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MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images
MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images
Across sports, professional athletes are paradigms of physical strength as well as mental fortitude, performing under pressure in front of thousands, sometimes millions of spectators. But there are occasions in which athletes have more to contend with than high stakes and fierce opponents. Sometimes the weather becomes a major factor in the contest. Here are times when pro athletes competed in frigid cold, scorching heat, hurricane-level winds and more.
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The Game 4 matchup of the 1997 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins in Cleveland is officially the coldest World Series game on record. Temperatures were around 38 degrees F at first pitch, but it felt more like 18 degrees with the wind chill. Players went from playing the first two games in the series near balmy Miami to contending with snow flurries and ice patches that formed on the infield. Though the Indians won the game, the Marlins ultimately won the series.
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While winter Olympians are used to contending with the cold, their sports often depend on chilly temperatures. That’s why the unseasonably warm weather at the 2014 Sochi Games threw many athletes off their games. Sochi, Russia, was the warmest winter Olympics ever, with a high temp of 68 degrees and not a single moment of the games below freezing. Officials had to re-cover the courses with 80% man-made snow. Athletes had to rethink their wardrobes; some even shoved snow into their suits to help them cool down from the heat. Ski jump events were canceled after puddles formed and athletes were slipping and falling in the landing area.
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On the opposite end of the spectrum, the sub-zero temperatures and wind in Pyeongchang, South Korea, sidelined athletes as well. Several downhill ski, slalom and snowboard events were either disrupted or postponed due to winds of up to 40 mph. Athletes were unable to maintain control during jumps as they were being twisted by the wind up to 20 feet off the ground, causing dangerous falls and crashes.
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The 1981 AFC championship game between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals is the coldest game in NFL history, earning it the nickname “the Freezer Bowl.” The game-time temperature in Cincinnati was -9, but it felt like -59 in the wind, which was gusting up to 35 mph. This made the field and the ball rock-hard. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts had icicles form in his beard. Bengals QB Ken Anderson got frostbite on his right ear, while multiple players suffered frostbite in their fingers and toes. The Bengals ultimately won 27-7.
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The NHL Winter Classic is one of the league’s most popular games of the regular season despite the often frigid conditions outside when its hosted each January. The inaugural contest in Orchard Park, New York, saw the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and more than 71,000 fans bundle up to endure an average temperature of 31.1 degrees at puck drop. Players and spectators also had to contend with a snowstorm. Big, chunky snowflakes blinded players’ view and made it difficult to complete long clears or passes, but it also created a dreamy snow globe effect that added to the mythos of a now-legendary game.
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A March blizzard dumped snow on players during a 2013 CONCACAF World Cup qualifier between Team USA and Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado. The match, famously dubbed the Snow Clasico by fans on social media, required a yellow-and-purple ball that could be seen amid the dusting of white. The kickoff temperature was 28 degrees, and grounds crew members used plows and shovels to keep the lines of the field visible. Clint Dempsey gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute, so when play was briefly paused in the 55th minute because of whiteout conditions, U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann pushed for the game to continue. It did, and the U.S. was able to pull off the win, much to the outrage of Costa Rica.
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Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs is forever known to fans as “the air conditioner game.” Players from both sides were trying to beat the heat after a power outage knocked out air conditioning at San Antonio’s AT&T Center, bringing the temperature on the court to more than 90 degrees. Players were chugging water, and Heat star LeBron James struggled before he had to be carried off the floor in the final minutes due to leg cramps. Though the Spurs handled the heat in Game 1, Miami eventually came back to win the crown in Game 7.
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Hot, humid conditions wore down tennis pros on Day 2 of the 2018 U.S. Open in New York. The extreme August heat reached 98 degrees F with 50% humidity with the real feel on the courts coming in at more than 100 degrees. The U.S. Tennis Association enacted an “extreme heat policy” in men’s matches for the first time, in which players were allowed 10-minute breaks after the third set. Novak Djokovic and Marton Fucsovics used their break during their match to sit in ice baths to try to cool down. Five players were forced to retire from matches for “heat-related” reasons.
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With April temperatures of up to 100 degrees along the route, the 1976 Boston Marathon became known as “the Run for the Hoses” as business and homeowners along the course pitched in to help cool down passing athletes using garden hoses. More than 40% of the nearly 1,900 starters did not finish the race.
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The course of the Tour de France changes each year, with the 21 different parts or “stages” taking riders through various terrains of France. Every year racers are guaranteed to contend with a strenuous mountain portion, and stage 19 of 2019 took competitors through the Alps along Col d’Iseran, the highest paved mountain pass in Europe. The final portion of stage 19 was canceled, however, after a powerful summer storm rolled in, blanketing the road in hail and causing mudslides along the course.
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The first time a World Series game has ever been suspended was due to the wild weather during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays. It started raining before the game began, but drizzle turned into a deluge by the fifth inning, which was interrupted by the grounds crew applying drying agents to the infield and pitcher's mound. Hazardous puddles in the basepaths and whipping winds finally forced gameplay to be halted in the middle of the sixth inning with the score tied 2-2. Play resumed two days later with the Phillies ultimately winning the game and the Series.
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After already causing a power outage, a storm further wreaked havoc on a soccer match between South African professional football clubs the Orlando Pirates and the Black Leopards. Gale-force winds whipped perimeter advertising billboards onto the field, injuring one linesman and three players, two of which were stretchered off the field. The game briefly continued before lightning and torrential rain forced officials to call the match.
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The original “Monsoon Game” took place in 1979 when Kansas City faced Tampa Bay amid some of the heaviest rain an NFL game had ever seen. A sequel of sorts took place more than three decades later in Charlotte, North Carolina, becoming the “ Monsoon Bowl.” The game started out dry, but the skies opened up just before halftime and soon players were standing in ankle-deep water. Waterfalls poured down from the upper levels onto fans sitting below. The deluge finally let up in the third quarter, but by then, the field was a slippery, muddy mess covered in puddles. The Panthers managed to stay afloat and pull off a win.
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A massive blizzard hit New Jersey on Jan. 2, 1987, dropping 22 inches of snow ahead of an NHL matchup between the Flames and Devils. The Flames were already in town and staying at a nearby hotel, so they could easily make it to Brendan Byrne Arena. The game was delayed two hours waiting for the minimum amount of Devils players to arrive. More than 10,000 tickets were sold but only 334 fans were able to navigate the ice, snow, stand-still traffic and abandoned cars to make it. The Devils officially dub these die-hard fans “the 334 Club.”
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Britain’s infamous rains drenched spectators, caddies, players and the course at the disastrous 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales. After a couple hours in the downpour, some of Team USA’s custom rain suits and bags were heavy and waterlogged or had sprung leaks. PGA of America panicked and purchased thousands of dollars of extra rain suits from the supplier for the European team. Play was suspended two times in the tournament, and for the first time in Ryder Cup history, the final session was played on a Monday.
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Rain that seeped around the tarp protecting the field at Three Rivers Stadium ahead of the 1975 AFC championship game between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers froze into ice overnight, particularly along the sidelines. This neutralized the passing game for both teams and proved treacherous for players. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann was knocked unconscious and suffered a severe concussion after his head slammed against the hard, icy ground. Raiders owner Al Davis accused the Steelers, who came away with the win, of intentionally freezing their field prior to the game, though both teams struggled on the field that day.
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Bad weather and controversy plagued another pivotal Raiders game almost 30 years later in a contest that has since been immortalized as the “Tuck Rule Game.” In January 2002, the Raiders were playing the Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts, for a spot in the AFC championship game. A heavy snowstorm blanketed the field in white and decreased visibility for players, referees and fans. Staff had to use snowblowers to clear off the lines on the field between plays. The winter wonderland conditions have become part of the mythos behind what’s considered the most controversial replay review in NFL history. A near-fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was ruled an incomplete pass, based on a newly instituted rule dubbed the "tuck rule." The Patriots went on to win in overtime and claim the team’s first Super Bowl ring.
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MLB players have buckled down through rain, snow, hail and heat, but when wild weather disrupts local insects, that’s a different story. Before a 2019 game between the Reds and Giants, a dense swarm of bees descended onto the field, forcing officials to delay the start of the game by about 30 minutes. Reds outfielder Derek Dietrich jokingly ran onto the field with beekeeping gear to do his part to save the day. Bee delays aren’t that uncommon during spring training, as swarms happen when warm weather and blooming flowers follow a long, wet winter.
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Perhaps the most famous bug intervention in a professional sports game was during a hot, humid 2007 playoff game between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians in Ohio that became known as “the Bug Game.” Millions of midges plagued players on the field and in the dugout due to a “perfect swarm” of factors, including being pushed by air currents from their breeding ground around Lake Erie. Players tried to swat them away with their hats and gloves, but bugs still flew in their eyes, nose and even their mouths.
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Soccer matches have also dealt with pesky insects, including on the world stage. During a 2017 World Cup Group G match between England and Tunisia in Volgograd, Russia, players were doused with high strength insect repellent before the game and at halftime but were still beset by a swarm of hybrid mosquitoes and midges. Helicopters had already sprayed pesticide two days before the game, and though liquids were typically banned, spectators were allowed to bring bug spray into the arena.
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The 2004 Indianapolis 500 was proceeding with fits and starts as crews waited out rain and hail until the race was finally cut short 20 laps because of an approaching F2 tornado. The funnel touched down less than 10 miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting off tornado sirens that caused fans to scramble out of their seats and seek shelter underneath the grandstands until the storm passed.
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The conditions for a 1982 contest between Dolphins and the Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts, have gone down in NFL history. A blanket of snow was dropped on the stadium before the game, and officials allowed a “snowplow,” which was actually a small tractor fitted with a snow sweeper, to clear the field during breaks in action. As the Patriots set up to kick a field goal, the snowplow driver came on to clear the 20-yard line but veered to instead clear the area 3 yards back where the placekicker would be. Play continued, the Patriots won 3-0 and the game became nicknamed “the Snowplow Game.” Though the NFL created a rule that would prevent this advantage from happening again, the tractor from the day hangs inside the Patriots Hall of Fame.
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As one of the three most southernmost MLB teams, the Rangers, located in Arlington, Texas, have played host to the two hottest league games on record. The Rangers first set the major league record for the hottest game-time start with a 109-degree first pitch in 1980 against the Minnesota Twins. They tied that record again in 1988 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years, the Rangers have endured more than a half-dozen game-time starting temperatures above 104. The Rangers’ new home, Globe Life Field, will have a retractable roof for the team to use once they move in 2020.
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Several host cities of the Summer Olympics have been almost too hot to handle, with organizers having to scramble to keep athletes and spectators safe in scorching temperatures. The 1996 Games in Atlanta were held during the peak of Georgia’s humid summer heat, with temperatures soaring close to 100 during the first weekend. Atlanta spent $1 million alone to protect horses from the heat during equestrian events, including installing high-powered water mist fans. As for human athletes, the artificial turf on the field hockey field had to be cooled down with water that turned to steam.
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Unlike many other televised sports contests, soccer matches don’t have breaks, including commercials or timeouts. That means athletes play nonstop for an entire 45-minute half. This lack of breaks to rest and hydrate poses a risk to athletes, especially in extreme weather. It wasn’t until 2014 in Brazil that officials mandated the first official World Cup water break. A referee called a timeout for USA and Portugal’s players in the 39th minute of their match because the South American heat was 84 degrees with 80% humidity. Later in the tournament during Mexico’s match against the Netherlands, officials called the first-ever three-minute cooling breaks in the World Cup as temperatures reached up to 100 degrees inside the stadium.
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PGA Tour players have dealt with high wind and rain, but tournaments are often cut short in the face of difficult weather. However, at the 1964 U.S. Open in Bethesda, Maryland, oppressively hot June temperatures up to 108 didn’t stop play or hard-headed golfer Ken Venturi. Venturi struggled against heat exhaustion and dehydration to finish. A doctor advised him to stop playing, but he ignored the warning and was able to notch a legendary win.
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With temperatures of more than 100 degrees F outside in Melbourne, the hardcourt temperatures reached more than 150 degrees during a second-round Australian Open match between Gael Monfils and Novak Djokovic in 2018. Play continued despite the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke because to stop play a formula using both heat and humidity is employed, but the humidity levels didn’t surpass the tournament’s heat rule. The next day, French player Alize Cornet collapsed from the heat while facing Elise Mertens, but she finished the match despite the brutal conditions.
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One of the most famous American natural disasters is the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, though sports fans might also remember its 1989 sequel. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the city just minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland As and San Francisco Giants. Players, coaches, staff and more than 60,000 fans at Candlestick Park felt the tremors rock the stadium. While damage to the park was minimal compared to the rest of the Bay Area, the game was postponed for 10 days.
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The skies opened up during the second half of the 2008 Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea in Moscow. The cold, heavy rain slipped up Chelsea team captain John Terry during the game’s deciding penalty kick shootout, forcing his potential winning shot wide. United made all their remaining PKs, while Chelsea’s Nicholas Anelka also missed, giving the Red Devils the win.
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Green Bay has a history of nasty snowstorms, including a 1985 game against Tampa Bay dubbed “the Snow Bowl.” Mother Nature threw a curveball to players yet again in a 2008 NFC playoff match. The Packers thrived as the Seahawks floundered during a heavy snowstorm that reduced visibility and made Lambeau Field a slippery surface.
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During the dramatic final game of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, a dust storm swept through Phoenix. The Diamondbacks had a 1-0 lead coming into the seventh inning when high winds began whipping dirt and trash around the field and blowing sand in players’ eyes. This desert storm seemed to throw off the D-backs, who gave up two runs and their lead, until the team staged a ninth-inning comeback to win their first World Series.
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Both the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers are used to playing in cold climates, but both sides faced an especially tough battle for the NFC title when competing in frigid weather with a wind chill of -23 degrees F. Giants players drank warm chicken broth to warm up at halftime, and players lost feeling in their fingertips. Despite the harsh conditions, the underdog Giants were able to pull off a win and went on to defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
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While the Boston Marathon has had its fair share of heat, the unseasonably warm temperatures at the 1984 New York City Marathon in October proved deadly. Temperatures of up to 79 degrees and humidity as high as 96 percent caused the first fatality on the course after a French runner collapsed and later died. The race, whose winner stopped eight times before finishing, was dubbed “the disaster of 1984” by the marathon's founder and director.
The rains at Wimbledon in 2001 are legendary for changing the course of the tournament, which saw Croatian player Goran Ivanisevic become the first wild card to win a Grand Slam tournament. In his semifinal match against Britain's Tim Henman, Ivanisevic was trailing until the skies opened up and the contest was suspended until Saturday, then suspended again the next day until Sunday. This extreme delay allowed Ivanisevic to rally and earn a spot in the finals. In 2009, the All England Club unveiled a retractable roof for Centre Court to thwart any future weather interventions.
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A 1995 NFL game in New Jersey turned into a snowball fight and then an out-of-control crime scene known among fans as “the Snowball Game.” Snow from a couple days before had been cleared from the field but not the stands, and fans began throwing hard, icy snowballs around the stadium. As officials went to stop play in the fourth quarter and control the crowd, the Chargers equipment manager was struck in the head by a snowball and knocked unconscious. Fans continued pelting players, coaches and staff. More than a dozen fans were arrested, 175 were ejected and the Giants bought a full-page ad in a San Diego paper to apologize to the Chargers for the incident.
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With the bitter cold coming in at 35 degrees at first pitch before dipping to a low of 26 in Denver, the weather during Game 3 of the 2009 NLDS between the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies tied with the 1997 World Series for the coldest start to a playoff game. The frigid game was only nine innings but clocked in at a brutal four hours and six minutes. The game was already postponed due to snow, ice and record-low temperatures the day before.
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The Windy City lived up to its name during a 2013 game between the Ravens and Bears. First-quarter play was delayed almost two hours and fans were evacuated from the seating bowl due to lightning and heavy rain. Chicago also had tornado and flash flood warnings with wind gusts up to 34 mph.
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In August 2019, afternoon play was stopped at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta due to thunderstorms when a massive lightning bolt cracked down from the sky and hit the top of a tree on the course near the No. 16 tee. Multiple fans were injured, with five sent to the hospital. The tournament was suspended for the rest of the day.
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During the 2019 Women’s World Cup, host country France experienced record sweltering summer temperatures. Though schools closed and events were canceled across the country, the scheduled quarter-final match between the U.S. Women’s National Team and France in Paris proceeded. At kickoff, temperatures were around 90 degrees, so the teams were allowed a water break in each half.
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NBA games aren’t really affected by weather, but Spurs fans found themselves in the middle of an indoor downpour after the Alamodome’s fire system went off during the team’s 1994-95 season opener against the Warriors. The pregame fireworks show triggered a water cannon that sent water blasting down on fans, players and coaches at pressures as high as 2,900 gallons per minute for four minutes before it was shut off. The debacle left some fans soaking wet and delayed the game for 50 minutes. The team learned its lesson and subsequent indoor pyrotechnics have been without incident.
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The Spurs don’t have the distinction of having the NBA’s first “rain out.” That landmark belongs to the SuperSonics during their January 1986 game against the Suns. Rain leaked through the roof at the Coliseum, leaving ball boys scrambling to wipe up the puddles on the court. Players were slipping and falling and fans even opened up umbrellas indoors before the game was ultimately called off in the second quarter after an almost hour-long delay.
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Chicago isn’t just prone to winter storms. A December 1988 NFC divisional playoff game between the Eagles and Bears was blanketed with dense fog during the second quarter. Players’ visibility was down to only about 10-15 yards. Some complained to officials that they couldn’t even see the first-down markers and officials and commentators were unable to see from the press box, but the game continued. Neither team managed to notch another touchdown, and the Bears ultimately won the “Fog Bowl” 20-12.
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Tennis stars had to contend with hurricane-like conditions and weather delays over multiple days of the 2019 French Open in Paris. The men’s singles semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem was postponed due to rain and 55 mph winds. In their semifinal match, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had to keep rubbing grit from their eyes, and wind gusts blew debris and umbrellas across the court.
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Miserable winter weather in December 2007 led to one of the lowest-scoring modern NFL games when the Bills met the Browns in Cleveland. Wind gusts up to 40 mph made throwing the ball near-impossible, forcing both teams to rely on their running games on a field slick with snow. Neither team scored a single touchdown, and the Browns scraped by with an 8-0 win.
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The NBA experienced one of its only fog delays when a faulty fog machine for a Halloween-themed halftime show kicked on early during a 2012 matchup between the Pistons and the Rockets. With about a minute left in the second quarter, smoke started pouring out of a courtside fog machine, halting play.