Weather Still An Animal In Cleveland, But Not The Bear It Used To Be
By Steven King
Back in the day, Cleveland was one of the weather epicenters of the NFL. The howling winds blew in off Lake Erie, bringing with them snow, rain, sleet and whatever else Mother Nature could come up with. It all made for slippery – and often times terrible – playing conditions during Browns games at old Cleveland Stadium.
The fact the original Browns franchise won 63 percent of its home games during its 50-year existence from 1946-95 was due in no small part to its ability to weather the storm, literally and figuratively. Conversely, opposing teams hated playing at the venue because they couldn’t deal with the elements. There were a lot of teams that looked like they just quit trying to do anything about it by the fourth quarter.
But that was then. Things are different now, for the most part anyway.
Cleveland Stadium is no more, having been torn down and dumped into the lake out beyond the breakwall to serve as habitat for all the creatures that live there. But its replacement, newly-named FirstEnergy Stadium, is built on the footprint of the old place – the only facility in all of pro sports that can claim that – so some of the old problems still exist. That’s especially true in regards to the wind, which may be just as bad as – if not worse than – it was in Cleveland Stadium. That’s because there is now an opening on the western side of the stadium that didn’t exist in the previous era, allowing the wind to blow through unimpeded.
The ability to master that wind is what made Phil Dawson the best kicker in team history – even better than Pro Football Hall of Famer Lou Groza – and arguably also the best in the NFL right now. As such, he will be sorely missed by the points-starved Browns after signing with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency earlier this offseason.
But the field conditions may never be as bad at FirstEnergy Stadium as they were in the old days. The new stadium has 40 miles – that’s not a misprint -- of heating coil beneath the surface, going from one sideline area to the other at six-inch intervals all the way down the field. That takes care of most of the icing and snow problems, the most memorable exception being a December 2007 game against the Buffalo Bills, In that contest, a blizzard started two hours before kickoff and continued throughout the day, laying a thick blanket of snow on the field that wouldn’t go away.
For what it is worth, Dawson was still able to kick two field goals from 49 and 35 yards that day, proving to be the difference in an 8-0 victory.
Of the current Browns, the one player who can probably handle bad weather better than anyone on the team is likely RB Trent Richardson. Like Hall of Fame runner Leroy Kelly, Richardson runs flat-footed and tends to scoot and dart, giving him good footing regardless of the weather. He showed that ability in a 7-6 victory over the Norv Turner-coached San Diego Chargers last Oct. 28 when he rushed 24 times for 122 yards and the game’s only touchdown on a 26-yarder on a rain-soaked field.
QB Brandon Weeden should be able to handle the wind because of his arm strength; he also has plenty of experience in the wind tunnel that is Oklahoma State. He knows to keep the nose of the ball down on particularly bad days so his passes can cut through the wind. It’s the same quality former Browns greats Bernie Kosar, Brian Sipe, Frank Ryan and Bill Nelsen had as they battled the winds on the shores of Lake Erie for years, helping contribute to the mystique of Cleveland Stadium.