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Point, counterpoint: Playing in Seattle

Posted Sep 17, 2012

Does playing in Seattle disrupt a team's circadian rhythm?


Vic KetchmanPackers.com Editor Vic Ketchman says yes.

I can’t do anything until I have my coffee in the morning. That’s how sensitive my body clock is, so I can imagine what it’s like for world-class athletes.

Now, before you think I’m some kind of wine-and-cheese, West Coast yoga snob, I want you to understand that I had never heard the words circadian rhythm until I had them dropped on me in a conference call with former Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr. He was a firm believer in the need not to disrupt a body’s natural rhythm, and since he was the coach of the team that has traditionally led the league in miles traveled and time zones crossed, I listened and considered the possibility that Mora might be onto something.

For those of you not familiar with the term, a circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria.

I guess I’m fungi.

You see, I’ve long struggled to understand why I’ve only watched the Seahawks lose one game in the eight football games I’ve witnessed in Seattle. Some of those teams I covered that lost there were very talented, at a time when the Seahawks weren’t very talented. There was seemingly no explanation for the poor performances, until Mora came along and blamed it on circadian rhythm.

It makes sense.

The last time I was in Seattle, I arrived on a Friday night for a game on Sunday. My body clock said it was 11 o’clock, but the clock in Seattle said it was eight o’clock. My eyes said it was 11 and they close at 11 whether I want them to do that or not.

By 5 a.m. the next day, I was up and looking for that first cup of coffee. Already, my circadian rhythm was a mess. First of all, the day was going to be three hours longer than a normal day, and somewhere in there I took a nap, and then I couldn’t get to sleep that night, which meant I was tired on game day.

Travel to Seattle the day before the game, however, and you find yourself awake at 5 a.m. Pacific time on game day, which means that at some point on game day you’re going to need that nap. Of course, I was traveling from the Eastern time zone in my previous trips to Seattle, so I’ve got a one-hour advantage coming from Green Bay.

What to do? Well, Mora said the key is moving yourself slowly out of the time zone you’re leaving and into the time zone you’ll be in on game day. In other words, go to bed a little later each day during the week, and wake up a little later, and slowly change your circadian rhythm to, in this case, Pacific time, so tonight I’m going to force my eyes to stay open until 11:15 p.m. Get it?

Hey, it’s a tough game for tough circadian rhythms.

Mike SpoffordPackers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford says no.

Circadian who? If you’re buying what Vic is selling, call me because I’ve got a bridge over the Fox River with your name on it.

I know professional athletes are all about routine and regularity, but I’m not giving this one any credence. I think Seattle often has a distinct home-field advantage because the Seahawks have almost always played in a loud stadium, be it the Kingdome or the former Qwest (now CenturyLink) Field.

I do remember back on a Monday night in 2006 in Seattle, venturing down to the field late in the second quarter to grab the digital cards from our team photographer to take back to the press box, and I happened to be on the sideline when the Seahawks scored a touchdown. That stadium is loud, to be sure, the loudest of any outdoor venue I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. It’s a legitimate challenge for opposing teams to overcome, but the challenge has nothing to do with body clocks.

The Packers lost in Seattle in ’06 because the Seahawks were the better team, a team that lost to the eventual NFC-champion Bears in overtime in the divisional playoffs. The Packers won there in ’08 because Green Bay was the better team. I’m as interested as the next person to find out who’s the better team next Monday night but, either way, I’m not going to be interviewing players in the locker room afterwards about circadian rhythms.

That said, I do think there may be something to the body clock issue for a West Coast team traveling east and having to play a noon CT or 1 p.m. ET game. That’s 10 a.m. out west. That’s a significant shift in routine and it’s why a lot of West Coast teams will travel east on Friday rather than on Saturday.

Mike McCarthy is 6-0 as a head coach against West Coast teams playing a noon kickoff at Lambeau Field. That still doesn’t prove anything, of course. The only eventual playoff team of those six opponents was San Diego in ’07, and the Packers trailed in that one late.

Arizona comes to Green Bay for a noon kickoff in Week 9, and the Cardinals are off to a 2-0 start after beating the Patriots in New England in a 1 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday. Time zones guarantee nothing.

Would the Packers have been better off had the San Francisco game in Week 1 been at noon? Who knows? The Packers would have needed to play better to win that game regardless, and that’s what they need to focus on next Monday – playing sound, fundamental football, no matter where they are or what time it is.

Cast your vote in the poll on the right, please.

 
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