CHARLOTTE – The Panthers practiced under clear skies and sunshine on Thursday as they prepared to take on the Packers, but, the balmy 60-degree temperatures won’t be joining the team on the road.
On Wednesday, Green Bay was struck by a snowstorm that left Lambeau Field covered in three inches of snow. While there’s no snow in the forecast for Sunday, the high temperature is expected to be just 35 degrees, while the low will reach 19 degrees accompanied by 13 mile per hour winds that will make it feel much colder.
So how do you prepare for a 40-degree temperature swing on Sunday? According to head coach Ron Rivera, you can’t.
“At the end of the day you’ve just got to understand they’ve got to play in it too,” Rivera said. “You’ve just got to go out there and focus in on what you have to do.”
Luckily for Rivera, he never had to play at Green Bay late in the season during his days with the Chicago Bears. Instead, his teams always got their trips to Lambeau out of the way early in the season.
Safety Tre Boston, however, has made the trip in the snow – and emerged victorious.
“I only had three wins with the Cardinals, but that was one of them,” Boston said. “I won in the snow last year in Lambeau, so that hype, the ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to do it,’ I’ve already done it. So, now it’s all about trying to get my guys on the same mentality, because everybody talks about it like a myth.”
So, what exactly is the mentality Boston is looking for from his teammates?
“A lot of guys they’re feeling that it’s the winter, it’s cold, guys don’t want to be there,” Boston said. “I can assure you we’re going to be the exact opposite. You have to hold yourself that way, because weather is just another ‘it,’ and you can’t let ‘it’ get in the way.”
Still, the snowstorm in Green Bay wasn’t the coldest game of Boston’s career. That came during his rookie season with the Panthers during an outdoor matchup against the Vikings in late November at TCF Bank Stadium when the wind-chill factor reached minus-15. It was 12 degrees at kickoff.
“It was ridiculous, nobody warmed up,” Boston said. “We came out for like five minutes. It was impossible to warm up. Everybody deserves domes after that. That was unbelievably horrible, but I’ve never played in a game even close to that one, so I’m ready, I’m good.”
Linebacker Luke Kuechly echoed that sentiment. That trip to Minnesota is by far the coldest game he's played in.
"That one was for sure cold," Kuechly said of that mind-numbing loss.
But Kuechly, the tough guy he is, didn't even wear sleeves that day.
"I don’t know if that was a great decision," he joked.
That decision did allow him to keep his impressive sleeveless streak intact.
"Yeah, I have worn sleeves," Kuechly said, "but it was back in my freshman year of high school."
Punter Michael Palardy also has a sleeves story. It was Senior Night at Tennessee when the Volunteers were hosting Vanderbilt.
"We weren’t allowed to wear sleeves. It was probably low 20s and a little windy, too," Palardy recalled. "We didn’t have heated benches. We had those small circle heaters on the sideline, but that would burn the hair on your leg and you could only get one leg hot, you know?"
Is Palardy planning to go sleeveless in Green Bay? That would be a hard no.
"To be honest, I’m not trying to intimidate anybody," Palardy said. "I like to stay as warm as I possibly can."
Kicker Joey Slye has a little bit too much experience standing next to those sideline heaters that used to burn Palardy's legs. During a game in South Bend against Notre Dame in 2016, Slye placed his helmet next to the heater to keep the pads from turning rock solid. Turns out that was a big mistake.
“I was warming it up and we were getting ready for the go-ahead field goal,” Slye said. “I was waiting, waiting, waiting, then they called field goal and I ran out and put my helmet on and I’d burnt the ends of my chinstrap and it was burning my chin. I put it on, I could feel it and I thought I was going to burn my beard off.”
Slye made the kick, but his facial hair suffered. At least he'll know better on Sunday.
Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra has plenty of memories of cold weather games, too. After all, Zylstra spent a large part of his career in the frigid temperatures, playing collegiately in Minnesota before stints with the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos and the Minnesota Vikings.
“I’ve played in a few blizzards up in Canada, one I think we got like six inches of snow. The coldest was probably in the teens, 10 or 12 degrees maybe,” Zylstra said. “I always tell people it’s not as bad as it seems, just because the teams do such a good job of providing parkas, having heated seats, the fire and stuff. Even for guys that don’t play that much, you’ll survive.”
Not all of Zylstra's teammates are buying that, though. Rookie edge rusher Brian Burns grew up in South Florida before playing his college ball at Florida State, so it’s safe to say he’s never played in cold weather, much less the snow.
So how is he planning to handle his first exposure?
“Block it out. Just block it out,” Burns said. “At the end of the day weather is weather, you still have to play ball. We’re going to have thermals and what not. Trust me, I’m going to have those on, but just block it out.”
Not everyone is dreading the cold, though. Edge rusher Bruce Irvin is actually looking forward to it.
“I love it. That’s football weather,” Irvin said. “Cold in Lambeau Field – that’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Alright then. Good.”
Left guard Greg Van Roten can tell you all about the Green Bay cold. He spent two years with the Packers (2012-13) and recalled a home playoff game against the 49ers that gave him chills just thinking about it.
"2013 playoff game against San Francisco. It was like -6 with the wind chill," Van Roten said. "It’s the kind of cold you can remember in your body."
So yeah, always bring some extra layers if you're making the trip to Lambeau Field.
"It will chill you to your bone," Van Roten said. "Dress warmly."