GREEN BAY – If the forecast for Jacksonville proves accurate, Sunday’s Packers-Jaguars game could be the third-hottest game in Green Bay’s history.
The high for Sunday is in the low 90s, which would make it the hottest Packers’ game in 13 years. Only twice have the Packers played a game in which the kickoff temperature was above 90 (since the team began recording the statistic in 1959).
The first was in 1978 at San Diego, and the second came in Arizona in 2003. Both games were 102 degrees. The next-hottest games were a pair of 90-degree affairs at Pittsburgh in 1965 and at Tampa in 1992.
When the schedule was released back in April, a Sept. 11 home game for the Jaguars against a northern team screamed home-field advantage as much as the Packers’ upcoming Dec. 4 tilt against Houston at Lambeau Field.
Yet, Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley and his squad haven’t looked at it that way.
“We really don’t talk too much about it,” Bradley said in a conference call with Green Bay media this week. “I’m from Minnesota, so I know it gets warm up there, too. We don’t put too much talk into the weather.”
The Packers certainly haven’t been freaking out about it, but they’re doing their due diligence. The word of the week has been hydration, on and off the field.
For practice, Tuesday was a hot, humid and stormy day in Green Bay, so the Packers turned the Don Hutson Center into a hot box for two hours by closing the doors and turning off the air conditioning.
“It was a hot, steamy practice,” QB Aaron Rodgers said.
Added receiver Randall Cobb: “Yeah, it was hot. I think it may have been hotter in there than it is in Jacksonville right now.”
The Packers are also traveling to Jacksonville early on Saturday, arriving around mid-day for a short workout to get a taste of the southern heat and humidity before Sunday afternoon.
Will it be enough to get through a four-quarter game in potentially stifling temps when the Packers’ starters have only played their usual sporadic number of preseason snaps?
All that’s known for sure is the Packers will be at least as prepared as they were for their last Florida trip two years ago.
Down in Miami on Oct. 12, 2014, it was 86 degrees, falling just outside the franchise’s top 10 list. In a tight game all the way, the Packers’ defense began to fade in the second half, allowing a pair of long TD drives that turned a 17-10 lead into a 24-17 deficit.
But Green Bay had enough left in the tank to drive for a field goal, get a defensive stop, and then march 60 yards to score the winning touchdown with just three seconds left.
There was as much exhaustion as there was jubilation in the locker room afterward. The Packers also knew they had caught some breaks on that final drive, recovering a fumble by Rodgers on a sack, converting on fourth-and-10 the following snap, and getting in position for the score with an improvised fake-spike play.
The Packers didn’t suffer from as many cramps nor need the locker-room IVs that were part of the ’06 trip to Miami, also an 86-degree win. McCarthy learned from that adventure as a rookie coach, as he’s always putting experience to good use.
For the record, the warmest home games in team history were an 85-degree contest against New Orleans at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1985, and an 84-degree blowout of the Rams at Lambeau Field in 1963.
Sunday’s kickoff temp will be rarefied air regardless of the exact number. Another anomaly here is the Packers are opening a season against an AFC team for the first time since 2000.
Uncommon opponents – AFC and NFC teams play one another only once every four years – breed lack of familiarity regarding scheme and personnel, but both Bradley and McCarthy said that will be reduced in this case because the prep time for an opener is always more extensive, given all the offseason time.
“Probably too much work, frankly,” McCarthy said of what goes into Week 1. “You have to guard against that.”
Which puts all the more focus on the Packers protecting themselves from, and fighting through, the heat. Green Bay must beat it as well as the Jaguars, and McCarthy has displayed no lack of confidence on either front.
Week 1 also begins to build a team’s identity, and McCarthy feels his 2016 squad is working on a good one.
“The thing that jumps out for me is their energy,” he said. “This group has a unique level of energy, and needs to perform that way.”
It might need every last ounce of that energy on Sunday. The Florida sun will be draining it as fast as it can.
Packers’ hottest recorded games (since 1959)
102 at San Diego, Sept. 24, 1978 (W 24-3)
102 at Arizona, Sept. 21, 2003 (L 20-13)
90 at Pittsburgh, Sept. 19, 1965 (W 41-9)
90 at Tampa Bay, Sept. 13, 1992 (L 31-3)
89 at L.A. Rams, Sept. 20, 1981 (L 35-23)