Ditka’s second season than with a painful tilt against your hated rival?

Not unexpectedly due to the temperature, everyone’s favorite Bears quarterback ever in Jim McMahon managed the game while throwing for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Though, this was an offensive day ruled by the great Walter Payton who had 30 carries for 148 yards.

On the other side, Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey - I’m really digging here - threw four interceptions and was harassed by Chicago’s defensive front all afternoon with four sacks - 1.5 of which by Steve McMichael.

The question of a spoiler: Kicker Bob Thomas would knock in a game-winning field goal to knock the 8-8 Green Bay out of the playoffs and end head coach Bart Starr’s career, who would be fired the next day. The Los Angeles Rams would instead slot in at 9-7; a team the Packers held a head-to-head tiebreaker over.

Black Monday in the NFL forgives no one.

Bears vs. Packers, Monday, December 22nd, 2008. Bears win 20-17.

Weather: Two degrees, Nine mph winds, -13 wind chill

A Chicago classic.

The Bears seemed to have regrouped in some sense in 2008, two years removed from their Super Bowl XLI berth. This was the final season in which fans could enjoy Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback, or whatever you affectionately called him (“neckbeard”). It all began to culminate after a 34-14 loss on ‘Sunday Night Football’ to the Minnesota Vikings sending the Bears to a 6-6 record.

Chicago was in the thick of the NFC wild card race, but likely needed to win out to have any prayer of sneaking into the playoff field. After two decisive wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints, it was the rare turn for the Packers to play spoiler. It seems to difficult to consider now, but in Aaron Rodgers’ first full year starting, Green Bay actually missed the playoffs at 6-10.

With a twist of fate, the Packers could knock their rival out on this occasion.

In a back-and-forth game full of grit and hard-hitting cliches, the Bears eventually came out on top in overtime on a Robbie Gould 38-yard game winner. It came on the heels of a strong all-around performance from rookie Matt Forte, who had 23 carries for 78 yards, and two receptions for 28 yards.

But it wouldn’t have happened without Alex Brown blocking a Mason Crosby attempt at the end of regulation to save Chicago’s season.

The Bears played desperate and enjoyed a bit of good fortune.

That luck wouldn’t last, as a disappointing loss in Houston the next week would eliminate Chicago from contention. As mentioned, this was the most recent year without Jay Cutler on Chicago’s roster, as they would trade for the passer in the offseason.

Bears vs. Cowboys, Monday, December 9th, 2013. Bears win 45-28.

Weather: Eight degrees, 14 mph winds, -9 wind chill

“Mike Ditka night” i.e. the night the former Bears coach and tight end had his jersey retired, didn’t come without it’s special caveats.

One of course, obviously being the cold. The other - another Bears team fighting for it’s playoff life - this time for an NFC North title. Call this game in 2013 one of the few highlights of former head coach Marc Trestman’s tenure.

Was Ditka the inspiration for the Bears to rout the Dallas with a terrific offensive display?

Perhaps.

Or maybe the Cowboys were just that awful. Worthwhile passion from Ditka in his halftime speech was appreciated though, even while colored beet-red from the blistery air.

Either way, Chicago ripped off six offensive touchdowns in the game and never punted.

Yes. They never punted. Every possession either ended in points or in Cowboys territory.

Josh McCown in particular had himself a virtuoso performance with four touchdown passes, 348 yards passing, and one rushing touchdown. This was the last game McCown would play in Chicago while filling in for an injured Cutler, and he went out with fireworks.

While they held Tony Romo to 104 passing yards, a mediocre Bears defense was the only reason this game was ever close as Demarco Murray and Joseph Randle combined for 200-plus rushing yards. Otherwise, Chicago was in full control.

This game also gave Bears fans this Alshon Jeffery reception to put in their future Christmas stocking.

After the dominating victory, Chicago would then win the following week in Cutler’s return in Cleveland. That would be followed up with two heartbreaking losses to end the season to the Philadelphia Eagles and Packers: eliminating the Bears from the playoffs - the last time this organization was close to the postseason.

Flash-forward to present day, and Sunday’s game against the Packers proves to be another memorable affair in Bears freezing lore.

One could only hope it offers another treat - especially in Chicago and Green Bay’s revered rivalry - and has moments legends of icy past would be proud of.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.