As soon as the Big 12 announced the television time for KU’s football game at Iowa State, Laura and I both starting planning our outfits for the game. This was not a Halloween costume event, but with game time set for seven o’clock at night, we knew by the time we suited up for the game we would look mighty strange. That is because the temperature at game time last Saturday was 10 degrees and by game’s end 2 degrees.
To survive took planning since we both have experience with weather in Ames. Laura was still the academic counselor for the KU football team back in 2000. She had yet to begin her voluntary photography career. Coach Terry Allen, though, always welcomed Laura to travel with the team and enjoy the game from the team bench area. I was along the sidelines with my cameras.
Even though the temperatures were in the 20’s for the day game, the wind blew fiercely from the north, making it a brutal game. Laura decked herself out in royal blue Kansas gear given to her by the football team. Designed for big football players, Laura was so enveloped she resembled a Smurf, but in my mind, still looked really cute, if you can say that while someone freezes.
Since this was the last game of the season, and traveling to Ames was not high on many travel lists, the legendary Max Falkenstein had to sink low to ask me to join him as his KU half-time radio guest. In the small well-heated radio booth, I spent the moments before going on air stripping off as many layers as possible. Falkenstein spent most of the interview time asking me about dealing with harsh conditions. That preceded my frantic efforts to suit up again for the second half.
Two other football games still chill my bones whenever I think about them. While working for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, I traveled to Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, for the Penn State game against Notre Dame. The winner of the game would be playing USC in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1982. I already had photographed Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen and USC during a game in Los Angeles earlier that fall.
Quarterback Todd Blackledge led Penn State to victory over the Irish on the 21st day of November. Again, the temperatures were only in the 20’s at game time, but the wind whipped through the stadium driving the wind chill through my completely “Arizonafied” thin-blooded body, leaving me painfully frozen as day quickly turned to night.
On December 18, 1983, the Kansas City Chiefs capped their 6-10 season with a victory over the Denver Broncos. At game time, the temperature was zero degrees with 15 mph winds dropping the wind chill to 19 below. Only 11,377 fans braved that weather, and I was one of the “lucky” few to photograph the victory, followed by the post-game thaw that leaves every extremity painfully aching, tingling and, finally, burning during the long recovery.
The most challenging cold weather factor has always been my hands. Manual focus lens, especially long telephoto lens, required a sense of feel. That smooth touch could not be masked by gloves. Every time the temperatures drop, the thumb and forefinger of my left and the forefinger on my right hand go numb long before the rest of me. I never could focus well or trigger a camera with gloves. I can trace the loss of feeling in those fingers to that game so many years ago in Pennsylvania.
To cope with last weekend’s frigid evening in Ames, Laura and I matched each other almost piece-by-piece. I donned a light pair of long underwear with a heavier expedition set from Patagonia next. Jeans followed by KU adidas Gore-Tex rain paints blocking the wind. Liner socks and heavy-duty Smart Wool socks helped fill out the fantastically warm Sorel boots Laura gave me last year for Christmas.
On top, a sweatshirt covered the long underwear. Next, another great Laura gift, an Eddie Bauer down sweater jacket, was finished off with a Columbia down ski jacket with hard shell cover that has kept me warm for years. A balaclava and neck gaiter covered head, ears and neck with a stocking cap on top. That left only a pair of Cloudveil fingerless gloves with fold away mitten tops. Even with auto-focus lens, I still slip needed fingers out of these surprisingly warm minimalist gloves.
It helps that I stuffed small heat packs inside the mitten cover of each glove. We taped bigger self-adhesive packs to our lower backs and between our shoulders, while Laura added heated insoles to her Sorel boots. At one point in the second half, I unzipped my top jacket. Outdoor companies continue to refine cold weather clothing to the point we moved around the “frozen tundra” far easier than KU did in the 34-0 loss. Clearly, Iowa State did not have heating elements underneath the natural grass surface. From the hash marks out, the usual soft Iowa grass became frozen concrete. Outside of the Russian judge, KU received high marks across the board for their skating routines.
Lest you think you think I am overstating the frigid conditions, every breath onto the back of our cameras froze instantly leaving the camera back covered with a frosty white crust. Not often can band members pump steam from their breath through their instruments, but they did Saturday night. With the outcome of the game decided early, many fans spent the game sliding down snow-covered patches of grass in the four corners of the stadium.
Finally there is what I will kindly call the “indifference of youth.” It was painful to watch the KU student paper photographer, Emily Wittler, trying to pump blood to her thinly covered limbs. In the future, before traveling to Iowa, check your weather app, please. There is a very good chance it is “going to be cold outside.”