Wednesday, May 23, 2007


If you mention the "Ice Bowl" to a Wisconsin resident, chances are he'll know exactly what game you're talking about. The NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys was played on New Year's Eve day in 1967, in frozen Green Bay, Wisconsin, under the worst and most extreme conditions imaginable.

At game time at 1:00 in the afternoon, the thermometer read -13F (-25C), and the wind chill factor was -48F. The field was covered by a tarp overnight because of a heavy snowstorm, but the condensation froze over, leaving the field a sheet of ice. If they had an NFL franchise at the North Pole, the conditions could not have been worse.

The game officials could not blow their whistles, which froze to their lips. They had to shout rather than whistle, to end plays. The marching band at halftime could not perform because the mouthpieces of brass instruments got stuck to the players' lips. Seven members of the band had to be taken to the hospital for hypothermia.

Nevertheless, Packer fans are a hardy lot, and 51,000 people filled Lambeau Field, wearing parkas, several sets of mittens (not gloves), sleeping bags, quilted long underwear. People brought small boxes with newspaper layered on the bottom to put their feet in them to avoid contact with the snow. Fans brought wine and brandy to drink, but it turned into slush. Clearly, Packer fans know cold weather, but this was over the top.

One announcer said, "Dallas won the coin toss and elected to go home."

The Packers, led by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, were hurting, even before the game. They had lost their top running backs, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, and they were forced to sign two veteran backs released by other teams because they couldn't run very fast anymore-- Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein. But one can never underestimate a Vince Lombardi team.

The Packers scored two early touchdowns on passes from quarterback Bart Starr to receiver Boyd Dowler to lead 14-0. But Dallas came back when Starr fumbled and Dallas returned it for a touchdown. By late in the fourth quarter, with weather conditions getting even worse, Dallas held a 17-14 lead, when Green Bay got the ball back on its own 32 yard line. Sensing that it would be their last chance, quarterback Starr, who was sacked 8 times in the game, was determined to lead the Packers down the field. Throwing short passes because of poor pass protection and the shaky footing, he completed a 13 yarder to Dowler, a 12 yarder to running back Donny Anderson, and a key pass in the flat to the unguarded Chuck Mercein, who gingerly stepped down the ice sheet field for a 19 yard gain. Anderson tried twice to run the ball into the end zone but slipped on the ice and was tackled on the 1 yard line.

It was the Packers' last chance. With fourth down and only 16 seconds to go on the one yard line, it would normally be easy to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. But not this day. Coach Lombardi wanted the game over with, one way or another, before conditions got worse; rather than attempting a field goal-- no certainty in those conditions.

The temperature on the field had dipped to -18F with a strong wind, and players' hands were frozen. Lombardi called for a handoff to Mercein, but Starr suggested that he should keep the ball and avoid the risk of a fumble. Lombardi said, "Then run it and let's get the hell out of here." Packer guard, Jerry Kramer noticed a weakness in the Cowboys' defense, and the play was called for him to make the key block on Dallas tackle Jethro Pugh. He did, and Starr sneaked through for the touchdown, just barely, for a 21-17 victory.

Two weeks later, the Packers played the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl, which in those days, was just an afterthought. The "real" championship was between the Packers and the Cowboys. Needless to say, Green Bay easily beat Oakland in Super Bowl II.

Several players, including Starr and the Cowboys' Jethro Pugh, the only NFL player from Elizabeth City State College (N.C.), claim to still suffer the effects of the frostbite they developed that day. Dallas quarterback Don Meridith came down with pneumonia after the game and was hospitalized. He later became the voice of Monday Night Football.

Interestingly, Bart Starr, a legend in Green Bay, played college ball at Alabama, where in his senior year at quarterback, led his team to 10 losses in 10 games. The Packers, however, saw something in him and drafted him in the 17th round of the football draft, and under Coach Lombardi's tutelage, he became a winner. He later became head coach for the Packers.

The other beneficiaries of that game were the tow truck drivers and mechanics who had to jump start the fans' cars in the parking lot after the game.

Looking back, about a million fans claimed to be there at Lambeau Field that day. It was the experience of a lifetime.




Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home