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How NFL players stay warm in frigid conditions

This story originally ran in advance of the NFC wild-card game last season between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.

Temperatures in Chicago on Sunday are projected to hover around zero degrees — with wind chills falling much lower than that. That means the rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears could get nasty if the players aren't ready to handle the cold.

After playing my college ball in Iowa City, Iowa, with NFL stops in Green Bay, Washington and Buffalo, I've seen some brutal weather on the field. Snow, wind, ice — you name it. And the hits sting in the cold. That stuff hurts. On top of getting past the mental block that it's going to be freezing on the field, how can NFL players prep for the unwelcome conditions?

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Given the advanced uniform technology of cold-weather gear, players today have an advantage in keeping up their core temperatures, but there still are situations when they have to lean on some old-school tricks to avoid a miserable experience on the field.

Here are seven ways players can stay somewhat warm — and still produce — when the temperatures start to drop toward zero degrees.

Bring out Vaseline

A jar of Vaseline is an old trick from veteran players to block out the wind. Want to look tough and avoid wearing sleeves? Rub Vaseline all over your arms and slap some on your face. It sounds kind of ridiculous, but I used Vaseline in Green Bay from Thanksgiving through the playoffs when the temperatures would fall. Players want to show off their arms on a national stage in the playoffs, but to avoid shaking from the cold, you need to cover up with Vaseline. It's slimy and it takes some time to scrub off after the game, but it sure does work. And it's much easier than wearing a ski mask under your helmet.

Hot chocolate and chicken broth

Drink hot chocolate while you are getting dressed for the game and refuel on the sideline with some chicken broth. It's a great way to keep your body temperature up. But you can't just pound that stuff. No one wants to drink five cups of hot chocolate and then run down on the opening kickoff. That's trouble, and it also leads to vomit all over the field. Yes, you have to continue to hydrate during cold-weather games (I once cramped up during a game in Buffalo), so Gatorade, Pedialyte and water are a must before and during the game. A cup of hot chocolate in the locker room and a cup of chicken broth while you get a break on the sideline, however, is a smart way to stay warm.

Layers — you need layers

Even with the advanced cold-weather gear, players need to add more layers to keep their core warm. In Green Bay, the equipment room was stocked with fleece turtlenecks. They're warm as heck, and they even come sleeveless for the guys who want to show off their biceps. Check out Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He still wears the same fleece turtlenecks that were around in Green Bay back in the early 2000s when I played. You won't see many players wearing hoodies under their jerseys like they do in practice, so the fleece turtleneck is a smart play, along with a pair of long underwear. I know the cold-gear leggings work, but adding another layer on top of those (under game socks) can keep your hamstrings warm when you have to chase down the deep ball. Now, you don't want to look like the kid from "A Christmas Story" stuffed into his snowsuit, but having more layers is always a good idea.

Hand warmers can be used for anything

Those instant hand warmers we buy at gas stations are all over NFL locker rooms and sidelines during cold-weather games — and players will put them everywhere. Among the many ways they are used: Drop a couple inside your hand muff, tape them to the top of your feet (before putting on cleats), put them in your gloves and tape them inside the ear hole of the helmet. Back before players were required to wear leg pads, I saw guys put them in the thigh board slot of the game pants. They don't last an entire game, so you have to keep grabbing new ones, but they provide a little relief.

Be careful with sideline heaters

On Sunday in the Packers-Bears game, we will see guys draped in heavy sideline jackets and huddled around heaters on the sidelines. They are the best. Like jet engines. And it's a good idea to stand in front of those before taking the field, especially for special teams (limited reps lead to tight hamstrings in the cold). However, those things are dangerous. I mean, it's an open flame. I've seen sideline jackets catch on fire, and I also remember a situation in Green Bay when it was time for the punt return team to get on the field in a late December game but a player couldn't make it on the field because his gloves had melted together. Panic set in, and trainers frantically tried to cut off his gloves.

Double up on the gloves, socks

Cold-weather gloves have more padding and are thicker than the standard gloves we see wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs wear. But they still aren't warm enough, in my opinion. And no one wants to play the game with numb fingers. The solution? Put some thin, cloth gloves (like little kids wear) under game-issued gloves. It's not much (and that's why guys use hand warmers, too), but it's better than trying to catch the ball with no feeling in your fingers. The same goes for your feet. Many people know how nasty it can get when you lose feeling in your toes while shoveling the driveway. Now, imagine trying to run on a football field — in the playoffs. Take a thin pair of thermal socks and put those on underneath the game-issued socks.

Use heated benches, helmet warmers

Don't stand around when you get a break. Those sideline jackets are nice, along with a team-issued stocking cap, but the heated benches are sweet. They instantly warm you up and have slots for your feet. Sure, when you stand up to go back on offense or defense, the cold is going to hit you right in the face. But at least you can stay warm until then. The same goes for helmet warmers. These are attached to the back of the heated benches (long, white poles) and are a must for any player. Putting on an ice-cold helmet is terrible — those pads inside freeze instantly in the cold, and your helmet turns into a brick. Good luck squeezing that thing on while avoiding the possibility that your ears might rip off your dome. Oh man, that hurts. Sit your butt down on those heated benches and warm up that helmet. That's key to playing in the cold.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.


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