Bears brace for frigid temperatures Saturday

With a projected high of 11 degrees, Saturday’s Bills-Bears game could prove to be one of the five coldest ever at Soldier Field, depending on the temperature at kickoff.

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Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

Snow sits outside Soldier Field before the Packers game in 2016.

Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

In a battle against the elements Saturday, the Bears are taking up arms.

“I don’t play with sleeves,” wide receiver N’Keal Harry said Thursday.

“I can’t do the sleeves,” tight end Cole Kmet said.

“We’ll see . . . if it’s bad,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “But probably not.”

With a projected high of 11 degrees, the Bills-Bears game could prove to be one of the five coldest at Soldier Field, depending on the temperature at kickoff. Frostbite could threaten exposed skin, especially when the alternative — slathering on slippery Vaseline — is a no-go for pass catchers who need their hands to be sticky.

The Bears, though, say they’ll manage.

They began the week making alternate plans in case they had to deal with steady snowfall Friday and Saturday. They eventually decided on making only small adjustments — none as major as the Bills, who moved their flight to Chicago up one day, to Thursday night.

Coach Matt Eberflus shifted his outdoor practice up an hour Thursday to avoid the bulk of the snowfall. He kept the players’ reporting time the same Friday at Halas Hall, where they’ll hold their final walkthrough at the Walter Payton Center.

The Bears typically hold their night-before-game meetings at the team hotel. On Friday, though, they’ll have them at Halas Hall during the afternoon. Players will be responsible for driving downtown to the team hotel before curfew.

That’s less extreme than other ideas they considered — busing from Halas Hall and even booking hotel rooms near Lake Forest to keep players from getting stranded during the week.

“The storm doesn’t look like it’s going to be like that,” Eberflus said.

Still, it will be cold. The last time Eberflus coached in such a game — as a Cowboys assistant at Soldier Field in 2013 — he remembered the helmets making a different sound when they collided. The football feels rock-hard in negative windchill, too. Kicker Cairo Santos said he’ll probably limit his number of pregame kicks to keep his right foot from going numb.

“I’ve tried wearing two socks,” he said, “but my shoes are tight enough as it is.”

The Bears will do what they can to stay comfortable on the sideline. Their bench is heated and sits on a platform that blows warm air upward. Equipment staffers will offer water, Gatorade and hot broth. Players will keep their hands in cuffs sewn into their jerseys.

“When you’re on the sideline, you’ve got the heaters and the heated bench, so you’re pretty warm,” center Sam Mustipher said. “When you get on the field, you feel the cold.

“Anytime I gotta move a guy who’s 320 pounds, 330 pounds, your body kinda warms up pretty fast. Those initial hits sting. Beyond that, you’re good to go.”

Television timeouts are the hardest. Quarterback Justin Fields wears a parka during them, even when he’s on the field.

“Once the wind starts going,” Fields said, “that’s when it gets cold.”

Few Bears have played in anything like what awaits them Saturday.

Harry is an exception — he was a member of the Patriots when they attempted three passes against the Bills last season amid 40 mph wind gusts. Still, it was 36 degrees at kickoff — positively balmy compared to Saturday’s forecast.

He learned two lessons: Use handwarmers and stand next to the portable heaters.

“The biggest thing is trying to keep my hands warm,” Harry said.

Cornerback Jaylon Johnson isn’t even worried about that. As a defender, he joked, he’s not paid to catch the ball anyway.

“So if I can’t feel my hands, then, hey, that’s OK,” he said. “[Receivers] need to feel their hands. As long as I can feel my feet, I can play at a high level.”

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