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Teams prepare for storm



Published: Fri, January 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Snowstorm likely to pass before Sunday's conference championship games.

They'll be throwing snowballs instead of footballs this weekend in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but a major winter storm projected to dump as much as a foot of snow on both cities should pass in time for Sunday's two NFL conference championship games.

The storm caused the New England Patriots to fly to Pittsburgh a day ahead of schedule Friday night to avoid expected travel delays today. The Patriots will miss a scheduled walkthrough, but coach Bill Belichick said they also skipped it before last weekend's home game against the Colts.

Philadelphia could get the worst of the snowstorm, which is predicted to start early today in western Pennsylvania and gradually spread across the state. The National Weather Service predicts 4 to 8 inches in both cities, but State College, Pa.-based Accuweather is calling for 6 to 12 inches in Pittsburgh and as much or more with blizzard-like conditions in Philadelphia.

Blankets required

Once the snow clears out, a gametime temperature of 18 with a minus-7 wind chill factor is predicted for the late afternoon Falcons-Eagles NFC championship game in frigid Philadelphia. Forecasters are calling for 16-degree temperatures and a wind chill around 10 for the early evening Patriots-Steelers AFC championship game in Pittsburgh.

And there's no dome in sight in either Pennsylvania city, where the cold weather is nothing out of the ordinary for late January and fans are accustomed to dealing with the unpredictable elements.

"It's evident it's one of our advantages," Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell said. "That's why we don't have a dome stadium."

The Falcons do as the only one of the four conference finalists not from a cold-weather city. But they're downplaying the weather factor, saying it hardly makes a difference once the game begins.

"It doesn't matter to us -- rain, snow, sleet," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "You just go play. We're not a team that worries about those things. We don't have room in our brains for that type of stuff."

Teams warm to weather

Crews at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field and Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field are expected to work around the clock to clear snow and ice from the grandstands and parking lots once the storm begins. Both playing fields will be covered.

"The weather, we're a little concerned about that," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said. "Saturday could be a little bit bad, but I think it's going to be fine (Sunday). Both teams are cold-weather teams anyway. The field will be in excellent shape."

The Patriots -- no surprise here -- have won 15 of their past 17 games in temperatures of 35 or below, while the Steelers -- no surprise here -- are 5-2 in the same kind of weather the past three seasons.

"If they were coming here from Miami, it might be different," but neither cold-weather team should have an edge, the Steelers' Alan Faneca said Friday.




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