Physical Science and You or Why Denver is Different


You could do a healthy amount of debating whether or not the Jets traveling to Denver a few days after a hard loss at home to face Tebow under center is good for us. To some it's an ample opportunity to pad the win loss record, to others it's a potential trap game off such little rest and preparation after losing. Here I'll examine a couple of non-personnel factors playing into the Jets visit to Denver this Thursday.

The Denver Broncos are considered to have the consistently best home record in the NFL over the course of 32 years, and many attribute this to the field's unique elevation.

Denver is called the Mile-High City because its official measured elevation above sea level is exactly that. Sports Authority Field at Mile High is no cutesy name, the damn stadium is 5,280 feet up in the air. The elevation at East Rutherford, NJ is 3 feet above sea level. If you're from the greater NYC area you on average live about 33 feet above sea level. The immediate implications are obvious. A massive elevation change and a two hour difference as Denver lies at the foothills of the Rockies.

The most common misconception is that the oxygen (O2) content of air mixture is lower in Denver than the rest of the continental United States. Not so. In the NYC metro area as well as Denver, both locales contain roughly 21% oxygen in the atmosphere. However, the higher you go in altitude the less the barometric pressure, which is to say air pressure decreases as elevation increases. Due to laws named for guys I can't remember, the partial pressure over oxygen is lower in Denver and so less oxygen is available for your respiration. This can lead to breathing difficulties or diminished athletic performance, especially for those who are not from the area.

The most serious and immediate threat to an athlete experiencing a 5000+ change in elevation is altitude sickness or "acute mountain sickness". If you've ever been to a mountain range you may be familiar with this. Typically you have to travel a few thousand feet more than a mile high in order to experience the most pronounced effects of altitude sickness, but the rapid change can cause sickness a mile-high, especially with those who excessively exert themselves a la athletes.

Normal side effects of sharp altitude increase include hyperventilation, shortness of breath, waking at night and increased urination. More pronounced and serious side effects of AMS include loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and headache. Several more serious complications may occur and the only sure way to beat AMS is to travel back to a lower elevation. Usually, the most affected you see a player at Mile-High is just sucking on oxygen like water. Anyone not from a high elevation is susceptible to these illnesses and exposing yourself previously to high altitudes will not preclude you from becoming ill.

Here's another difference that could help or harm the Jets. Officials at both Coors Field and Sports Authority acknowledge that the environment is home-run or field goal friendly, respectively. This is due to reduced air density. Powerful kickers like Nick Folk and Matt Prater can boot 70 yard field goals with relative accuracy like peanuts all night long. Sanchez, who has not completed a 30+ yard pass all season long, may find that the deep ball is more attainable if his receivers can keep their wind.

I don't mean to overstate the challenge presented to the Jets. But it is the most difficult environment to adjust to in an incredibly short and hectic schedule. The bottom line is never underestimate the power of the atmosphere, for she is a harsh mistress. I think meteorological and physical factors pose a greater threat of causing the Jets defeat than Tim Tebow, that's for sure.

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