When the National Football League decreed that the 2014 Super Bowl would be contested in New Jersey at MetLife Stadium in early February, concerns were immediately raised about the wisdom of playing the championship game in the middle of winter.
Based on Sunday’s result in frigid Green Bay, where the San Francisco 49ers outlasted the Packers in a terrific playoff tilt, those concerns can now be erased.
The warm-weather 49ers proved convincingly they are more than fair-weather friends, overcoming bone-chilling conditions to upend the home-town Packers 23-20 in an enthralling game at historic Lambeau Field.
More than any other sport, football is conditioned to be played outdoors where the teams battle not only themselves but also the elements of wind and rain and snow, not to mention freezing temperatures.
The Packers have hosted many historic football games played under stressful weather conditions and Sunday’s contest can now be added to that group.
The game-time temperature for the late-afternoon kickoff was around -15 Celsius with a wind-chill factor that dipped the mercury another few ticks to -23.
Somebody at NFL headquarters figured out that it was the seventh coldest game in NFL history.
But all that did not deter the 49ers, who fought back to win the NFC wild-card playoff on the strength of a 33-yard field goal by Phil Dawson on the game’s final play.
It was fitting that the journeyman Dawson booted the winning points, having played for 14 seasons in Cleveland with the Browns where the winter weather has never been described as hospitable.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the star in this affair, snubbing his nose at the deep freeze.
On the sidelines, most of the players were bundled up like a Canadian in Kapuskasing, wearing toques and balaclavas on their heads with huge ponchos draped around their shoulders in attempt to shield themselves from the elements.
It was all part of the additional 2,500-pounds of clothing, and three pairs of cleats, that the 49ers packed when they departed San Francisco late last week for the game.
But Kaepernick remained unfazed, taking to the field in short-sleeves and without a glove on his throwing hand on a day where Wisconsin health officials were advising the public to remain indoors.
“It’s not cold,” Kaepernick said after it was all over. “It’s all mental.”
Kaepernick, a Wisconsin native, appeared right at home in the arctic conditions, completing 16 of his 30 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown.
He also rushed for another 98 yards off seven carries, including a key 11-yard scamper on third and eight on the winning drive with just over a minute left.
“He was calm, cool and collected, to use a cliché,” said 49ers left tackle Joe Staley about Kaepernick. “There was no panic ever. He was just very chill.”
Green Bay, ravaged by injury as the game progressed, still could have easily won if Packers cornerback Micah Hyde had come up with a tailor-made interception late in the game.
Of the 12 teams entering the NFL playoffs, the San Diego Chargers were listed as the longest shots to reach the Super Bowl.
But the Chargers defied the odds in Sunday’s other wild-card matchup, scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half to stun the turnover prone Cincinnati Bengals 27-10.
The Bengals had not lost at home at Paul Brown Stadium all season. San Diego’s surprising win has some suggesting that the Chargers could be this year’s team of destiny.
Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ emotional quarterback, would certainly agree.
“The Chargers are alive!” Rivers hollered in the locker room following the victory, a statement that the Bengals could not contest.
The Globe’s Robert MacLeod curates the best of sports on the web most weekday mornings.
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