I attended the Ice Bowl as a 20-year-old college student and have my ticket stub to prove it. I sat in Section 18, Row 13, Seat 15, or at about the 40-yard line directly behind the Packers’ bench on the north half of the stadium. The price of my ticket was $12, and I dressed warmly enough that I don’t remember leaving my seat at halftime or at any point during the game.
Sure it was cold. The temperature at kickoff was minus-13 degrees and the wind chill was minus-46. But at least it wasn’t Siberia, or what people around the NFL called Green Bay, B.L., Before Lombardi.
Today, those of us who sat through the Ice Bowl have become targets of another slight. Tell someone you went to the game and they want to give you a lie detector test.
It might be Green Bay’s longest standing joke: That if you say you were at the Ice Bowl you’re probably still under the influence of whatever kept you warm that day.
I say the joke is on the jokester.
The estimated population of Green Bay in 1967 was 82,932. Attendance for the Ice Bowl was 50,861. Who do you think filled those seats? Jet-setters from Dallas? StubHub customers?
Twenty years ago, if you were from Green Bay, a Packers fan and between the ages of 40 and 85, you probably were at the Ice Bowl. You certainly didn’t watch it from the comforts of your living room couch or a neighborhood barstool. The game wasn’t televised locally in compliance with the NFL’s old blackout rules.
I can still picture most of the big plays: Boyd Dowler’s TDs, the Cowboys’ fumble recovery and option pass, Chuck Mercein bursting through the hole vacated by Bob Lilly and, of course, Bart Starr’s sneak. But what I remember best about that day was the devotion and hardiness of the fans that filled Lambeau Field and filled the air around me with human clouds of condensation.
No down-filled jackets. No thermal underwear. No disposable hand and foot warmers.
They were simply diehard fans, no doubt some who grew up with the Packers tossing nickels and dimes into George Whitney Calhoun’s hat at Hagemeister Park. Others were kids and grandkids of those pioneer fans.
Times have changed as we look forward to what some are calling Ice Bowl II, but it’s going to be tough to top the original played 47 years ago.
- The game embodied what the Packers’ franchise is all about: Surviving and succeeding. For the first 40 years or so of their existence, the Packers never got off their deathbed financially. But thanks to the support of the people of Green Bay, they somehow survived. What’s more, they not only conquered insurmountable odds literally living day-to-day into the 1950s, they also were the National Football League’s most successful franchise. The Ice Bowl was more a test of survival than a football game, and the 1967 NFL title was the Packers’ 11th, which at the time was three more than any other franchise.
- Yes, when the Packers won the Ice Bowl, even though they had another game to play, they were credited with winning their third straight NFL title. That was something no franchise had done since the league had adopted a playoff system 34 years earlier. The upstart American Football League and the more established NFL had agreed to a merger, to be fully effective in 1970, but were still operating separately. The Super Bowl was officially called the AFL-NFL World Championship and considered to be anti-climactic to the NFL title game.
- There were three games in the history of pro football that turned it from a second-rate sport – 32% of NFL games in 1957 drew less than 30,000 fans, including nine that drew under 20,000 – into America’s most popular. The first was the 1958 NFL championship played in New York and labeled “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The second was the Ice Bowl played in little Green Bay and a godsend for the recently created NFL Films. And the third was the AFL’s New York Jets winning Super Bowl III, giving a game that had been widely viewed as a glorified exhibition legitimacy.
- Beforehand, the Ice Bowl appeared to be somewhat of a ho-hum matchup. The Packers were an aging team that had finished the regular-season 9-4-1. Still, they were 7½-point favorites over Dallas, an eight-year old expansion team that had finished 9-5 in the much weaker Eastern Conference. In the previous 10 NFL championships, the Western Conference representative had won eight. Most people thought the Packers had cleared their biggest hurdle the week before when they upset the 11-1-2 Los Angeles Rams for the Western Conference championship at Milwaukee County Stadium. But it’s the Ice Bowl that lives on as the most memorable game in Packers history.
- It’s also the signature game and Bart Starr’s sneak the signature play in Packers history. The game and the play not only embodied the franchise, they defined the Lombardi Era. The Packers beat the Cowboys and the elements with character and resolve, more than talent. That final drive was not only the climax of Lombardi’s time in Green Bay, it was a validation of his coaching methods and the manifestation of all the virtues he instilled in his players starting with pride, discipline and confidence.
- If Lombardi had not been color-blind in his racial views – he also suffered from the vision defect – the Packers wouldn’t have won their third straight title. They no longer had a potent offense in the mid-’60s. They won thanks to their stifling defense, which included six African-American starters at a time when most of the other NFL powerhouses were starting two, three, four blacks at the most. The racial makeup of pro football was changing and Lombardi was in the vanguard of the movement. Five of the Packers’ six black starters on defense started in the Pro Bowl three weeks after the Ice Bowl. Remove one of them from the lineup – Pro Football Hall of Famers Willie Davis, Dave Robinson, Herb Adderley and Willie Wood, along with cornerback Bob Jeter – and there likely would have been no Ice Bowl.