The Big Chill: greatest cold-weather QBs

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 07, 2010



By Mark Wald
Cold, Hard Football Facts ice princess
 
When I first moved to Minneapolis from North Dakota years ago, people pointed at the electrical cord sticking out from the radiator of my car and laughed. They'd never heard of an engine-block heater before. 
 
And Minnesota is supposed to be cold.
 
To most of the country, it probably is cold. But compared to where I come from, winters in Minneapolis are mild.  Minnesotans have made an industry out of being a hearty stock, but they really don't know what cold weather is. 
 
If you check the January averages for North Dakota and Minnesota, there probably isn't a significant difference.  But those are averagesAll I can tell you is in North Dakota you can count on seven to ten consecutive days in January where the high temperature doesn't get above -5 degrees. The overnight lows? Try -25 degrees. In fact, it was 27-below in Bismarck last night.
 
But I'm sure there's someone out there who could do me one better. That's why it's difficult analyzing cold-weather quarterbacks. What's cold to one person may not be cold to another. 
 
Regardless, I admire a good performance in cold weather over a snow game. Snow games are more messy than miserable. But nothing debilitates like the cold. It drains your will to continue. Your mouth and fingers stop working.  All you want to do is get out of it any way you can and you don't care about anything else. Hell, just ask the Bengals, who didn't even bother to show up in the cold against the Jets last week.
 
All the more admirable, then, are the quarterbacks who manage to excel in such conditions. I can't imagine doing it.
 
The definition of a cold weather game
Cold weather is subjective, so I had to draw a line in the ... uh ... snow. Since 32 degrees Fahrenheit is freezing, that's as good a line as any. And yeah, I threw snow games in there, too. Ultimately, I settled on the following criteria. I used NFL games since 1960:
  • Played in November, December, & January
  • Played in cold-weather cities Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit (1960-74), Green Bay, Kansas City, Minneapolis (1960-81), New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis (1960-85) and Washington
  • With a temp of 32 degrees or colder at kickoff, or any mention of snow, ice, or freezing rain during the game
As information sources, I used the weather conditions listed in the NFL Gamebooks for games played from 2001-2008. For games prior to 2001, I used weather resources on the web backed up by local newspaper archives. In most cases, hourly weather information was available, which allowed me to pinpoint conditions no matter what time of day the games started.
 
The analysis is missing the occasional October snow game (such as New England's 59-0 win over Tennessee in October 2009) or the rare cold-weather game in a southern city (though I did add a few of the more well-known cold weather games that fell outside the parameters, such as the famous "Leon Lett game" in Dallas on Thanksgiving a few years back).
 
But give me a break. I wanted to finish the analysis before next winter. 
 
Regardless, I believe this analysis captures the overwhelming majority of cold weather games played since 1960 and is the most complete analysis of the topic found on the web.
 
Greatest cold-weather quarterbacks
To be among the great cold-weather quarterbacks, opportunity and skill both play a part. Quarterbacks who play in cold weather cities have more opportunities. But quarterbacks who take their teams to the playoffs increase the number of games they play in January, when the cold weather really kicks in. 
 
The following NFL quarterbacks have the best winning percentage in cold weather games since 1960.
 
Top NFL Cold Weather Quarterbacks (since 1960, min 5 games)

Passer

W

L

T

PCT

Tom Brady

16

1

 

.941

Donovan McNabb

10

1

 

.909

Kyle Orton

7

1

 

.875

Bob Lee

5

1

 

.833

Kordell Stewart

5

1

 

.833

Trent Green

5

1

 

.833

Drew Bledsoe

12

3

 

.800

Johnny Unitas

4

1

 

.800

Bart Starr

15

4

 

.789

Terry Bradshaw

14

4

 

.778

Bubby Brister

6

2

 

.750

Earl Morrall

7

2

1

.750

Neil O'Donnell

9

3

 

.750

Brett Favre

35

12

 

.745

John Elway

14

5

 

.737

Ben Roethlisberger

11

4

 

.733

Phil Simms

8

3

 

.727

Len Dawson

6

2

1

.722

Craig Morton

7

3

 

.700

Joe Kapp

7

3

 

.700

Milt Plum

3

1

1

.700

Billy Wade

5

2

1

.688

Jim Kelly

15

7

 

.682

Brian Griese

4

2

 

.667

Elvis Grbac

4

2

 

.667

Ken Anderson

8

4

 

.667

Tommy Maddox

4

2

 

.667

 
The best cold-weather road quarterbacks
Maybe more impressive are the guys who won in cold weather on the road. Road games present their own challenge, but throw bad weather into the mix and you have a real challenging situation. 
 
The following quarterbacks have the best winning percentage in cold weather on the road.
 
Top 10 Cold Weather QBs on the road (since 1960, min 5 games)

Passer

W

L

T

PCT

Tom Brady

5

0

 

1.000

Drew Bledsoe

4

2

 

.667

Chad Pennington

3

2

 

.600

Craig Morton

3

2

 

.600

Earl Morrall

3

2

 

.600

Fran Tarkenton

8

5

2

.600

Ken Stabler

3

2

 

.600

Bart Starr

4

3

 

.571

John Brodie

3

3

 

.500

Terry Bradshaw

3

3

 

.500

       
Brady tops the list again, but since he plays his home games in a cold-weather city, his ranking might be more indicative of his overall road record in general. It's interesting that another former Patriots quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, is No. 2 on the list. So it might just help in general to play regularly in that wintry New England  enivronment.   
 
The real standouts here are Stabler and Brodie. Both played their entire careers in warm-weather cities, but won on the road in cold weather.
 
Best cold-weather quarterbacks in the postseason
Ramping it up a bit further, the following quarterbacks have the best winning percentage in cold-weather playoff games.
 
Fittingly, Bart Starr, who quarterbacked the Packers to victory in the Ice Bowl, the most famous cold-weather game of all, comes out high on the list. In fact, the top four cold-weather playoff QBs are all undefeated and all in the Hall of Fame or, in the case of Tom Brady, heading to the Hall of Fame.
 
Top Cold Weather QBs in the playoffs (1960, min 3 games)

Passer

W

L

Pct

Tom Brady
7
0
1.000

Bart Starr

5

0

1.000

Terry Bradshaw

5

0

1.000

John Elway

3

0

1.000

Donovan McNabb

6

1

.857

Fran Tarkenton

4

1

.800

Ben Roethlisberger

3

1

.750

Bernie Kosar

2

1

.667

Joe Kapp

2

1

.667

Neil O'Donnell

2

1

.667

Phil Simms

2

1

.667

 
The 2009 playoff quarterbacks in cold weather
This year, arguably the three best teams play their home games in domes. If things play out as you would expect (which they never do), we could have conference championship games inside where the weather won't play a factor.
 
Still, the Ravens-Patriots games will be played in the cold this weekend in Foxboro. And there's an off-chance that the conference title games could go through cold-weather places like Cincinnati, East Rutherford, Green Bay or Foxboro.
 
In any case, here are the cold-weather records of the 2009 playoff quarterbacks.
 
Records of 2009 playoff QBs in cold weather games
Passer W L Pct
Tom Brady 16 1 .941
Donovan McNabb 10 1 .909
Brett Favre 35 12 .745
Carson Palmer 2 1 .667
Aaron Rodgers 3 3 .500
Joe Flacco 2 2 .500
Peyton Manning 3 3 .500
Drew Brees 1 3 .250
Kurt Warner 0 1 .000
Mark Sanchez 0 1 .000
Philip Rivers 0 3 .000
Tony Romo 0 1 .000
 
Brady, McNabb, and Favre have the edge in cold-weather experience and performance. The rest are scraping .500 or have little experience in cold-weather games. 
 
Based on history, Rivers could be in trouble if he ends up playing in the cold or snow. Conversely, the Patriots look well equipped to handle the Ravens this week, while the Eagles could do well if they somehow end up in Green Bay for the NFC title game.
 

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