To sleeve or not to sleeve in the cold

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On one side of the Green Bay Packers' locker room, cornerback Tramon Williams pulled a stocking cap over his head and slipped into a pair of warm boots.

At another section of lockers, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari wore nothing heavier than a sweatshirt -- unzipped.

Take a guess at where each player falls on the sleeves versus no sleeves debate in cold-weather football.

Although the forecast keeps getting worse for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, players on the no-sleeve side of the argument do not appear to be budging, despite the latest from The Weather Channel that indicates the high temperature won’t get above zero, and the low could be close to 20-below.

“I’ll never wear sleeves,” said Bakhtiari, a northern California native.

Why not?

“It’s kind of like the norm. That’s the best way to describe it.”

However, Bakhtiari did say that there have been a couple of times this season when he and fellow offensive lineman Josh Sitton pondered it. But they kept coming back to the same point.

“You don’t wear sleeves,” Bakhtiari said.

Williams, on the other hand (or arm), has been wearing sleeves all season. If the offensive linemen want to look tough, that’s fine with him, but he wants no part of that.

“Whatever makes them play the best, they need to go with or without,” he said.

Maybe players get wise with age, because veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, 34, used to be a no-sleeve guy. That was until the 2007 NFC championship game against the New York Giants, when it was minus-1 at kickoff.

“Definitely sleeves; I’m wearing sleeves, man,” Pickett said. “I tried the no-sleeves thing [against the Giants], and it took me three days to thaw out. I’m wearing sleeves.”

Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, a former quarterback with the Buffalo Bills from 1995-2003, had a message for young players on the team.

“Don’t try to be a hero,” Van Pelt said. “If you need to wear sleeves, wear sleeves. Nobody’s going to call you soft.”

Unless you’re an offensive linemen, apparently, because those guys refuse to cover up.

“For me, I put my helmet on, go to work,” said Packers offensive line coach James Campen, who played center in Green Bay from 1989-93. “Weather was irrelevant to me. It didn’t bother me.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy took practice outside for about an hour on Thursday, when the temperature in Green Bay was in the single digits. He put the players through ball-handling drills in order to get used to how the football will feel in the cold.

Both the practice field and Lambeau Field have an elaborate underground heating system to keep the playing surface from becoming an ice rink, There’s no snow in the forecast, either, so footing should not be an issue, and winds aren't expected to be overly strong.

The usual array of gloves, insulated pockets, hand warmers and sideline heaters will be available to the players on Sunday. But that stuff can help only so much in sub-zero conditions.

Even with his sleeves and other assorted accessories, Williams remembers the shock of the cold in the NFC championship game against the Giants.

“The first drive, I froze to death,” he said. “I ain’t going to lie to you. I froze to death. But once I got thawed out ... got in front of the heaters and things like that when I came back on the sideline, I was good for the rest of the game.”