- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

The wakeup call arrived at 7 a.m. for Ed and Steve Sabol of NFL Films in their Green Bay, Wis., hotel room. "Good morning," the voice chirped. "The temperature is sixteen degrees below zero, and the wind is from the north. Have a nice day."
It was Dec. 31, 1967, 34 years ago today Packers vs. the Dallas Cowboys (again) for the NFL championship.
The Ice Bowl.
"Dad, you're not going to believe the weather," said Steve, as related by David Maraniss in "When Pride Still Mattered," his 1999 biography of Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Around town, others felt the same. Writer Dick Schaap hadn't gotten a similar wakeup call, but while driving downtown he spotted a thermometer on the side of a bank building that read minus-13.
"Look, it's broken," Schaap said, mistakenly.
Willie Wood, the Packers' All-Pro safety from Washington, stood outside his home by his car with its dead battery and said, "They're gonna call the game off. They're not gonna play in this."
Yet football is a rough business and network television a rougher one, so they played. Lambeau Field was frozen, of course, although Lombardi had spent $80,000 the previous spring for a giant electric blanket device that was supposed to keep the grass warm and soft in any kind of weather.
Almost any kind of weather.
Huddling in their locker room under Lombardi's fierce stare, the Packers were on a mission to win their third straight NFL title and, subsequently, their second straight Super Bowl against the American Football League champions. Critics had said the team was growing old, but it had forged a 9-4-1 record and then beaten George Allen's Los Angeles Rams to win the NFL West title. Now the task was to hold off Tom Landry's young, ambitious Cowboys, who were beginning to develop a national following of their own.
The Packers' locker room was full of smoke as nearly ever player puffed on a cigarette. The trainer passed out long johns to everyone, including Lombardi as if that would help. During warmups, most players kept their hands tucked inside their pants. And the Packers were used to cold weather; so imagine how the Cowboys felt. And the crowd of 50,861.
As the game started, the estimated wind chill was minus-46. Blowers next to both benches directed warm air toward players on the sidelines, but they did no good unless you were standing next to one. Fullback Chuck Mercein, picked up by the Packers after being cut twice by the New York Giants, said the Cowboys looked like "earthmen on Mars … monsters in a grade B movie." Most wore hooded sweatshirts under their helmets and a scarf-like garment around their faces with the eyes cut out. They looked, Mercein said, "silly as hell."
At the start, they played that way, too. On the Packers' first possession, Bart Starr led an 82-yard drive that ended with his 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Boyd Dowler. In the second quarter, Starr hit Dowler for another TD, this one covering 43 yards, and it was 14-0. Most of the Packers' frozen fans had the same warming thought blowout time.
Not quite. With four minutes left in the half, the Cowboys put a big rush on Starr as he retreated from his own 26. When Willie Townes hit him at the 7, Starr fumbled it must have been fun explaining that to Lombardi and Dallas lineman George Andrie stomped into the end zone with the football to make it 14-7.
Minutes later, it was 14-10 after Wood, who had fumbled only one previous punt in eight seasons, dropped another. The Cowboys recovered and got a field goal by Danny Villanueva. Then at halftime, everybody rushed for the relative warmth of the locker rooms.
The third quarter was scoreless. In the CBS-TV booth, play-by-play man Ray Scott insisted on having the window open, "or you don't have the feel of the game." Analyst Frank Gifford didn't feel much of anything. "I think I'll take another bite of my coffee," he said on the air.
Surprisingly, Dallas dominated the third quarter, threatening twice before bogging down. On the first play of the fourth period, Dan Reeves threw a 50-yard halfback option touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel, sending the Cowboys into a 17-14 lead.
Green Bay threatened on its next two possessions but failed to score, once when Don Chandler missed a 40-yard field goal. Then the Cowboys held the ball for five minutes before being forced to punt. Wood returned it nine yards, and the Packers had one final chance from their own 32 with 4:50 left.
Starr always was masterful in such pressure situations. "This is it," he told his teammates in the huddle. "We're going in."
And so they did. Starr dumped off to Donny Anderson for six yards, Mercein ran the Packer Sweep for seven and Starr hit Dowler for 13 more. Now the clock was inside two minutes, and the previously unwanted Mercein told Starr, "I'm open on the left side if you need me." On the next play, Mercein caught Starr's high pass and went out of bounds at the Dallas 11.
Mercein then picked up eight yards, and Anderson carried to the 1 for a first down. Three more carries gained nothing, and the Packers took their last timeout. A field goal would tie the game, but Lombardi was not that kind of coach and his Packers were not that kind of team. Besides, Lombardi would tell reporters later with a rare flash of humor, "I didn't think the fans could take an overtime."
Starr suggested a wedge play where the fullback sneaks between center and guard. But the question was whether lineman Jerry Kramer could get good enough footing to make the key block.
With 16 seconds left, Starr came to the line prepared to hand off to Mercein, then thought, "What if he slips?" On this kind of field, simpler was better. So Starr called an audible, kept the ball and knifed into the end zone behind Kramer's slicing block on star Cowboys lineman Jethro Pugh one of the most famous plays in football history. The scoreboard told the story after Chandler's conversion: Packers 21, Cowboys 17. The Lombardi legend was nearly complete.
Though the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win the Super Bowl two weeks later, the Ice Bowl really marked the end of good times for the Packers, Lombardi and America. Lombardi quit coaching to become the club's general manager. Frustrated and restless, he left to coach the Redskins in 1969 and died of cancer after one season in Washington.
The Packers did not win another Super Bowl for 29 years, until Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre delivered them in 1997. And for the nation, the year 1968 was filled with tragedy the ongoing war in Vietnam, divisions at home and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
More than three decades later, the Ice Bowl survives as one of the NFL's most significant games and definitely its coldest.


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