A Game To Remember: The Ice Bowl

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys vs Green Bay Packers... Tom Landry vs Vince Lombardi... Man vs Mother Nature...

December 31st, 1967 was a day that would see one of the greatest games in NFL history being played out on the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin's Lambeau Field. The year would end exactly how it had began; the two teams had met for the 1966 NFL Championship exactly 364 days prior, on New Year's Day. The biggest difference would be that for the second time around, Mother Nature had decided that she wanted to participate in the day's festivities.

It felt comfortable 24 hours earlier during a walk-through at Lambeau Field. Saturday morning was balmy by comparison -- windless, firm footing, mid-teen temperatures and light fog. Steam rose from beneath the turf where coach Vince Lombardi spent $80,000 installing a heating grid to prevent the surface from freezing. Warm vapor reminded of eerie scenes from "The Hound of the Baskervilles" with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson tramping moors.

One of the many issues that would face the teams on that bitter day was that Lombardi's turf heating system malfunctioned during the night, and when the tarp was removed from the playing surface prior to the game, moisture that had accumulated on the fabric fell onto the field where it was flash frozen into a sheet of ice. Never at a loss for words, Dallas fullback Walt Garrison remarked to the media that the field "was like asphalt" and "harder than Chinese arithmetic."

Thus began a day like no other in pro football history. The temperature at kick-off was 15 degrees below zero and the wind chill dropped that to -48; still a crowd of 50,861 fan gathered to watch the two squads face off on the "frozen tundra." Conditions were so bad that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Marching Band, who were scheduled to perform during pregame and halftime festivities, found that their instruments had frozen and would not play; seven musicians were taken to area hospitals to be treated for hypothermia and some had their instruments freeze to their mouths. The officials assigned to work the game found themselves facing a similar situation; as referee Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle to signal the start of play, it froze to his lips. As he attempted to free the whistle from his lips, the skin ripped off and his lips began to bleed. Rather than forming a scab, the blood simply froze in place.

On the playing surface, the cold weather Packers had the game in control from the start. They quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of Bart Starr to Boyd Dowler touchdown passes, the second one coming on a 46-yard reception. The Pack quickly threatened again when (the soon to be Cowboy) Herb Adderly intercepted a Don Meredith pass, but, thanks to a timely sack from George Andrie, that Dallas defense held. Although the Cowboys could not manage to get their offense on track, the Dallas Cowboys began to battle their way back. Willie Townes recorded a strip sack of Starr and again Andrie rose to the occasion; this time he returned the fumble seven yards to get the Cowboys on the board. Just before the half, after the Packer defense had once again held Dallas without a first down, Green Bay safety and return man Willie Wood muffed a punt which was recovered by Dallas' Phil Clark. Placekicker Danny Villanueva cut the Green Bay lead to 14-10 before halftime.

Coming out to start the second half, the Cowboys managed to finally start moving the ball. Meredith led the team downfield, getting the team inside the Green Bay 20 yard line. That was as far as the drive would go. Adderly would once again make a play, this time recovering a Don Meredith fumble to stop the Dallas threat. Other than a failed Villanueva long-range field goal attempt, that was the only scoring threat of the third quarter. Dallas opened the final stanza with a halfback option play. Fullback Dan Reeves hit Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard touchdown strike. With less that 15 minutes remaining, the Dallas Cowboys now led the Green Bay Packers 17-14. The two teams would trade possessions back and forth until Green Bay got the ball at its own 32-yard line with five minutes left to play.

By the time the final Packer drive began, the windchill hovered around the -40 degree mark, but Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr seemed to be unaffected. In a quick series of passes he led the Packers down the field. It was now first and ten from the Dallas 11-yard line. Following a series of rushing plays the Packers found themselves facing a first and goal from the Cowboys one yard line. Twice they tried to smash the ball in by giving it to running back Donny Anderson; twice he slipped and fell. With 16 seconds on the clock, Starr called time out and went to the sidelines to confer with Vince Lombardi about the play selection. The Packer QB wanted to run the wedge play and keep the ball himself rather than attempting to get it into Anderson's hands.

"Run it, and let's get the hell out of here!" - Vince Lombardi

Run it they did. Somehow guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman, in conditions where the Packer linemen were having trouble finding traction, managed to execute a textbook perfect double-team block on Jethro Pugh and Starr followed them into the endzone. As the clock wound to zero the scoreboard read 21-17 Green Bay. The Packers would represent the National Football League in the second Super Bowl game.

It was a day that no one who was there would ever forget. Four Green Bay fans suffered heart attacks that were attributed to the arctic conditions and 14 others were treated for cases of extreme exposure. Many others, including players for both teams had to be treated for frostbite. One elderly Packer fan passed away from the effects of the miserable conditions. At one point during the game, the conditions caused Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh to suffer hallucinations of his mother yelling at him for being out in such weather.

"I swear, I heard her say, 'Jethro, what are you doing out in that weather, you fool?'"

According to Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, it was so cold that people were actually having the moisture in their breathe freeze. It was so bad that at one point Tom Landry appeared to have grown fangs.

"Tom had icicles an inch and a half long sticking down from either nostril. He looked a little weird," - Lee Roy Jordan

In the end it was Cowboys owner Clint Murchison, Jr. who properly summed up the day. A man who was known for his ability to spin the occasional pun, Murchison quipped, without a smile, "The day wasn't too cold if you won."

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