Remember how cold it was?

Sunday, March 6, 2005

One of the late Johnny Carson's great gag routines began, "Boy, it was cold today..." The audience and Ed McMahon would reply. "How cold was it?"

It was so cold on January 31, 1967 in Green Bay, Wisc., that members of the Dallas Cowboys had to fight their way out of the Holiday Inn motel rooms because the wind, at -29, had frozen the doors to the jams, and that was no joke.

On the afternoon of this past Jan. 27, I was doing some channel surfing and noticed that they were about to show what has come to be known as the Ice Bowl on ESPN Classic Sports. I remembered watching the game in the den at home that afternoon and how they often showed that big sign with the temperature reading. It was -15. It was so cold that one fan died as the result of a heart attack brought on by exposure.

The field at Green Bay had underground electrical coils that were designed to warm the field and keep it from freezing. They had covered the field with a tarp and when it was removed that morning the moistness that had gathered under it hit the wind and froze the field immediately. They didn't say how cold it was then, but the wind chill at game's end was -69. I find that incomprehensible.

It still remains a question as to which team, the Packers or Cowboys, was better. No doubt, though, Green Bay had a better game plan.

It didn't take the Packers long to figure out that the man known as the world's fastest human, Bob Hayes, wouldn't be much of a factor. Vince Lombardi feared Hayes and wanted his Packers to key on him. It was easy. On plays when he was to be the primary receiver, he'd take his hands out of his pants. Otherwise, they stayed under his waist band. All the Green Bay defense had to do was look at his hands and stick with him like glue when his number was called. It worked.

It got so bad in the fourth quarter that the players couldn't understand quarterback Don Meredith in the huddle. His cheeks were imploding in his mouth, garbling every word. They had to tweak his cheeks out before he spoke in order to make him understood.

The Packers took an early 14-0 lead, but Dallas fought back and led 17-14 when the Packers went on offense for the last time that afternoon as conditions deteriorated.

It wasn't until I watched the rerun of that game 38 years later that I learned Lombardi rasped as his players prepared to run that last series. "Do it for me," he said. Then repeated himself, "Do it for me." The players who heard it said it gave them chills.

Nothing was going to stop the Packers and they made it to the one-yard line when they called time out with 16 seconds left. Bart Starr went to the sideline and Lombardi called for a "31." Starr thought a moment, then recalled something had been said about the way one of Cowboys lined up at the goal line. Starr wanted to take it in himself because he knew that lineman would be filling the "one" hole. The play took three seconds and the Packers went to their second consecutive Super Bowl, which was Super Bowl II.

It was great to watch the game from a more analytical viewpoint because back in 1967 I was still smarting from what had happened to my beloved Chiefs back on Jan. 15. It was nearly a year and I hadn't gotten over it yet. Never really did until Super Bowl IV and until the next time the Chiefs played and beat the Pack. The only thing wrong with that was Lombardi was no longer with them.

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