Today in Sports History: January 10th

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(The Chargers and Bengals line up in the game known as the "Freezer Bowl")

1/10/1982 - The Freezer Bowl

In one of the finest moments in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ohio football team beats the San Diego Chargers, 27-7, in the AFC Championship Game -- handing them a ticket to Super Bowl XVI. While the Bengals dominated the Chargers from the start, the game would be less remembered for the Bengals' dominance as it was for the freezing temperature that both teams endured.

Negative-nine degree weather mixed with -35° winds created an insufferable wind chill of -59°. Though the temperature was slightly warmer than the famed "Ice Bowl" of 1967, the wind chill made the AFC championship game the coldest contest in NFL history, and has since been labeled the "Freezer Bowl."

"When we drove to the stadium, the river was steaming because the water was so much warmer than the air," Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts said. "That was the first clue we were in trouble." Fouts would leave the field with icicles hanging off his beard, while other players left with frostbite on their ears.

The tundra climate gave the home Bengals an obvious competitive advantage. The Chargers were coming off a four-hour marathon in Miami, where they had narrowly overcome the Dolphins in overtime. The 143-degree temperature adjustment was simply too much for them to make, even for a San Diego team that had (at the time) the best offensive statistics in NFL history. Tight end Kellen Winslow, who said he was close to death following the Miami game, called the Cincinnati weather "inhumane." The Associated Press noted, "To a man, the Bengals, playing before a Riverfront Stadium crowd of 46,302, thought the frigid Ohio weather worked against the Chargers."

Bengals coach Forrest Gregg, who played right tackle in the Ice Bowl, told his team, "It's going to be like going to the dentist. You don't want to do it, but you've got to do it. Don't think about how cold it is, how bad it is. You've got a job to do." With the Bengals victory, Gregg held the distinction of being on the winning side of the two coldest games ever played.

Before the start of the game, the Cincinnati linemen had attempted to psych out their opponents by running onto the field in sleeveless jerseys. "When we went out sleeveless, I think that was a shock to them," offensive lineman Dave Lapham said. "They looked at us like we were mentally ill." What the fans in Riverfront Stadium didn't see was the thermal underwear and Vaseline that most of the linebackers wore under their uniforms.

Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth later remarked, "You've never seen anything, until you've seen Anthony Muñoz and our offensive line trying to get into Hanes queen-sized pantyhose." Apparently even bravado took a back seat to warmth.

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1/10/2005 - Welcome to New York

Randy Johnson, fresh off his trade to the New York Yankees via the Arizona Diamondbacks, got off to a rather shaky start in the Big Apple. The back-to-back-to-back-to-back National League Cy Young winner was walking down a Manhattan sidewalk when he was met by a WCBS camera crew. Johnson, using a giant hand befitting his 6-foot-10 height, pushed back the camera as he told the crew: "Don't get in my face. I don't care who you are. Don't get in my face."

"I'm just taking a picture," said the cameraman, identified as Vinny Everett. Johnson answered, "Don't get in my face, and don't talk back to me, all right!" As Johnson walked away, the cameraman sarcastically told him: "Welcome to New York."

Johnson eventually eluded the men and made his way to the doctor's office, where he was to take a physical for the Yankees. However, the video of him holding the camera back made its way on television, and Johnson was forced to issue an apology. It was an awkward sequence for "The Big Unit," who was officially announced as a Yankee the next day and had to answer questions of his sidewalk encounter instead of his aspirations for the 2005 season.

"As I was on my way to take a physical, I hope that everyone will understand that the past two days have been overwhelming and I wish I had handled the situation differently," Johnson said, noting his unfamiliarity in New York City. "I am very sorry it happened."

The incident lingered with Johnson for a short time in New York, but was completely forgotten just six months later when Kenny Rogers, another aging left-hander, outdid him by shoving a cameraman to the ground. Johnson did not perform nearly as well as he had in the National League, which, considering he was 42 years old and pitching in the powerful AL East, shouldn't have been much of a surprise. Johnson won 34 games in two seasons with the Yankees, but struggled to keep his ERA in check. In 2007, he was traded back to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Further reading:

Freezer Bowl [Referee.com]

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