Football and frostbite: remembering the Ice Bowl
Frozen memories, for sure. Frostbite memories, even.
In the history of NFL games, none stands out for the brutal conditions in which it was played like the NFC championship on the last day of 1967. Simply dubbed the Ice Bowl, those who participated in Cowboys-Packers that day at Lambeau Field still shiver when talking about it.
With Dallas paying its first postseason visit to Green Bay since losing 21-17 on Bart Starr's quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining on that frigid day, recalling that game 47 years ago is timely.
Painful, too, if you were a Cowboy.
"It's something you can't imagine, being in that kind of cold," says Dan Reeves, whose 50-yard halfback option pass to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the fourth quarter put Dallas ahead before Green Bay rallied and advanced to the second Super Bowl against Oakland.
"I'd been in games around 5 or 6 degrees and it was not even close to being like that."
Like that was anywhere from minus 13 with the wind chill at kickoff to 10 or more degrees colder when Reeves threw his pass.
"I think it was weird to have that weather because it dropped about 32 degrees overnight," Reeves adds. "The forecast was to stay the same as it was, and when we worked out it was 15 degrees the day before."
But the Cowboys knew conditions had changed when they got their wakeup calls that Sunday morning at the Holiday Inn. The telephone operator told them it was 16 below, and the clerk at the front desk warned of minus 41 with the wind chill.
Gil Brandt, then the Cowboys' player personnel director, noticed three bus drivers standing by a fireplace in the hotel lobby. Each was wearing galoshes, which Brandt referred to as "big boots."
"I said, `Where did you get those big boots,' and they told me a local store. I asked if they could you take me down there, but they said the store was closed on Sundays."
So Brandt bought a pair of the $9.95 galoshes from one of the drivers for $20.
Brandt wasn't done. He also wore long johns, an overcoat that was knee-length, and a down jacket over the overcoat. He took a stocking cap and cut holes in it for his eyes and ears: "I looked like a hockey goalie out there with a mask on."
The Dallas equipment staff gave each player a salve to rub on to help keep him warm, and put Saran Wrap around their feet because "it kept the heat in your body better," Brandt recalls.
Did all that help?
"Not much," Brandt says. "George Andrie and Jethro Pugh (who died Wednesday) got some frostbite. I don't think anything prepares you for that kind of weather."
Certainly not back then, when there were no high-tech gloves or form-fitting undergarments to help keep warm. The only gloves available were the cotton types, and neither Hall of Fame coach - Green Bay's Vince Lombardi nor Dallas' Tom Landry - approved using them.
But linebacker Dave Robinson opted for survival rather than obedience.
"During the game, Vince Lombardi said he didn't want us to wear gloves. He didn't want anyone to miss the ball because of the gloves," says Robinson, one of 12 Hall of Famers who played in the Ice Bowl.
"I told our assistant trainer - he gave me a pair of brown gloves - that they won't notice. I had them on for running plays. When they snapped the ball right away you could tell run or pass, as I soon as I could tell it (was a pass he would discard the gloves). ... He never caught me."
Packers guard Jerry Kramer, behind whom Starr sneaked for the winning points, grew up in northern Idaho and had hunted ducks at 25 below zero.
"So I knew about the cold, I knew how to prepare for the cold, and I knew that the cold wouldn't kill me," he says. "But I did put on thermal underwear, cut off (at) the knee and elbow. A wool dickey around the neck and back a little bit, and then I put on gloves. I was able to focus on the game and not focus on the cold."
Hardly anyone else managed that.
Dallas middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan - yep, a Hall of Famer - isn't sure he ever got caught up in the football or the historic nature of the game.
"I don't think we cared about history there for the next four or five years," he says. "We were still trying to get warm two or three years later."
Not only the players suffered during the game. Referee Norm Schacter tore a piece of his lip off while trying to remove the whistle from his mouth. Some of the other officials also had bloody lips.
Brandt noted that the Cowboys normally had 20 or more people on their sideline during the game. For this one, a throng of zero hangers-on.
Zero also was the number of folks in the stands at Lambeau when the teams came out for early special teams warmups. Yet, when they headed onto the field for the coin toss, the stands were full.
Members of the Packers and Cowboys who were there usually point to one player as being the most uncomfortable: Dallas receiver Bob Hayes, another eventual Hall of Famer.
"Bob Hayes had his hands down in his pants the entire game," Jordan recalls. "I don't know that Bob caught a pass that game (he had three for 16 yards). He didn't run many routes because he always had in his hands in his pants trying to keep warm. A South Florida kid that's never seen anything like zero degree weather."
If it's that cold Sunday, take note: Dallas has five players who went to college in Florida, Green Bay has four.