The Ice Bowl

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Posted: April 23, 2017


The Ice Bow refers to the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game, played on New Year’s Eve of 1967 is best remembered for the conditions under which it was played, a miserably cold winter afternoon at the Packers home stadium, the Lambeau Field.

Despite the weather unleashing its vagaries on the Green Bay area ,50,000 Packers fans packed the Lambeau Field to witness their team try to defend the Championship for a third straight season. During the game, the temperatures dipped to 15 degrees below freezing but this deter the players from seeing out the spectacular game to the end.

Lead-up to the Ice Bowl

The Green Bay Packers were coming into the game as defending champions of the NFL after they had beaten none other than the Dallas Cowboys in the 1966 championship. En route to the championship game, the Packers had won the Central Division with a 9-4-1 record and the beaten the Los Angeles Rams in the Western Conference final. The Cowboys had topped the Capitol Division with a 9-5 record before dispatching the Cleveland Browns in the Eastern Conference Final. The Packers were runaway favorites coming into the game, having never lost to the Cowboys in any of their previous meetings. The two coaches, Vince Lombardi of the Packers and Tom Landry of the Cowboys had history dating back to the 1954 when they played offense and defense respectively for the same New York Giants team.

The day before the game, temperatures had been 15 degrees but it had dipped to minus 17 the following morning. Just before the game, the turf-heating stadium at Lambeau Field broke down, leaving the surface covered in a thick layer of ice. The conditions were so horrid that the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse Marching Chief band which was to perform before the game and at half time were unable to proceed. The mouthpieces of their instruments were so cold that they stuck to players lips while seven members of the band had to be rushed to hospital with hypothermia. An unfortunate spectator also died from the cold but there would be no postponing the showpiece game. Logistics for players were also a problem as many Green Bay players found themselves unable to drive themselves to the game since their cars could not start in the cold. The referees were forced to shop for extra clothing before the game to protect themselves from the freezing cold. At one point referee Norm Schachter had a whistle stick to his lip and as he tried to pry it away, he ripped off skin and started to bleed, only for the blood to freeze to his lip. The officials were forced to use voice commands to signal decisions and game plays.

How the Game Unfolded

Green Bay ran out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to two touch downs from Boyd Dowler in the first quarter. For much of the second quarter, the Packers dominated the game without adding to the score line. A costly turnover from a Willie Wood fumble towards the end of the half gifted the Cowboys a touchdown and a field goal through kicker Danny Villanueva, which saw the deficit cut to 14-10 by halftime. The third quarter was quiet in terms of scoring as both teams defended their respective forts formidably. With just eight seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead thanks to a Lance Rentzel touchdown. With 4:50 left on the clock, the Packers took over possession through quarterback Bart Starr at their 32-yard line. They drove forward slowly over the next four minutes or so as the Cowboys offered stiff resistance. With 16 seconds left, Starr took a now-famous timeout to confer with Coach Lombardi. Starr told Lombardi that the traction on the pitch was very poor and the receivers and backs were sliding around. It is not clear whether Lombardi orchestrated the play, but instead of the more conventional short pass under those circumstances, Starr sneaked into the end zone to give the Packers a 20-17 lead. Chandler made it 21-17 through the extra kick leaving the Cowboys with no time to mount a comeback. A third consecutive NFL title was in the bag for the packers.

Aftermath of the Ice Bowl

Several players left the game with frostbite and contacted flu. In Super Bowl II, the Packers beat AFL Champions Oakland Raiders in Miami. There were accusations after the game that Lombardi had orchestrated the turf-heater malfunction because he knew the Packers players would be more comfortable than the Cowboys on the frost-covered surface. The allegations were not proven however and despite the controversy, the Ice Bowl continues to rank among the greatest football games of all time.

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