Monday, May 27th, 2019

“Run it and let’s get the hell out of here!”

Craig Llewellyn

“Run it and let’s get the hell out of here!”

Craig Llewellyn NFL

In 1967, with the Super Bowl – or AFL-NFL Championship Game as it was known – in its infancy, the biggest game in town was the NFL Championship Game. Everybody believed the NFL was superior and Super Bowl I had confirmed as much. So when the fans packed into Lambeau Field, they did so knowing how high the stakes were. It’s why, in the coldest conditions ever for an NFL game, they bothered turning up. What unfolded became known as The Ice Bowl, one of the most remarkable games in pro-football history.

It would have been a great game anywhere and at any time. Indoors, outdoors, it matters not. Yet on this day, New Year’s Eve, the NFL Championship Game was played in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in weather that pushed the very boundaries of human endurance. Weather so cold that the turf at Lambeau Field had frozen solid underfoot and furious arctic gales dropped the wind chill factor close to 50 below freezing.

Officially, it was minus-seventeen degrees, although those who were there swear it was colder. They’d come from all across the state, from the Great Lakes, the Northern Highlands and the Western Uplands, to see Vince Lombardi’s ageing-but-adored Green Bay Packers could secure the title of NFL champions against Tom Landry’s upstart Dallas Cowboys for the second successive year.

Fans packed the stands, wrapped in whatever they could find to keep out the elements: furry galoshes, wool, down jackets, balaclavas. Layer upon layer. And yet it wasn’t enough. Vaporised breath filed the air. One report from the Associated Press the following day said that it was “too cold to bleed”.

The game would be decided in the final moments, at the end of one of the greatest drives in football history, capped off by a Bart Starr touchdown dive. Afterwards, as the night drew in and the masses moved to the warmth of their cars and their houses, Lambeau’ Field’s by now lonely scoreboard read Green Bay 21-17 Dallas. The clock settled at 00:00.

To this day, it remains the coldest game in NFL history. It was also one of the greatest. What follows is a chronicle of all that happened next, and the day as a whole, by the people who played, coached and watched from the stands.

Milwaukee Sentinel sportswriter Bud Lea:
“This wasn’t a great Packer team. They’d lost so many guys through injury. And they were old. This was the last hurrah.”

Green Bay wide receiver Boyd Dowler:
“One thing we had in our favour was we’d already won four world titles including two in a row. And Coach Lombardi wanted more.”

Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer:
“Vince sat us down one evening before the season and told us he wanted to win three in a row. We knew what we had to do.”

Dallas defensive end George Andrie:
“I was very confident that it was going to be our day. We knew we were better than they were.”

Dallas vice-president of player personnel Gil Brandt:
“I thought it was two very, very good football teams. It was a veteran team against a young, ascending team. We had some very good players and a very good quarterback in Don Meredith. I’d be lying if I didn’t think we weren’t going to win.”

Green Bay fan Mike Carruthers:
“My clock radio went off that morning and I heard, ‘It’s 16 below zero’ and I couldn’t believe it. I even called the radio station and said, ‘I don’t think I heard that right’.”

Green Bay linebacker Dave Robinson:
“By mid-morning the radio was reporting that it was 20 below outside but that it would warm up. And they were right. It was only 15 below at game time.”

Green Bay fan Pete Helf:
“I remember we walked the last three city blocks to the stadium backwards because you couldn’t walk into the wind.”

George Andrie:
“During ‘warm-ups’, we had our hands on the ground and they were freezing. We told the equipment guy, ‘We need some gloves.’ Ernie Stautner, our defensive line coach, said, ‘Gloves are for sissies. We need to show them we’re tougher than they are’.”

Dallas lineman Bob Lilly:
“The Green Bay players all had gloves on. And this was their weather.”

Green Bay fans Nancy Brooking and Nick Wagner:
“We were in the stands and people around us were burning newspapers to keep warm. I remember we bought a hot coffee and it turned cold before it reached my lips.”

Green Bay PR director Chuck Lane:
“The press box wasn’t heated. I asked some of the crew to go across the street to the gas station and had them pick up some antifreeze. We splashed that against the windows so we could see out.”

Bud Lea:
“Every time someone opened the door to the press box, it was like the Arctic Circle blowing in. My typewriter froze. I moved back to the second row and had coffee there and it froze on the ledge.”

Actor and Green Bay fan Willem Dafoe:
“It was my first Packers game. Everyone was hunkered down because of the cold, but there was still tailgating and beer.”

Green Bay fan Robert Cornell:
“I was selling hotdogs at the game. I couldn’t stand outside so I sold out of the heated restrooms. Made enough money by halftime to quit and watch game.”

Pete Helf:
“Half a million people claim they were at the game. But if you want to find out who was really there, just ask where they bought their dogs and beer. The restrooms were the only place your lips wouldn’t freeze to the bottle.”

Dallas tight end Pettis Norman:
“The officials decided not to use whistles because the metal whistle had stuck to the referee’s lips before kick-off and ripped off his skin. So they told us that they’d just say ‘ready’ at the start of the play and ‘stop’ at the end.”

NFL Films editor in chief Bob Ryan:
“I would say we had 12 cameras and about four conked out from the cold in the first quarter alone.”

TOUCHDOWN!
FIRST QUARTER, 07:10
DALLAS COWBOYS 0 GREEN BAY PACKERS 7

Bart Starr eight-yard pass to Boyd Dowler, Don Chandler kicks P.A.T

TOUCHDOWN!
SECOND QUARTER, 12:19
DALLAS COWBOYS 0 GREEN BAY PACKERS 14

Starr 46-yard pass to Dowler, Don Chandler kicks P.A.T

Willem Dafoe:
“We jumped out to a 14-0 lead. I remember Boyd Dowler caught a couple of touchdowns on post patterns. It was freezing but we were winning.”

Boyd Dowler:
“The second touchdown, it was third down and about a foot. Bart said, ‘Pass 36 left post.’ The defender (Mike Renfro) moved closer to the line of scrimmage, so I faked to block him and then took off. I remember looking at the ball in the air and thinking Bart had overthrown me. But the wind held it up.”

Mike Carruthers:
“It must have been like catching a brick.”

Boyd Dowler:
“I just put my hands together. When it’s thrown that well, there’s no reason to drop it, whether it’s fifteen below zero or 80 degrees.”

TOUCHDOWN!
SECOND QUARTER, 04:04
DALLAS COWBOYS 7 GREEN BAY PACKERS 14

Georgie Andrie fumble recovery, Danny Villanueva kicks P.A.T

George Andrie:
“On my touchdown, we knew it was a pass. Willie came in from the left and stripped the ball and it bounced right in front of me. I was thinking, ‘Do I fall on it or try to pick it up?’. But it bounced perfectly into my hands and I rumbled into the end zone.”

FIELD GOAL!
SECOND QUARTER, 00:32
DALLAS COWBOYS 10 GREEN BAY PACKERS 14

Villanueva GOOD from 21 yards

Nick Wagner:
“After it was 14-7, Willie Wood muffed a punt and Dallas recovered and kicked a field goal just before the half. I remember thinking that we’d blown it. And that it was getting much colder.”

Willem Dafoe:
“It got significantly colder when Dallas got back into the game. 14-10 was very cold!”

Green Bay fan James R. Koschmann:
“My Dad and I were there because a friend of his didn’t want to brave the elements. I was 20 years old and Dad was about 44. He’s gone now, and I’m 70. At halftime people were handing around a flask of whiskey to try and keep warm. It wasn’t working!”

Nancy Brooking:
“Let’s leave.”

Nick Wagner:
“Those were two words she’s never lived down. But it was terrible. God awful. You couldn’t keep your mind on the game when it was on. And now it was halftime and there was nothing. We were in the north end zone and the wind was blowing right at us.”

Green Bay Packers historian Cliff Christl:
“The halftime show was supposed to feature the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse marching band. But it was cancelled because the instruments froze and wouldn’t play. In fact, 11 members of the band had to go to local hospitals to be treated for hypothermia after a pregame practice.”

Green Bay fan Marlys J. Kitts:
“I was in the band that was supposed to play the halftime show. Fortunately, those of us that wanted to could still go to the game and we watched from on the field where they’d kept a spot for us.”

Green Bay fan James R. Koschmann:
“I remember the third quarter was really scrappy. We couldn’t move the ball at all and Bart Starr was getting sacked repeatedly.”

Green Bay receiver Carroll Dale:
“They were playing lights-out defense in that third quarter. We were getting our fannies kicked. It didn’t look good.”

Green Bay fan Rozi Hansen:
“I was there with my Aunt. Some guy behind me spilled his coffee on me accidentally in the third quarter. He apologised profusely. I told him it was OK because it helped warm me up!”

Cowboys radio commentator Bill Mercer:
“The Cowboys have it at midfield facing second and five. Meredith on a pitch out to Reeves. Halfback option! Rentzel all by himself.”

TOUCHDOWN!
FOURTH QUARTER, 14:52
DALLAS COWBOYS 17 GREEN BAY PACKERS 14

Dan Reeves 50-yard pass to Lance Rentzel, Villanueva kicks P.A.T

Dallas running back Dan Reeves:
“I was just trying to keep my hands warm. I actually came out of the huddle with my hands in my pants. We shifted from the I formation to what we called the green formation and at the last second I took my hands out of my pants. Lance was so wide open. I thought, ‘Gosh, don’t overthrow it’. Now we had the lead and you think, ‘We’ve got this thing won.’ Because the field was so bad and it was getting colder. No-one could keep their feet.”

Green Bay fan Kerry Stratton:
“By now it was SO cold. People were leaving because Dallas were ahead and the weather was unbearable. But it’s never over until the clock runs out with the Packers.”

James R. Koschmann:
“It was crunch time now. And we’d had so many injuries. That’s when Lombardi turned to Chuck Mercein.”

Green Bay fullback Chuck Mercein:
“My life changed dramatically and forever in that fourth quarter..”

Green Bay wide receiver Bob Long:
“That drive made Chuck’s whole career.”

Boyd Dowler:
“We got the ball back with 4:50 left at our own 32. It was now or never.”

Chuck Mercein:
“The thing I vividly recall is running on the field and the punt return team is running off and Ray Nitschke was there screaming at the offense, ‘Don’t let me down!’ He was an intimidating guy, no teeth, snot coming out of his nose and blood and mud all over his uniform.”

Green Bay fan John Harris:
“It was nerve-wracking at this point but it was almost impossible to concentrate because I’d never been colder. I couldn’t feel my feet even though I was in a sleeping bag pulled up to my neck.”

Nick Wagner:
“We’d almost got home at this point and we were listening on the radio in the car. There was total silence as Mercein had a run to start the drive and then a big catch into Dallas territory and then another run down inside the five.”

Chuck Mercein:
“I realised this was a singular moment in my career. I was able to repay the faith that Vince Lombardi had in me.”

Nick Wagner:
“I think I probably screamed on first down because Donny Anderson almost scored. Then he got stuffed on second down and Bart calls a timeout and goes to the sideline.”

Green Bay head coach Vince Lombardi:
“Run it and let’s get the hell out of here.”

Bud Lea:
“The thing was, the Packers didn’t even have a quarterback sneak in their playbook. They’d never run it. Ever.”

Boyd Dowler:
“Bart didn’t tell us he was going to keep it in the huddle. Now, there are a couple guys who will tell you they knew. It doesn’t matter. Maybe Bart felt he’d get a better action from Mercein by not telling anybody. All I know is it worked.”

Chuck Mercein:
“I was convinced I’d be getting the ball. We didn’t have a whole lot of plays for short yardage. We had a couple dives and we had a wedge play.”

Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr:
“Brown 32, wedge right.”

Green Bay fan Linda Thomas:
“I was in the same end zone where they scored. I called the play, told my mom, ‘Starr is going over the top.’ And he did. I was 16. My ears and toes still remind me of that day!”

Green Bay radio commentator Tom Moore:
“Here are the Packers, third down, inches to go to pay dirt, 17-14, Cowboys out in front. Packers trying for the go-ahead score. Starr begins the count, takes the snap. He’s going in for the quarterback sneak… and he’s in for the touchdown and the Packers are out in front 20-17! And 13 seconds showing on the clock and the Green Bay Packers are going to be World Champions, NFL Champions, for the third straight year!”

TOUCHDOWN!
FOURTH QUARTER, 00:13
DALLAS COWBOYS 17 GREEN BAY PACKERS 21

Starr one-yard QB sneak, Chandler kicks P.A.T

Green Bay fan Mary Speerschneider:
“I missed it! I was so cold that I’d jammed myself into a sleeping bag and was stuck. So I didn’t see Starr go over.”

George Andrie:
“Landry said the only thing Bart Starr can do is run a bootleg or roll out and pass because if they run it and don’t get in, they won’t have time for another play.”

Boyd Dowler:
“I talked to someone who played for the Cowboys at a function many years later. He said the sneak wasn’t a good call because if Bart wouldn’t have gotten in we wouldn’t have enough time for another play. Well, who knows that? It’s subjective. I told him, ‘I was in the huddle for nine years with Bart and in all those games I don’t think he ever made a bad call. So that’s so much for your opinion’.”

Green Bay fan Patrick Webb:
“When Bart scored I jumped up and down and didn’t feel anything from my knees down. I really felt like I was jumping on my knees.”

Green Bay fan Pete Meiklejohn:
“Bart took it in at our end of the stadium and I still remember my Dad jumping up and down with tears in his eyes. We were just in layers of wool but it didn’t matter at that stage. Section 32, row 56, four rows from Mother Nature. It didn’t matter. We’d won.”

Bud Lea:
“It was the greatest drive I saw in Packer history. And I covered a lot of games. Less than five minutes to play, they’re losing 17-14 and they go 68 yards. No mistakes, no fumbles, no dropped passes. Nothing. Nobody is ever going to have a drive like that in those conditions.”

Pete Helf:
“I’m not sure how the players survived out there for so long. It must have been mind over matter.”

Chuck Lane:
“That was the essence of Lombardi, that he willed victory with his strength of character and all he stood for: precision, hard work, the simplification of roles. The Cowboys were kind of a high-tech team and the Packers were a sledgehammer operation, highly disciplined. It was a reaffirmation of Lombardi’s values and his influence. That final drive was the hallmark of Vince Lombardi.”

Gil Brandt:
“I think it’s the most talked about game, including Super Bowls, in football history. And for good reason.”

Dan Reeves:
“I think about it all the time. I can still remember every play. People talk about that game more than any other. Unfortunately, they show us losing every year.”

Willem Dafoe:
“I got very close to frostbite at the game. My feet by the time I got home… they were on fire. I couldn’t feel them. My father was a doctor and he put me in a hot bath straight away to thaw out.”

Green Bay fan Nancy Hundt:
I remember that I cried all the way home from the freezing pain.”

Bob Lilly:
“They heated the plane up pretty good. We got warmed up. But for years, when it would get cold, my hands would hurt so bad. And it affected our lungs, too. We had about half the team that smoked back then. As far as I can remember, about half of them quit.”

Nancy Brooking:
“Nick has never forgiven me for making him leave at halftime.”

Cliff Christl:
“It’s the signature game in Packer history, the signature game in Bart Starr’s history, the signature game in Vince Lombardi’s history and the culmination of that era.”

Milwaukee Sentinel sportswriter Bud Lea’s newspaper report from New Year’s Day 1968:
“Lombardi, who was the landlord of Sunday’s ice-show, had done it again. Next stop a Super Bowl in Miami. But right now, greater love than Green Bay hath no city.”

The Packers won that Super Bowl, beating Oakland by 33-14. The temperature at kickoff was 71 degrees. Or 85 degrees warmer than it had been at Lambeau on New Year’s Eve, when 50,861 fans witnessed one of the great moments in sport and arguably the greatest game in NFL history.

While the majority of quotes in this story were collected from Gridiron, some were taken from NFL Films, Wisconsin State Journal, Eau-Claire Leader Telegram, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, La Crosse Tribune, Green Bay Press Gazette, New York Times, Packers.com, CBS television, New York Daily News and Dallas Morning News

This article originally appeared in Issue XXXVI of Gridiron magazine – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE

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