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ON SNOW

This football fan is dreaming of a white . . . playoff

Everything goes better with snow.

I don't suppose we can hope for a sudden blizzard to descend on Gillette Stadium Saturday night, but it would be nice. Some of the Patriots' finest moments have occurred in the snow. From the famous snowplow game vs. Miami in '82, to the Tom Brady tuck rule game against the Raiders two years ago (stop whining, Oakland, that was payback for the bad pass interference call of '76), to the post-blizzard game vs. the Dolphins this season, with thousands of fans celebrating by throwing handfuls of powder into the air, snow just becomes the Patriots.

I wonder how the NFL would feel about having a few snowguns installed around the Foxborough turf for snowless games. Certainly, games played against a backdrop of whirling snow have a bit of extra magic, especially when teams from the South are in town.

All this reinforces the point, at least to this snow lover, that an open stadium in the North is far superior to a domed stadium anywhere.

Football never should be played indoors.

Perhaps my fondness for these winter scenes dates to years in Orono, Maine. My introduction to snow football came one autumn Friday night when it appeared our Maine freshman game with Maine Central Institute had been snowed out. Since that prep school apparently had no way to clear 2 feet of snow off the field, the game was off. Or so we thought.

But the MCI student body, including the football team, took matters -- and shovels -- into their own hands and cleared the field. There were no sidelines, just big piles of snow around the perimeter, so that every play that went out of bounds ended up as a big thrash in the snow. As a defensive end, I was part of many of those snowy pileups, and I don't think I ever had so much fun playing football, even though MCI beat us by a touchdown.

One Monday night in September a few years ago, with most of the country just past summer, a Broncos game was telecast amid a tremendous blizzard in Denver. The next day, Vail was inundated with callers making preseason bookings. The Vail folks were puzzled until they put the volume of calls together with the Monday night football game. There are few weather phenomena more inspiring than snow, which, of course, is how all snow sports evolved.

One of the most fascinating snow sports has to be biathlon, an Olympic sport that always confounds Americans, though it's one of the great spectacles in Nordic skiing. Competitors race through a course on cross-country skis, stopping to shoot at targets en route. Every missed target slows down the competitor, adding to his time, and some observers seeing biathlon for the first time are bemused. Guns on skis. What's the point?

The point is self-control. Since cross-country racing is a grueling mix of speed and endurance, the skiers get lathered up and are breathing hard, just as runners do. To stop suddenly and shoulder a .22 to shoot at some tiny targets requires finding some way to control the heaving chest and pounding heart.

Racers describe the skills with the phrase: "Run like a rabbit, sit like a stone."

It's a little hard to compare athletes across disciplines, such as those on snow to the others. But there is one telling competition called "Superstars," a made-for-TV event involving basic speed and strength contests. The contestants are a mix of athletes, from football players to NASCAR drivers. Last year, eight NFL players competed in the event, including Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson, Charlie Garner, Will Allen, and Ahman Green. Olympic swimmer Ed Moses and race car driver Thomas Scheckter also competed in the showdown, which included a half-mile run, a 100-yard dash, a rock climb, and various strength events.

Care to speculate on the top finishers?

The snow sports athletes, of course.

Two years ago, "Superstars" was won by Alpine skier Bode Miller -- currently the leader in World Cup giant slalom -- followed by Olympic moguls champion Johnny Moseley in second.

Last winter, "Superstars" was won by another skier, moguls champion Jeremy Bloom, making it two straight skiers winning a competition set up for the greatest athletes in the world.

Which shows that those who compete in their sports on ice and snow have another competitor aside from the athletes they go against. They must conquer hostile terrain and climate and their own jitters before they worry about the opponent.

Which is why watching the Patriots in Gillette Stadium with snow falling is the very best way to watch a football game. I am doing my snow dance.

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