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12/31/1967 - The Ice Bowl


(Mercein signals touchdown on the final play. All photos courtesy of AP Photos)

The 1967 NFL Championship Game is considered one of, if not the greatest football games of all time. It pitted Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys against Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. On that winter day, Lambeau Field really was the frozen tundra. A freezing temperature and poor playing conditions brought out the best in both teams, as they fought the elements in a down-to-the-wire classic.

December 31, 1967 was the coldest New Years Eve in the history of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The -13 degree temperature mixed with a 15-MPH wind made the outdoors unbearable. Announcer Frank Gifford saw his coffee freeze a minute after setting it down. The halftime band was canceled when the lip of a horn was broken off during the warmups. Referee Norm Schachter had his whistle frozen in his mouth, and when he tried to blow it to begin the game, he accidentally ripped the skin of his lips. Blood trickled down his chin where it froze into an icicle. From then on, the officials used hand motions and yelled out calls instead.

Lombardi had recently purchased an $80,000 electrical system that was supposed to heat the field on such an occasion. Yet the harsh weather disabled the machine and left the turf frozen, layered with ice, and as hard as concrete. 50,000 dedicated fans were on hand to witness the game; one elderly spectator died from exposure to the frigid weather. Several players came down with pneumonia and some claimed they still felt the effects of the freezing temperature forty years later.


The game that would be remembered as the "Ice Bowl" went on in spite of the conditions. Green Bay grabbed a 14-0 lead in the second quarter when Bart Starr completed his second touchdown pass to Boyd Dowler, this one for 43 yards. The Packers' familiarity to the cold weather, albeit not as bad as -13 degrees, appeared to have given them an insurmountable lead. However, the cold began to limit the Packers effectiveness as well.

With just under five minutes left in the first half, Bart Starr was sacked by Willie Townes deep in their own territory. Dallas' George Andrie recovered the fumble and lumbered the remaining seven yards for the touchdown. The Cowboys received another gift with 1:50 remaining in the half. Danny Villaneuva's punt was dropped by Packer receiver Willie Wood and it was once again recovered by Dallas. A Cowboy field goal later and the score was 14-10.

After a scoreless third, Dallas opened the final period with a 50-yard TD throw from running back Dan Reeves, who connected with wideout Lance Rentzel. The touchdown gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game, and with their "Doomsday Defense" shutting down the Packers, victory seemed at hand. Green Bay squandered a chance to tie it at 17 when kicker Don Chandler badly missed a 40-yard field goal.

With 4:54 left in the game, the Packer offense displayed the precision that had made them the reigning NFL Champions. They moved down field and neared the end zone with under a minute remaining thanks to several short passes by Starr. Running back Donny Anderson failed to run into the end zone twice (both times he slipped on the ice), which left the Packers on the one-yard line with no timeouts and 16 seconds on the clock.


(Bart Starr scores the game-winning TD)

Not trusting a throw in the terrible weather, and not wanting to prolong the game with a field goal, a final run was to be drawn for fullback Chuck Mercein. Starr had suggested the play to Lombardi, who promptly responded: "Run it, and let's get the hell out of here." However when Starr got the ball, he handled it himself and with Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman blocking, he snuck in for the game-winning touchdown: 21-17.

The iconic photo of Mercein appearing to signal touchdown was actually him trying to show that he didn't push Starr into the end zone, which would've been a penalty. After the game, jubiliant Packer fans rushed onto the field and ripped down the goalposts, while the dejected Cowboys walked off the field.

"It was the most disappointing experience in my 14 years with the Cowboys," said Jethro Pugh. "A few days after the game, I was trying to write a check, and my hands wouldn't work. I had frostbite on my hands and feet."

The Packers advanced to Super Bowl II, which was still known as the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game." Green Bay clobbered the AFL Champion Oakland Raiders 33-14, giving them the first two Super Bowls in league history. Lombardi retired in the offseason, leaving the Cowboys and Packers to go in completely different directions. Green Bay fell on hard times and failed to win a single playoff game over the next 25 years; their luck wouldn't change until Brett Favre became their starting quarterback. The Cowboys on the other hand became the elite team in the NFC -- they made the postseason 18 times in 20 years and won a pair of Super Bowls in the 1970's.