For football fans on Thanksgiving, a full helping of pigskin can serve as the perfect side dish to their turkey dinner, with a cornucopia of high school, college and professional football games to enjoy throughout the day.
While two of the three NFL games on Thanksgiving will be played in domed stadiums and sheltered from the elements, including Philadelphia at Dallas and Chicago at Detroit, there will be plenty of high school football games to be played, and many will do so in cold conditions.
"The coldest part of the U.S. will be the far northern Plains and Upper Midwest, where parts of the Dakotas to Minnesota and northern Wisconsin will have highs in single digits and teens," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Andy Mussoline. "Cold air will also be across the Great Lakes, but it will not be as harsh."
Parts of the Northeast and Great Lakes will receive snow according to Mussoline.
"A steady snow will taper off across far northern New England Thanksgiving morning," Mussoline said. "Snow showers will encompass much of the Great Lakes as lake-effect snow kicks in once again, but excessive snowfall in the region is not anticipated."
The only NFL game scheduled to be played in an open stadium will be in Santa Clara, California, as the San Francisco 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks. For the 5:30 p.m. PDT kickoff, temperatures will be in the mid-50s with cloudy skies.
In the Lone Star State, two key college match-ups will be contested with fifth-ranked TCU traveling to Austin to play the University of Texas and Texas A&M will host Louisiana State University in College Station. Both kickoffs are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CDT. Bitter cold won't be an issue for either game as evening temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-50s.
Football players, from high school level all the way to the pros, are extremely well conditioned athletes. Yet they still need to be smart, as cold weather can impact a football player's ability, no matter of skill level because the cold can cause a lot of physiological changes in the body.
"Prevention is the key to not having a cold injury," said Dr. Cayce Onks, sports medicine physician at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
In football, being exposed to the environment without covering up your arms and covering your hands is going to change the way your body deals with the cold, Onks said.
"If you're not able to regulate heat well, then your performance is going to drop as a result," said Onks adding that while extremely rare for sporting events, frostbite and hypothermia are possible dangers if under-dressed and exposed to the elements for too long.
When pro athletes play in the cold, they typically shed sleeves, because it can help them avoid being brought down by the opponent. Then, when they return to the sideline, they will put jackets on, Onks explained.
One of the mistakes high school athletes make is that they don't dress properly, and they can end up standing on the sidelines for extended periods with nothing to cover up with, Onks said.
High school players should be sure to wear multiple layers, because if you wear more layers, you're able to insulate and maintain heat, said Dr. Johnny Arnouk, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. Arnouk added that it's important that the inner-most layer can absorb water quickly, because when players sweat, they can lose the insulating properties and become cold.
While stretching is an essential component to game-day preparation no matter the season, it's especially important during cold weather, because the body's internal temperature takes longer to increase. More exercises can help a player warm their muscles up and give them more flexibility.
"If you don't stretch appropriately, then your muscles are going to be tighter, more stiff then they would be say, during the summer," Arnouk said.
Arnouk cited players who typically only play special teams and frequently alternate between periods of inactivity on the bench, and running at full speed on kickoffs, as those who especially need to say loose and keep warm on the sidelines.
Even for those planning a family-oriented turkey bowl, stretching is also recommended to avoid the risk of muscle strains or tears, Arnouk said.
One of the most common threats to football players during the summer training camp period is dehydration. But even in the colder weather, it's important to make sure players stay hydrated because it can affect performance.
"In order for your body and for you to perform well, your body has to be hydrated, whether you're cold or hot, so hydration is still important during the cold, but you don't have to drink as much, because you're not sweating as much," Onks said. "If you're dehydrated, that's going to make you more at risk for having a cold injury such as hypothermia."