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Weather or not, time to play ball

NEW YORK - Friday would have been a great day to play a football game at Yankee Stadium. Well, unless you're Scott Shafer, that is.Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s? No problem. West Virginia and Syracuse, the teams that meet in today's Pinstripe Bowl at the modern version of an iconic baseball stadium, would have been thrilled.Today's forecast is not nearly as encouraging. Then again, it's not quite what Shafer hoped for, either."I, personally, would like to see some sub-zero temperatures with 15 to 25 inches of snow,'' said Shafer, the Syracuse defensive coordinator charged with stopping West Virginia's high-powered offense. "That's just me, though. I'm sure [Syracuse offensive coordinator Nathaniel] Hackett would look for a different forecast.''Save for Shafer, the coaches from both sides do their best to downplay the weather for today's game. That's not surprising, of course. Even if they have an opinion they do their best to steer conversations away from the elements because if they start talking about it then their players start thinking about it.And football coaches don't like their players thinking too much.Still, to anyone else it's an issue. It's not normally a bowl issue given that the really smart ones choose to locate where the biggest problem is sunburn and not wind chill. I mean, really, how many other bowl games put their logos on ski caps? The Pinstripe does.For the record, at the end of a week that featured rain, sleet, snow and high winds followed by Friday's brief spell of what qualifies as Northeastern balmy, Saturday's game-day forecast goes like this: temperatures steady at about the freezing point all day, snow beginning in midmorning and continuing until early evening. Accumulations could be between 1 and 3 inches, most of it coming in the hours prior to and then during a game that kicks off at 3:15 p.m.Oh, and there will be just enough wind to drop the wind-chill factor into the teens. AccuWeather's RealFeel prediction is 21 degrees at 3 p.m. and then 19 degrees for most of the game. Are you ready for some football?"It'll be fine. It'll be fun,'' Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said Friday. "That's what makes football fun.''Well, yeah, it is. Admit it, you love turning on the TV and seeing games in the snow, right? Some of the most famous NFL games ever played were in some of the worst conditions. Green Bay's Bart Starr sneaking behind Jerry Kramer to beat the Cowboys in minus-15 degrees in the Ice Bowl. The New England work-release prisoner snow-plowing a clear space for the Patriots to kick a field goal to beat the Dolphins.But bowl games? A reward for a winning season? As it turns out, West Virginia's reward for beating Iowa State in miserable conditions to become bowl eligible was playing Syracuse in what might be even worse weather."I think about five weeks ago in Ames, Iowa, was one of the most miserable situations I've been in,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing about 30 miles an hour and raining slightly.''
Ah, but he's not going to complain. It's against the coaching creed.
"There are two factors that matter. It's wind and it's wet,'' Holgorsen said. "Snow doesn't bother us much, but if the wind's blowing that makes it miserable.''That, of course, was proven at least twice this season, and the wind didn't even have to be accompanied by cold at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State."I don't care about the snow. I care about the wind,'' WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "If it's cold and windy, that's just miserable. But it's not like we haven't played in that weather before and played well.''Indeed, there was that Iowa State game the Mountaineers won last month. There was also the Rutgers game a year ago in Piscataway, N.J., which combined cold with a heavy, wet snow and wind. The Mountaineers won that game in large part because big tailback Shawne Alston ran wild.Alston, though, hates being called a cold-weather back or a guy who thrives in bad weather. He'd like to be known as more than that. But the fact remains that two of the best games he's ever had were at Rutgers and Iowa State. Someone suggested that part of that success is that defensive players don't like to hit as much when it's cold and so a big back can thrive."Yeah, I've heard that,'' Alston said. "I guess when it gets cold we'll see. But sun, snow, rain, it doesn't matter to me.''
Marrone said he doesn't mind the snow, either, unless the folks running the game aren't prepared for it. He recalled playing for the Jets at the Meadowlands one year against the Steelers when it snowed hard and the sidelines, goal lines and everything else on the field was obscured."And they only had a couple of shovels,'' Marrone said. "It was tough seeing the sidelines.''Regardless of the weather, Holgorsen isn't dwelling on it and he isn't changing anything."We've got some guys who think they're going to go to the NFL,'' Holgorsen said. "And if they go to the NFL they're going to be playing in this kind of weather for two months. Our guys are used to it. You've got a game plan and you just stick to it and see what happens.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or or follow him at  
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