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Bears warming up for bitterly cold game against Packers


Chicago — Akiem Hicks played two seasons of college football at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. It doesn’t exactly make Chicago feel like Phoenix, but the average high temperature there in December is 19 degrees, 17 bone-chilling degrees lower than here.

So Hicks knows a few things about playing in cold weather. Your hands and feet are the first to freeze, he says. And he always — always — wears long sleeves, usually part of a thermal undershirt for the coldest games. Anyone judging his machismo can go to, well, where it’s hot.

That is, however, until Pernell McPhee had his say this week ahead of Sunday’s Bears game against the Packers at frigid Soldier Field.

The kickoff forecast from WGN-9 meteorologist Tom Skilling: Partly sunny and bitterly cold; 2 degrees with a wind chill of minus-18.

“Phee said it’s a long-standing tradition in Chicago to not wear sleeves when we have cold games like this,” Hicks explained Thursday after thawing out from practice. “I tried to abide by it by cutting my sleeve to (just above his elbow). I’m trying to hold that Chicago tradition down.”

McPhee, a Florida native, apparently appointed himself team historian after playing only four December home games since joining the team last season. Regardless of whether his tradition claim is indeed true, he had a simple, if not predictable, explanation Thursday.

“I think it’s a sign of weakness,” he snarled.

Or, this Sunday, maybe a sign of sound logic?

“I’ve told them the macho stuff’s all great,” coach John Fox cracked, “but there comes a point where people might question your intelligence.”

We’ll reach that point on the lakefront about noon Sunday.

The game will challenge the record for the coldest in Bears history: minus-2 with a wind chill of 19 below zero at the Vikings’ Metropolitan Stadium on Dec. 3, 1972.

In greater jeopardy is the record for coldest Bears home game, set in December 1983 against the Packers. It was 3 at kickoff with a minus-15 wind chill.

For the Packers, at least the Ice Bowl is safely on its frozen pedestal as the coldest game in NFL history: minus-13 and a wind chill of 36 below for the 1967 NFL championship at Lambeau Field.

But if you need more evidence the conditions Sunday are going to be extraordinary, consider The Weather Channel has dispatched meteorologist Jim Cantore, the heaviest bad-weather hitter on their broadcast roster, to Chicago this weekend.

Cantore is forecasting a daytime high close to zero. Hypothermia and frostbite are threats for anyone insufficiently clothed.

“It’s going to be cold as hell, that simple,” Cantore said by phone after landing in Chicago on Thursday. “Just brutal.”

The Bears tried to prepare for it by practicing outside Thursday for about 75 minutes. It was 3 degrees with a minus-14 wind chill.

They started inside the Payton Center, where the doors were kept open. They stretched and did position drills before heading outside to work through their game plan in the elements.

Cornerback Demontre Hurst was one of only three players who did not wear long sleeves, along with receivers Alshon Jeffery and Josh Bellamy.

“It wasn’t bad,” Hurst said. “When you’re moving around, you’re really not feeling it as much, But it’s still pretty cold, man.”

Quarterback Matt Barkley at least will be among those wearing long sleeves.

“I’m not a polar bear,” he said.

Of course, fans’ sympathy for these professional players has a limit. After all, a player earning the NFL minimum this season will earn $26,470 Sunday before taxes. That would warm anyone’s Christmas stocking.

On the other hand, thousands of folks will pay to sit in those conditions.

There were more than 2,300 tickets available on StubHub as of Thursday evening, the cheapest priced about $53.

Those who opt to brave the elements to watch the 3-10 Bears at least have some options to stay warm. Soldier Field concessions operator Aramark expects to sell up to 4,000 gallons of hot chocolate, a stadium spokesman said. That’s more than double the amount sold Dec. 4 during the Bears’ victory over the 49ers in the snow.

During cold-weather games at Soldier Field, Aramark usually sells about 4,000 souvenir hot chocolate mugs. On Sunday, the company anticipates selling roughly 8,000.

“Of course,” Cantore said, “alcohol just enhances the cold.”