Mike Wallace will imagine lounging under the warm Miami sun with a cold drink in his hand during the hours leading to Sunday’s playoff game at TCF Bank Stadium.
Thinking warm thoughts is necessary for the Vikings receiver to battle the reality of frigid temperatures that should make the Vikings-Seattle matchup among the coldest in NFL history.
“It’s going to be zero degrees,” Wallace exclaimed. “I’ve got to trick myself. … If I go out there like it’s zero degrees, it’s going to be like negative-30 in my mind. So I’ve got to go out there like it’s going to be warm … get me a fake drink and make it feel like I’m on South Beach. I’ll put a little umbrella in there. I’ll be good, probably like 80 degrees.”
The forecast, which changes slightly by the day, called Friday morning for a high temperature of 4 and a low of 10 below. It’ll be partly cloudy, with winds up to 12 mph and a 0 percent chance of snow. That’s a bit of an improvement from early-week forecasts.
The NFL’s resources help limit the sting. Heated benches and blowers line the sidelines. Players are provided coats that could pass as mini tents, hand-warmers to wear around their waists and heating cream.
Each player also has a different method for coping with the challenges associated with extreme cold. Wide receiver Jarius Wright said frozen footballs can feel like bricks hitting your hands, so he stays close to the heaters.
Rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs approaches the cold with a mentality that the ball feels the same, warm or cold. He also planned to spend extra time catching balls outside this week.
“Nobody likes being cold, but you’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Diggs said.
Defensive back Captain Munnerlyn plans to skip his usual outdoor pregame routine and warm up indoors Sunday. Offensive lineman Mike Harris will break his pregame routine of staying indoors to help himself acclimate to the cold.
“I’m going to go out and just test it and run a few laps just to see how it works for me ’cause I know it’s going to be rough on our lungs,” Harris said.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has tried to prepare his team as best as possible by keeping practice outside this week. The outdoor elements have forced players to wear long sleeves and facemasks, but the days have been relatively mild, with highs in the 30s.
It will be 30 degrees colder Sunday, but Wallace and the Vikings might benefit from some sun, if there is any. The visiting sideline is shaded by the stadium, which Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said he’s heard can create an 8-degree difference between sidelines.
The Vikings also take advantage of the wealth of warming tools on the sideline. Harris, a California native, uses the heaters to keep his knees and hamstrings warm, and before the game coats himself in the warming cream.
“I usually just put a ton [of cream] on my arms, but this week I know I’m probably going to have to put it all over, from head to toe. … It’s a lifesaver.”
A hydronic heated field, which replaced the old turf at TCF Bank Stadium last year, will ensure a safe playing surface, and on Sunday will keep the field from freezing.
“The field is nice. It stays soft. That’s the important thing,” said Vikings center Joe Berger, who won’t wear sleeves Sunday. “The times that are tough in a cold game is when you go out there and you have a TV timeout and you’re just standing there. If you’re on the bench it’s warm and if you’re moving around you kind of forget about the cold a little bit.”
There have been just nine games in NFL history where the high temperature during the game never got above zero. The Vikings’ coldest postseason game was 9 degrees in 1970 against San Francisco at Met Stadium. The coldest home game was 2 below on Dec. 3, 1972, against Chicago.
Punter Jeff Locke was hoping for colder weather during the past couple months. A stretch of near-zero temperatures would have been ideal conditions for the specialists to practice in for a game like Sunday.
Instead, the specialists are now keeping footballs outside near the snow with the intention they’ll freeze before they are ready to be kicked.
“Having the coldest day of the winter be this game, it’s going to be interesting,” Locke said.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, who grew up in Detroit Lakes, Minn., joked negative temperatures would be a normal day in northern Minnesota. Though he’s played his high school, college and pro football career in-state, he’s learned there is not much you can do to prepare for these conditions.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare for it,” Thielen said. “You just have to be mentally tough and go out there and do your job.”