Ryan Longwell (Mark Cunningham/Getty)
Ryan Longwell is very familiar with the setup of Soldier Field, both the old one and the remodeled one. The remodeling of the stadium has changed the wind patterns, for the worse, Longwell said.
There will be countless battles going on Sunday night when the Vikings head to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears. Cornerbacks will face up with wide receivers. Offensive tackles will be matched up with pass-rushing tight ends. Running backs and linebackers will meet at high speed.
But for kickers Ryan Longwell and Robbie Gould, the winds of Soldier Field, especially if the winds are coming with an uninterrupted run off Lake Michigan, can make field goal attempts an adventure. Pregame warmups often entail kicking like a golfer who would drift a hook shot to a green – aiming five to 10 yards to the right of a goal post in hopes of compensating for the wind. They call Chicago “The Windy City” for a reason.
Longwell said that part of the preparation for game day in Chicago entails more than implementing game plans for the week. It includes computer time to check out weather forecasts. They realize the unexpected variables may come into play that can’t be simulated in practice.
“We check the weather forecasts throughout the week and again when we get there Saturday,” Longwell said. “You want to know if you’re going to be in for a windy day, because that’s where it causes problems. When you get there, you see what the wind is doing – it’s almost always windy there – but you don’t get married to anything because it can change so fast.”
Soldier Field has always been a nightmare location for opponents, especially teams from domed stadiums or warm-weather cities. But, from the kicker perspective, the remodeling done on the stadium to add luxury boxes changed the landscape of the stadium and, in doing so, changed the wind currents from bad to worse.
“Since they did the remodel, the wind has become a lot more swirly than it was before,” Longwell said. “You kind of get a general idea, but it can literally change from kick to kick. The old stadium was a lot lower. The wind would come in over the top and what you had at the start of the game was usually what you were going to deal with throughout the day. Now it’s higher and the wind comes over the top and swirls around. If you watch the flags on the goal posts, they can be blowing in one direction in one end zone and the opposite direction in the other at the same time. If the wind is coming in off the lake, you have to do a lot of adjustments.”
Longwell said the kicker’s routine has to adjust to the wind conditions. He said it goes against everything you practice to intentionally try to kick a ball 10 yards wide of your target because you know the wind is going to push it back. Longwell said it basically comes down to having confidence in the spot you’ve chosen to kick and letting it rip – for better or worse.
“You just make sure that the ball leaves your foot where you want it to,” Longwell said. “If you guess wrong, you guess wrong. I’ve been pretty good guessing the wind there over the years, so that’s a plus. The key is deciding where you want to kick it and do it.”
The extended forecasts call for occasional showers on Sunday, but, as of now, no significant wind advisories. If Longwell has his way, it will be dead calm.
“I would like nothing more than to see no wind,” Longwell said. “You would much rather play in Chicago in September or October than in December. That’s when things get crazy. Hopefully, the conditions will be good. All we can do now is check the Weather Channel and hope for the best.”
Antoine Winfield remains sidelined with a neck strain. He was the only Viking who didn’t participate in practice. Three others were limited – Percy Harvin (ribs), E.J. Henderson (knee) and Kenny Onatolu (hamstring).
Peppers hasn’t been ruled out of Sunday’s game, but word out of Chicago is that he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of Monday’s loss at Detroit.
Asked his thoughts on former college teammate Tim Tebow getting the starting job in Denver, Harvin said he thinks he will succeed and all he needs is an opportunity. On the prospect of playing against him at the Metrodome in December? “That would be great,” Harvin said. “He’s a good guy and I’m glad he’s getting his chance. It would be fun to go up against him and see who comes out of it with bragging rights.”
Perhaps former Cowboys G.M. Gil Brandt has lost his mind. As the NFL trade deadline approaches, Brandt, who works for the NFL’s official website, proposed several trades that he thinks would be “win-win” types of deals. Among them is one that has the Vikings trading Jared Allen to New England for a late first-round draft pick. What? Clearly, Brandt hasn’t asked anyone remotely associated with the Vikings as to whether they would even consider putting Allen on the trading block. The best news of the story was the fan reactions to the story. Fans from just about every city with an NFL team mentioned responded to the effect that Brandt must have a medical marijuana prescription. The story is worth checking out, especially the feedback comments. Among the other trades he proposed were for the Broncos to trade Brandon Lloyd and (repeat and) “draft picks” to Carolina for Jimmy Clausen. Anyone who saw Jimmy Clausen last year understands why the Panthers had the first pick and used it on Cam Newton.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.