There have been some famous games in the NFL over the years, but no one contest has drawn more continued interest than the Ice Bowl. Unlike the one million-plus people who have claimed they were there over the years, I was actually on the sideline at Lambeau Field on Dec. 31, 1967, when the Cowboys (for whom I was working at the time) lost to the Packers in the NFL Championship Game. It was a high-profile showdown with a trip to the second Super Bowl at stake. And, yes: It was cold.
How cold, exactly? Consider that everyone always wants to be on the sideline of an NFL game -- except for that game, where the temperature dropped to minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit. I heard that in the press box, they had to use an ice scraper to keep the windows clear of ice. If you got a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, by the time you got back to your seat, it was frozen. We had multiple players suffer frostbite.
Half a century after it happened, people are still talking about this one, and I think they'll keep on talking about it for another 100. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Ice Bowl, I've compiled some of my more vivid memories from that game:
The false promise of the day before
We arrived in Green Bay on the Saturday before the game, and when we went and worked out at Lambeau Field, it was very clear and sunny. It was cold -- it felt like it was about 35 degrees -- but really, it was a nice day for the region at that time of the year. Also on Saturday, there was an NFL Championship party, held at the Oneida Country Club, that members of both the Packers and Cowboys could attend. Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi and Dallas coach Tom Landry were both there. One topic of conversation that night was the field, and Vince talked about how he had this heating system under the field, and the field would be soft and in very good condition the next day. It did not work out that way.
The $25 galoshes
The geniuses who built the Holiday Inn in Appleton where we were staying designed the building so that the doors to each room opened to the outside -- thus, when you stepped out of your room, you were hit immediately by the elements. At 8 a.m. on game day, I woke up, stepped into the cold and came across starting offensive tackle Ralph Neely, who was going on about the temperature being 15 below zero with a wind-chill factor of 40 below. I didn't believe him at first, but then I walked down the steps to the lobby and asked the woman behind the desk, and she confirmed it: fifteen below with a wind-chill factor of 40 below.
So I looked over to the left of the desk, and there was a big fireplace. Around the fireplace sat five bus drivers. I walked over to the bus drivers and asked them where they got their boots. One of them said, "These aren't boots, they're galoshes." I said, Where did you get your galoshes? He said, "Prange's," which was a department store of note at the time -- one that also happened to be closed on Sundays. I asked how much the galoshes cost. He said $9. I said if anyone had a size 12, I'd rent them for $25. One of the drivers said, "I have a size 12! I'll rent 'em to you!"
The funny thing is, because of the heat of the battle, I didn't truly realize how cold it was until I took those galoshes off and gave them back to the driver.
Our equipment man had made arrangements and gone to all the stores in town to get Saran wrap, and everybody wrapped their feet, which was great, except it made your feet sweat like heck. I walked out onto the field about an hour before the game and there was not a fan in the stands -- but about five minutes before kickoff, I noticed that the entire place (listed attendance was 50,861) was full.
A fairly competitive game unfolded despite the weather. We were leading, 17-14, with a few minutes left to play, when the Packers mounted a drive that would go down in history. Everyone remembers the Bart Starr touchdown to give Green Bay the game, but one of the biggest plays that people don't talk about as much was the swing pass that Packers receiver Chuck Mercein -- whom I tried to recruit before he signed in Green Bay -- caught right in front of our bench and turned into a 19-yard gain, taking Green Bay to our 11-yard line. Mercein then took a handoff 8 yards to put the Packers on the doorstep. And, of course, after we stopped Packers running back Donny Anderson three times, Starr sneaked into the end zone to win the game in the closing seconds. To this day, when I look at footage of that last play, it makes me sick -- it looks like guard Jerry Kramer left a tick early, and they scored.
I think everybody was too cold to realize what had happened immediately after Starr scored, and I don't think anybody had any idea whatsoever that this game would become as famous as it is. But the experience definitely stuck with me. In fact, I still remember it like it was yesterday. Whenever I see anyone who was also there -- whether at a party a few years ago for Cowboys tight end Pettis Norman, which was loaded with alumni from the game, or when I'm just running into guys like Kramer, Anderson or Forrest Gregg -- there's a tendency to reminisce about the Ice Bowl. And for good reason.
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RELATED CONTENT: Michael Meredith, son of "Dandy" Don Meredith, joins The NFL Films Podcast to dive deep on "The Timeline: The Ice Bowl," a film he appeared in, in addition to co-producing and directing it with NFL Films' own David Plaut and Julia Harmon: