Please excuse the pun, I couldn’t help myself.
It’s already getting cold here in Ann Arbor as they set up for College Gameday in the build up for tomorrow night’s game against Notre Dame. This made me think about the scenes that unfolded last week in Ann Arbor, South Bend, and even College Park where downpours made for a messy and sometimes dangerous environment, which begs the question “In what weather should you play football?” As a fan in Michigan Stadium, I was horrified when the game was delayed (despite a clear sky) and then delayed again (and subsequently cancelled). Sure, the weather was terrible but I personally didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder, so why not play on? I know, they have rules about these things, but I think the philosophical question goes a bit deeper than protecting against liability and NCAA guidelines.
I once sat through freezing rain and sleet for 3 ½ hours watching Michigan get beaten to a pulp against Northwestern, and another time sat through wind and cold rain getting to see Ohio State celebrate a win against the Wolverines (again). All of this is just the cost of doing business as a fan. On the night of my brother’s bachelor party, we sat through a long rain delay to catch the Orioles squeeze in a game between thunderstorms. The typical line has always been that football should be played on no matter what, come snow, rain, wind, fog, or anything else. There are no “called” games on the gridiron, and this was an adage that seemed to continue until recently, when I have noticed a bit more nuanced approach.
Teams (and conferences) are starting to take into account how utterly unentertaining it is for the average fan to watch a team slug it out in the mud, slipping and falling every time they try to run, or having a quarterback who can barely see six feet in front of him having to try a pass. Some have even argued that snow, fog, rain, etc. gives teams that are built differently an unfair advantage when conditions are supposed to be more or less equal. For my money, if a team has an advantage speed-wise, they put in artificial turf in their stadium. So why is it unfair for a team to enjoy the benefits of a driving rainstorm when they can run the ball better or take advantage of overzealous defenders who slip when making their cuts?
Of course, this doesn’t mean it isn’t an advantage, when a high-flying offense is suddenly cut down by the conditions. The answer to this is domed stadiums, a popular option for such conditions-specific teams and the bane of “old school” fans in Chicago, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. But what about baseball? I recall one game against the Yankees sometime in the mid-aughts when Jeremy Guthrie was pitching with one-run lead in the 7th inning against Derek Jeter. It was an utter rainstorm, but with runners on 2nd and 3rd, he had to focus. Jeter singles to drive in two runs, and the moment he does the game is stopped. Yanks take the lead, and the game is continued months later only to have the O’s fall. When asked about it later, Guthrie said something along the lines of “I wasn’t trying to throw strikes, I was just trying to avoid hitting the backstop.”
Since baseball is so much more affected by the elements, it would stand to reason that they would- or should- have more domed stadiums. My brother would tell you that’s heresy, and for an entirely different reason than football. In football, a domed stadium means the removal of an intrinsic element of the game for the sake of preserving the X’s and O’s purity of the game. The weather throws a wrench in that. Thus when domes are introduced it is primarily for practical, on-the-field purposes (of course there is also fan comfort in cold environments, but again, Chicago, New England, and Green Bay manage alright).
Baseball, for all its rain delays, wind-fueled home runs, etc. is more about the experience. You can go to a baseball game and not care at all about the score if you want, you can enjoy the crowd, look at the beautiful park (at least if you’re in Baltimore) and order some overpriced food. In other words, fans need the open air to get the most out of the experience. In football, one lives and dies on every play, and unless you are in Jerryworld you and 60-100 thousand of your closest friends have all eyes on the game and there is little time for casual conversation or kicking back.
Rain or shine, hundreds of football and baseball teams will take the field this weekend. Whether they play it out or not may say as much about the game- and the fans- as it does about the conditions.
What about you? I would love to hear what you think of the role of weather in football vs. baseball, and what that says about the game or the culture of the sport?