In the 1995 City to Surf fun run, Australia’s premiere foot race, a 14 kilometer trek through Hyde Park in Central Sydney to the Pacific Ocean, a 19-year-old guy suffered a cardiac arrest to the finishing line and later died. 600 people were treated for minor issues and 200 were treated by physiotherapists. Medical facilities treated 55 participants, of whom 38 suffered heat exhaustion.
“The people who get into trouble are the highly motivated amateurs who train in the cool of the day and are not ready for competition”
Dr. Rowley Richards
- City to Surf Medical Director
It certainly doesn’t take a doctor to point out the pains of physical activity in extreme heat. I am sure, at some point in time each and every one of us has over-exerted ourselves in the warmth, even if that means a frantic sprint to the disappearing ice cream truck. In fact, it’s no secret that soccer players are the best conditioned athletes in the world — because they must be. Consider running for 60 minutes in an open air arena on the equator, or the deserts of northern Africa. Better yet, try it with full pads and helmet in a pre-season NFL encounter in Phoenix, Arizona in August. It is no wonder that the Arizona Cardinals get three of their first four matches of each season on the road.
Following this simple human truth, it would follow in football, just as in marathons or any other sporting event, that better conditioned athletes will fare better in extreme heat than diminished conditioned athletes. While oddsmakers take several factors into account when determining pointspreads, it is reasonable to say that better teams are better, at least in part, due to superior physical conditioning.
The most successful training camp in the 1998 season, (our test season), in terms of attendance and commitment from the players, was that of the Denver Broncos. Fresh off their 1997 Superbowl win, where physical conditioning was the deciding factor in the pit, as Denver’s lightweight but well conditioned O-Line simply dominated Green Bay’s big but relatively out-of-shape D-Line, the Broncos went back to the secret well that had given them the extra edge when it mattered most, and it paid off again.
We’re not surprised when a stronger and better conditioned athlete dominates in the ring, or in a foot race, so why should we be surprised when better conditioned football players win on the soccer field, particularly when the elements demand a superior effort. In actuality, that is exactly the reality in the modern NFL, as league parity reduces the gap in talent, it is intangibles, like physical conditioning, which give some teams an edge on some days.
In actuality, there were 17 regular season games in the NFL in 1998, where the game time temperature was recorded at 86 degrees or higher. The favorite in those 17 games held a 15-2 record straight up, and a 12-4-1 record ATS. In actuality, of both straight up fav losses, one was Carolina dropping as a house favorite to Atlanta in week 1, but remember, the Falcons went on to play in the Super Bowl that year. Another occasion, was a 13-7 loss, Tennessee their Nashville debut at Vanderbilt Stadium in week 2 against The Chargers, which looks to be the only true exception to the rule.
Furthermore, the hotter it got, the more widespread the phenomenon became. There were six games in 1998 in which the temperature hit as high as 90 degrees at game time. They were;
WEEK 1 – Oakland @ Kansas City – 94 levels
WEEK 6 – Chicago @ Arizona – 91 degrees
Now, there are amazing similarities between all six of the above hotties, besides they all hit 90 degrees or higher at game time. Most assuredly, all six games saw the favorite manage the heat a lot better than the lesser team of the day and win handily over the underdog. The favorites had a 6-0 ATS mark over the underdogs once the heat was on. In fact, the underdogs in those 6 games had difficulties catching more than just their breath, as not one of the underdogs in one of these games enrolled over 16 points. In actuality, combined, the underdogs in these 6 contests scored just 57 points, or, 9.5 per game average. The favorites in these 6 games were able to take advantage of fatigued defenses, as the favorites combined for a whopping 161 points in those 6 games, compared to only 57 allowed.
Another interesting property of warmth is its debilitating effects with time. To put it differently, how would the heat take its toll on a defense as the game wears on? This is a really intriguing question, and one, which could unlock the door to untold opportunities. Consider the outcomes of the next graph, which is a breakdown of scoring by quarter by both the favorite, underdog and cumulative scoring at the six hot games combined.
Quarter . 1st 2nd . 1st Half . 3rd 4th . Total .
Favorite . 30 41 . 71 . 34 56 .161 .
Underdog . 3 7 . 10 . 21 26 . 57 .
TOTAL . 33 48 . 81 . 55 82 . 218 .
I do not have to tell you the startling implications of the above graph, and what it might mean to half-time lines and totals. But really, should we be surprised? I guess it really is not rocket science to conclude that a hot game would have a predictable effect on both teams defenses as the match wore on, however, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. The favorite continues to dominate a sexy game from wire to wire, but even the superior defense starts to weaken as the game progresses, and points become more plentiful.
It’s also not surprising that things are tough to find in these games, as groups prefer to pound the line and wear down the defense in favor of sending their receivers on deep jaunts. Under the Total played out in 67% of our 90 level games or higher, which was consistent with hot games overall, as Under the Total was the result in 67 percent of games where the game time temperature was 86 degrees or higher.