Super Bowl 2014: How Will Cold Weather Affect The Game?

By Josh Lieberman on January 31, 2014 12:53 PM EST

super bowl
Cold weather will affect the Super Bowl, but with temperatures in the 40s, the effect might be subtle. (Photo: Reuters)

This weekend's Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be the first Super Bowl ever played in a cold weather environment. Temperatures in East Rutherford have been in the 20s (and lower) in the past two weeks, but players and fans will likely dodge a bullet on Sunday with an expected temperature of 43 degrees at kickoff. But the temperature could feel as cold as 34 degrees, dipping lower as the night progresses, so the cold weather is likely to have an effect on the game. Below are few of the things players and fans can expect from a cold weather Super Bowl.     

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Colder Weather = More Air Drag 

Eric Goff, a physics professor at Lynchburg College and the author of "Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports," told Metro that air density is inversely proportional to temperature, so cold weather will lead to some air drag. With Goff assuming that East Rutherford would see a temperature in the mid-30s, he compared the weather to frequent Super Bowl location Miami, which normally sees February temperatures in the 70s. 

"[Q]uarterbacks and kickers will face about 8 percent more air drag in East Rutherford, compared to Miami," said Goff. "[Broncos quarterback] Peyton Manning plays in Denver, which had lower air density than at sea level where the Super Bowl will be played. On paper, Manning might be affected by more air drag than a quarterback who plays at sea level, but, in reality, Manning has been in the league long enough and played at sea level plenty of times that he should be able to adapt. Still, he'll have to adapt." Goff added that low humidity will also increase air drag, but that humidity's effect "is not nearly as large as the effect from temperature change."

A Less Bouncy Ball

Here's a term you might remember from physics: coefficient of restitution, which means the measurement of a football's elasticity (or that of a baseball, soccer ball, etc). The materials that make up a football--leather and rubber--become less bouncy in cold temperatures, which leads an "energy sink," whereby a football ends up absorbing more energy than it would under warmer conditions. That's bad news for kickers, as the ball won't go as far.   

Over at the site Advanced NFL Stats, Brian Burke has charted field goal attempts by distance and temperature. He concludes that air temperature doesn't factor in much at ranges of less than 25 yards, but at longer distances, the effect of temperature is noticeable. "For example," Burke writes, "a 52-yard attempt in moderate temperatures can be expected to be successful about 55 percent of the time. But in temperatures at or below 30 degrees, they can be expected to be successful about 30 percent of the time, which is about the success rate for 57-yard attempts."

Hot Seats, Long Shirts And Interesting Lotions 

"I was expecting unbearable cold," Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho said on Wednesday. "It'll be cold, but it's nothing we haven't seen in Denver." Broncos defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said, "I'm a 315-pound man. The weather doesn't bother me."

Indifference to cold weather seems to be the dominant attitude of most of the players, something you'd rightly expect from 300-pound giants who are paid to violently crash into one another. 

There will be measures in place to keep these gentlemen warm, though. As with some cold-weather games in the regular season, there will be heated benches to keep players warm on the sidelines. The benches can get up to 90 degrees warmer than the air, and the hot air radiates beyond the benches, warming up nearby players. In addition to the benches, heated fans will blow hot air on the sidelines. 

Some players will be using Vaseline or an "all-weather guard" called Warm Skin to combat the cold. Denver defensive tackle Sione Fua said on Wednesday that he was skeptical about the lotion, but that it does the trick: "I felt good. I felt warm....It rubs in pretty good, so it's not like your skin's slick. The referees check for that, anyway, so if you're too slick, they tell you to wipe down.'' 

One thing these guys are too tough for is long sleeves. Ihenacho said that wearing long sleeves "is like wearing a sweater. Makes me feel too heavy." Out of 15 players that the AP asked about wearing long sleeves, only one, Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril, said he'd consider wearing long sleeves.

As for spectators in the stands, they'll have to resort to their own crafty methods to keep warm. Given that the cheapest seat on StubHub is currently going for $1,500, fans will presumably stay toasty by burning enormous buckets of money.

READ MORE:

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