by Thomas U. Tuttle
Moving south from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul the temperatures moderated, moving from 10° below zero to 2° above in Chicago. Good to see family and friends in Chi-town before swinging down to sunny and warm Nashville for the Bowl game between Northwestern and Kentucky.
Well, it was sunny…warm, not so much…
In fact, near record cold was enveloping the Grand Old Opry town as NU’s Wildcats prevailed over an athletic UK Wildcats squad 24-23 in a minor thriller to finish the season 10-3 and ranked in the top 20. When the Tennessee Titans played (and won) a big football game with playoff ramifications against the Jacksonville Jaguars two days later, the temperature at kickoff in Nissan Stadium was a stadium-record cold 22°.
My compadre at GDG Eric Nelson loves cold weather football, believing it to be the real deal Holyfield in determining what team is the toughest and best in true football elements. I always found this attitude contradictory for the man from southern California, but it’s truly in his DNA. Hey, he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ice Bowl in Green Bay when the Packers defeated Dallas 21-17 back in 1967.
I guess I shouldn’t complain about a little discomfort in Nashville when temperatures at the Lambeau Field Ice Bowl game kickoff hovered around 15° below zero, with a wind chill of -35°. Even back in that era, Lambeau had heating coils that warmed the turf in extreme cold, but they malfunctioned around game time and instead created moisture that refroze and made the field a grassy skating rink.
The heating system was made by General Electric and was provided, interestingly enough, by a relative of Chicago Bears leader George Halas. Did noted hard-butt coach Vince Lombardi purposely disconnect parts of the equipment that would render the heating coils useless? To this day there are Dallas players who believe the crusty genius did just that.
Either way, it was darned cold – so cold that when QB Bart Starr and his father went to church before the game, they never spoke of the weather. “Nobody wanted to bring it up,” Starr said later. A few players couldn’t get their cars to start and they ended up scrambling to get to Lambeau, including linebacker Dave Robinson who ended up flagging down a passing driver for a ride to the big game.
The band scheduled for the day were the Wisconsin Lacrosse Marching Chiefs, but wooden instruments would freeze up and be rendered useless, the brass instruments’ mouthpieces tended to stick to the players lips, and several musicians were taken to local hospitals to be treated for hypothermia.
Numerous fans ended up at hospitals as well, and one elderly man died at the stadium. After the game whistle froze to the head ref’s mouth, whistles were abandoned to be replaced by loud voices and hand signals. By the 4th quarter, temperatures had dipped further to -20° as Green Bay trailed 17-14.
Somehow the Packers put together a drive featuring a couple of key short passes to halfback Donny Anderson that moved them close to the Dallas end zone. From the one yard line, on third down and with the traction awful, Starr decided to keep the ball and “run” behind Jerry Kramer and forgotten center Ken Bowman. They managed to move the formidable Cowboys lineman Jethro Pugh just enough to allow Bart to penetrate the goal line and bring a 3rd consecutive NFC championship to Titletown. And big-time National League Football history was made…
Ed and Steve Sabol captured the block on a frozen, non-swivelling camera-5 that just happened to be lined up perfectly – helping to immortalize the famous touchdown via early NFL Films. The book “Instant Replay,” written by Kramer with the immortal Dick Schaap, was a best-seller and among the first sports books this future scribe would read (it was bathroom reading for my dad, having come with a razor – the book disappeared to my bedroom and helped shape my future).
Famed linebacker Ray Nitschke was one of five Packers who suffered frostbite in the game, losing a few toenails while contributing to the victory. I think my man Nelson would have contributed the same for a chance at a Vikings Super Bowl win, but we will never know. When the Purple play in this years SB, they will be comfortably ensconced at fixed-roof US Bank Stadium, not his favorite.
Everything is relative, and 20 degrees in chilly, shady Nissan Stadium Nashville is 40° warmer than the Ice Bowl. My suffering was not so bad…not compared to the freezing misery that is ongoing in the Cities, and this is probably a bad time to complain about the sub-par weather I’m currently experiencing in Sarasota, Florida – just down Tuttle avenue from Ed Smith Stadium, spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles.