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Football? Feels Like Winter Olympics

January 27, 2000

ATLANTA (AP) _ All that was missing were the sleds, the dogs and the snow. The white stuff might be coming tonight.

Super Bowl Week in Atlanta has featured shivering players, complaining coaches, icy winds and heat blowers on the practice field. If the weather forecasters are right, a snowstorm might be in the offing, too.

Did anyone say Iditarod?

``It’s disappointing that you can be in a situation where you are preparing for the biggest game of the year that you don’t have ideal situations,″ Rams coach Dick Vermeil said on a blustery Wednesday morning, when the wind-chill factor hit minus-8. ``But that is how it is and we will handle it.″

Later in the day, after practicing outside at the Falcons’ training complex, Vermeil wasn’t any more thrilled about the conditions.

``It’s ridiculous,″ Vermeil said. ``But there’s nothing you can do about it except try to survive.″

St. Louis practiced in winter jackets, gloves, thermal underwear, wool caps and thermal neck and face warmers. Equipment manager Todd Hewitt rented six heat blowers, stationing them at the end of the practice field. Between drills, most players huddled around the blowers like moths drawn to light.

The Titans wish they had the same opportunity at the morning media session. Held in a tent outside their luxury hotel _ the Titans already had occupied the indoor banquet facilities, making them unusable _ the players froze due to an inadequate heating system.

Defensive lineman Mike Jones had his arms pulled deep inside a sweatshirt as he tried to keep icicles from forming on him.

``I’m freezing,″ Jones said. ``They’ve got me over here by the door, actually a slit in the tent. They need to have some rookies over here. The Rams are inside? See, we’re the stepchild, we get no love.″

The Titans will get more attention and some relief, the NFL promised. A dozen more heaters were to be employed this morning, when the temperatures weren’t expected to climb significantly.

``I got a cold Tuesday,″ said Titans GM Floyd Reese. ``Our guys will have pneumonia by the time it’s all over with.

``We’ll get it fixed. This is just another one of those bumps in the road. We just keep trucking.″

There won’t be much trucking in the area if it snows; Atlanta was practically incapacitated by an ice storm last weekend.

So why not just move everything into the Georgia Dome, site of Sunday’s championship game?

Well, there’s a little matter of spectacle over sport.

Vermeil wanted to practice inside, and the Dome is the only such facility in the area. But he was informed by the league that it wasn’t a possibility before Friday for the Rams or the Titans, who are working out at Georgia Tech.

``All they told us,″ he said, ``is there’s 2,000 people decorating the dance floor.″

This is not the first time the Super Bowl hasn’t had super weather. Of course, most of the other instances occurred in places such as Pontiac, Mich., and Minneapolis.

The league often has used tents for its media gatherings, but in places like San Diego and Phoenix.

Hopefully, the icy reception the teams received won’t cool them down for the big game.

``It’s all about handling the distractions and turning them into attractions,″ Vermeil said. ``And appreciating the job that you do, and appreciating the job that we have, and working to put together the best Super Bowl that has ever been played.″

For that to happen, the Titans will need a relatively healthy Steve McNair at quarterback. McNair was one of the few players thankful for the cold conditions: He said he didn’t need to ice his injured toe because it already was frozen from standing on a podium in the interview refrigerator, er, tent.

About two hours after the Titans’ news conference, the Rams met with reporters in a large ballroom within their suburban hotel, prompting several players to show up in short-sleeved T-shirts.

All-Pro tackle Orlando Pace winced when told of the Titans’ arrangements.

Do you feel sorry for them?

``No,″ he said. ``I’m just happy we’re in this cozy situation.″

The perception from all this can’t make the NFL happy. Certainly, it can’t control the weather. But conditions for game preparation are less than ideal, and the inequity of the interview locales has been a joke.

Atlanta officials don’t think the frosty conditions will have a negative impact on the city’s chances of playing host to another Super Bowl.

``The game is inside. Most of the events are inside. The hotels are inside,″ said Adam Leish, spokesman for the Metro Atlanta Super Bowl XXXIV Host Committee. ``The weather is not a factor from our perspective.″

Tampa, the site of next year’s game, was much warmer at 53, although that hardly is balmy. The 2002 game will be in San Diego, where it was 64 on Wednesday.

``I don’t want to bash Atlanta,″ Rams receiver Torry Holt said. ``But I would like to go somewhere where it’s nice and warm.″

As would his Titans counterpart, Chris Sanders.

``I wish I had five jackets on, it’s so cold out here,″ said Sanders, who wore a flimsy jacket to the news conference. ``It feels like Alaska.″

Welcome to the Iditarod.

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