There’s cold, and then there’s Soldier Field-in-late-December cold. Bear weather, they call it.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase, many — including iconic coach Mike Ditka — believe the wintry conditions put Bears opponents at a disadvantage.
“We do very well in bad weather. It’s those sunny days in Tampa and Miami that give us trouble,” Ditka said in December 1985 after a cold game against the New York Jets, roughly six weeks before the Bears won their first — and only — Super Bowl.
But the Bears have gone only 6-4 in the 10 coldest games at Soldier Field since they moved there in 1971. Saturday’s game against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills could crack that frigid list.
The point spread — the Bills are favored by 9½ — figures to be higher than the temperature on the lakefront, which is forecast to be 8 degrees at kickoff (noon, CBS-2) with a windchill of minus-14. The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a winter storm warning for the Chicago area from noon Thursday to 6 a.m. Saturday, and while the snow is expected to be out of the area well before game time, the extreme cold will test even die-hard fans’ bravado.
In Week 11, a snowstorm forced the Bills to move a home game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit. On Saturday they played the Miami Dolphins on a cold and snowy night in Orchard Park, N.Y. Now they head to Chicago for yet another battle in the elements.
The problem with that is the Bills know cold and snow as well as anybody and, well, the Bears (3-11) are in last place in the NFC North and in line for the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft. And the Bills (11-3) lead the AFC East and enter the game as the No. 1 seed in the conference.
But Bears fans are hopeful. Many, such as the McGuire family of Northfield, plan to attend the game regardless of the conditions. Stephanie McGuire recalled the cold she sat through — 20 degrees with a windchill of 2, according to Pro Football Reference — during the Bears-San Francisco 49ers NFC championship game on Jan. 8, 1989. Stephanie, her husband, Dan, and their children, Charlotte and Dylan, decided to start a new family tradition after Dylan gifted the family tickets to Saturday’s game.
“Football is a religion in the McGuire house, and what better way to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus than at Soldier Field competing against a great football team like the Buffalo Bills?” Charlotte said.
Best friends Jordan Frahm and Scotty Williams were in attendance for the Bears-Green Bay Packers game on Dec. 18, 2016. It was 11 degrees at kickoff — tied for the seventh-coldest Bears game in Soldier Field history — with a windchill of minus-4. They’ll be at the game Saturday and aren’t worried about the weather.
Frahm said he has zero hesitation about going because being at “the coldest game of all time” was intriguing. But Williams hiccuped a little: “I don’t want to miss Christmas Eve dinner at Aunt Sandy and Uncle Don’s house in Park Ridge, so good thing we got the noon kick. This is Bears football weather.”
Another Bears fan, Vanessa Corral, made the drive from Columbus, Ohio, for the game as part of her birthday celebration. She initially planned to arrive in Chicago on Friday but after seeing the news of potential blizzardlike conditions, decided to leave Thursday morning instead. Corral was determined to make it, though her non-football-fan boyfriend might be less enthusiastic, she said.
A common theme from this group of Bears fans: They intend to use alcohol to help stay warm (surprise!) and all have a good idea of how to keep the freeze at bay, wearing several layers of clothing, hand warmers, hats and scarves, winter boots and long johns.
But Frahm went a step further.
“This is the kind of game where I’ll be wearing a lightweight jacket underneath a giant faux-fur-lined coat from the ‘70s,” he said. “It’s like wearing a 30-pound gravity blanket into the game. Good insulated snow boots too. When you see people in sneakers for a game like this, I say a little prayer for them.”
Frahm offered another tip for fans who don’t have cold-weather game experience: Bring corrugated cardboard to stand on to keep your feet warm. His dad learned that trick from the Bears’ Wrigley Field days, and the family still does it to this day.
While all are excited about the game despite the brutal forecast, they have limits. Instead of spending the entire day outside, the McGuire family and Corral plan to skip tailgating, opting instead for a pregame brunch indoors. As for Frahm and Williams, they’re sticking with their shared tradition of tailgating.
“Misery loves company,” Williams said. “The tailgate is the main event during lean years like this one. … Couple changes to accommodate the cold, though, like a propane space heater and the biggest pot of chili you’ve ever seen.”
But the truest test for Bears fans: Will they leave early in windy and brutally cold conditions if the team is down big at halftime?
“Heck no!” Corral said. “I’m there for the whole thing, even if I have to stay by myself.”
Added Charlotte McGuire: “Win or lose, we still booze! We have some tough Bears fans in this family and as a Bills Mafia member, I am not going anywhere and won’t allow my family members to leave either.
Frahm said he is staying put as well.
But Williams? He might leave early and catch the remainder of the game on the radio. Can’t keep Uncle Don and Aunt Sandy waiting too long.