Frigidness is the foremost storyline entering the Bucs’ biggest game in nearly two decades, regardless of how fervently the Bucs try to let it thaw.
“Playing in the cold, truthfully, is just a mindset when it really comes down to it,” defensive end Ndamukong Suh said.
Translation: Suh and Co. don’t want to talk about the weather. But meteorologically speaking, this subject’s a figurative front sure to linger at least until kickoff Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
By then, temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s with some potential snow.
“Every time I’ve played in Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, nobody was cold out on the field,” Arians said Monday.
“It’s more mental, and staying warm on the sideline. We’ve got all that technology now with heaters and everything else, so ... it’s different, but it’s not that big a difference.”
History validates Arians’ claim. In fact, as frosty postseasons go, the Bucs are on a bit of a hot streak, winning their last two playoff games when kickoff temperature was below 45 degrees. Entering Sunday’s NFC title contest, they’re 2-2 all-time in postseason games staged in those conditions.
“The only time you’re actually cold is when you’re on the field,” said Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, who knows a bit about playing in cold weather as a former Harvard standout. “Then you’re playing, so it’s not that cold. When you’re on the bench, you have a heated bench and you’ve got space heaters, jackets — they provide all the stuff for us.”
Still, we don’t see this narrative defrosting in the coming days. Meantime, here’s a rundown of Tampa Bay’s four frigid playoff contests, ranked from worst to wildest.
4. Eagles 21, Bucs 3
Dec. 31, 2000 (Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia)
Temperature: 34 degrees (11-degree wind chill)
The Bucs managed only 50 rushing yards and a short Martin Gramatica field goal in a fitting finale to beleaguered offensive coordinator Les Steckel’s one-season tenure. While Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King never found a rhythm (the Bucs went 3-for-13 on third down), Eagles counterpart Donovan McNabb totaled 193 yards and passed for two touchdowns.
3. Packers 21, Bucs 7
Jan. 4, 1998 (Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.)
Temperature: 27 degrees (wind chill in single digits)
The Bucs’ breakthrough season (after 14 consecutive losing campaigns) ended on a frigid, frustrating afternoon against the reigning Super Bowl champs. Despite having possession five times at the Packers 30-yard line or closer, Tampa Bay produced points only once. Trent Dilfer’s 52-yard toss to Reidel Anthony on a third-and-11 streak belied his mostly putrid performance (11-for-36, 200 yards, two interceptions). Even worse was the special teams: The Bucs had one field-goal try blocked, another botched by a bad snap and a fake field-goal attempt snuffed.
2. Bucs 31, Washington 23
Jan. 9, 2021 (FedExField, Landover, Md.)
Temperature: 40 degrees
While Devin White completed his sentence on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke darn near catapulted himself into postseason immortality. In only his second NFL start, Heinicke exploited the Bucs’ lack of containment and shoddy tackling, passing for 306 yards, running for another 46 and accounting for two touchdowns. In the end, though, Tom Brady was a bit more prolific (22-for-40, 381 yards, two TDs). His top target, Mike Evans, finished with a franchise postseason record for receiving yards (119) only six days after suffering a hyperextended knee.
1. Bucs 27, Eagles 10
Jan. 19, 2003 (Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia)
Temperature: 26 degrees (wind chill 16)
As frigid Bucs games go, this is the cold standard. On a numbing South Philly afternoon, the Bucs exorcised a smorgasbord of demons — including a three-game losing skid to the Eagles and 0-6 record in playoff road games — to reach their first Super Bowl. Mike Alstott’s 1-yard scoring run, set up by Brad Johnson’s 71-yard completion to Joe Jurevicius, provided an early lead and optimism. But the game’s endearing image is Ronde Barber’s 92-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter to essentially seal things. It remains arguably the biggest play in franchise history.