Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Greatest Game

Inspiration for this post provided by that paragon of Wigginess, Mr. James Wigderson at Wigderson Library & Pub, a happily demented Dallas Cowboys fan. For another game and another take on the rivalry, here's a link to the Brew City Brawler, who takes you down memory lane for a recap of a recent shellacking of the Cowgirlsboys by the Pack.

From Wikipedia:

The 1967 National Football League Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys was the 35th championship game in NFL history. Popularly known as the Ice Bowl, it is widely considered one of the greatest games in NFL history, due in part to the hostile conditions in which it was played, the importance of the game, the rivalry between the two teams and the dramatic conclusion.

This was the second consecutive NFL championship game played between the two teams. In the previous season, the Packers defeated the Cowboys 34-27 by preventing Dallas from scoring a touchdown on four consecutive plays starting from the Packers 2-yard line on the game's final drive.

The 1967 game, played on December 31, 1967 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, remains the coldest NFL game on record. The official game-time temperature was -13°F / -25°C, with a wind chill around -48°F / -44°C. The bitter cold overwhelmed Lambeau's new turf heating system, leaving the playing surface hard as a rock and nearly as smooth as ice. The officials were unable to use their whistles after the opening kickoff; the referee blew his metal whistle to signal the start of play and it froze to his lips. For the rest of the game, the officials used their voices to end plays.

Several players, including Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh and Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr, still claim to suffer occasional mild effects of the frostbite they developed that day. The Dallas quarterback, Don Meredith, came down with pneumonia after the game and was hospitalized on his return to Texas. In addition to the effects of the weather, Starr absorbed a lot of punishment from Dallas players during the game; he was sacked eight times.

Furthermore, the Wisconsin State University - La Crosse Marching Chiefs band were supposed to perform the pregame and halftime shows. During warmups in the brutal cold, the woodwind instruments froze and wouldn't play, the mouthpieces of brass instruments got stuck to the players' lips, and seven members of the band were transported to local hospitals for hypothermia. The band's performances were canceled.

The Packers jumped to an early 14-0 lead with a pair of touchdown passes from Starr to wide receiver Boyd Dowler. But Green Bay committed two costly turnovers in the second quarter that led to 10 Dallas points. First Starr lost a fumble while being sacked by Cowboys lineman Willie Townes; Dallas defensive end George Andrie recovered the ball and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead in half. Then, with time almost out in the second quarter, Packers safety Willie Wood fumbled a Dallas punt after calling for a fair catch, and Cowboys rookie defensive back Phil Clark recovered the ball at the Green Bay 17-yard line. The Packers were able to keep Dallas out of the end zone, but kicker Danny Villanueva kicked a 21-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 by halftime.

Neither team was able to score any points in the third quarter, but then on the first play of the final period, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead with running back Dan Reeves' 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lance Rentzel on a halfback option play. Later in the quarter, the Packers drove into scoring range and had a chance to tie the game, but kicker Don Chandler missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.

Starting from his own 32-yard line with 4:54 left in the game, Starr led his team down the field with three key completions: a 13-yard pass to Dowler, a 12-yarder to running back Donny Anderson, and a 19-yard throw to fullback Chuck Mercein. Then Mercein ran 8 yards to a first down on the Cowboys' 3-yard line on the next play. Twice Anderson attempted to run the ball into the end zone, but both times he was tackled at the 1-yard line, the second time after his footing failed on the icy field.

After Anderson's second attempt, Starr called the Packers' final timeout with only 16 seconds left in the game to confer with coach Vince Lombardi and decide on the next play. Starr asked for a sneak, and Lombardi's response was "Well run it, and let's get the Hell out of here". Some observers (and Dallas players) expected the play would be a pass because a completion would win the game, while an incompletion would stop the clock, allowing the Packers another play to attempt a touchdown or kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. But Green Bay's pass protection had been poor, and Starr's throws late in the game had been mostly short and out in the flat; in this treacherous footing, the touchdown-or-incompletion alternative was not guaranteed. So Green Bay had other ideas. After taking the snap, Starr executed a quarterback sneak behind center Ken Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer's block through defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, scoring a touchdown that gave the Packers a 21-17 win and their unprecedented third consecutive NFL championship.

The Packers' final play was selected in a sideline conference between Starr and Lombardi. As reported in the book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss (1999), the coach wanted to get the game over with, one way or another, before conditions became worse, rather than attempting a tying field goal. The field goal try was no certainty given the conditions; and if it were successful, it would have sent the game into a grueling overtime period. As reported in the Maraniss book and also in The Packers!, by Steve Cameron (1995), the called play was a handoff to Mercein. Starr decided, but did not tell anyone, that he would keep the ball and avoid the risk of a fumble. Following the touchdown, the Packers had to kick off to the Cowboys, but Dallas was unable to advance the ball in the few remaining seconds, and Green Bay had the victory.

The Starr dive became legendary. It was the climax of Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay, a diary-style account of the whole 1967 season that illustrated the theretofore anonymous life of an offensive lineman. Overlooked sometimes is the long, desperate fourth-quarter drive that led to the score, wherein a host of offensive players contributed, as well as the heroic efforts of the players on both teams for the entire game.

Green Bay went on to finish the postseason by easily defeating the American Football League (AFL) champion Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, which at the time was still considered by many to be of lesser importance than the NFL championship itself. However, Lombardi made it clear that losing the game was not an option, and the Packers gave it all they had.

The game was the end of several eras. With Green Bay having won five championships in seven years, Lombardi retired. The following year age and injuries caught up to the team and they had a losing record; it would be almost 30 years before the team would become a dominant force again, in the Brett Favre era of the 1990s. Dallas rebounded to one of the top teams of the 1970s, winning two Super Bowls in that decade, but Don Meredith would never win a championship, and he would soon become more famous as an announcer for Monday Night Football than he had been as a player. This would also be the last year that the NFL championship game was considered more important than the Super Bowl, for in the following year Joe Namath and the New York Jets staged an upset victory over the Baltimore Colts that would bring the AFL to full legitimacy.

Lambeau Field supposedly got its nickname, "The Frozen Tundra", from an NFL Films highlight film of the game that included in its narration the phrase, "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field," spoken by "the voice of God," John Facenda. However, Steve Sabol of NFL Films has denied that Facenda used the phrase; it is believed that an imitation of Facenda by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman popularized the phrase.

One reason this game is so famous is because it featured numerous players who would later be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the head coaches of both teams.

Cowboys future hall of famers in the game
Tex Schramm (GM)
Tom Landry (coach)
Bob Lilly (defensive lineman)
Mel Renfro (defensive back)

Packers future hall of famers in the game
Vince Lombardi (coach)
Bart Starr (quarterback)
Forrest Gregg (offensive lineman)
Herb Adderley (defensive back)
Willie Wood (defensive back)
Willie Davis (defensive lineman)
Ray Nitschke (linebacker)
Henry Jordan (defensive lineman)

4 Swings of the bat:

Tom McMahon said...

Tomorrow would you run a profile on one of the greatest Dallas Cowboys of all time, Lance Rentzel? ;-)

Also, are there any liberal Cowboys fans in the Cheddarsphere? I need one to fill out a 4-Block I'm working on.

Other Side said...

I remember him ... he was always a pain in the side against the Pack. Yeah ... I will just for the fun of it (if I remember).

There has got to be a liberal Cowboy fan somewhere. Don't lknow of any, though.

I don't really dislike them ... not like the Vikings and the Bears. Got to admire their five Super Bowl titles. Still, against the Pack ... grrr.

Tom McMahon said...

The Lance Rentzel Story: .

capper said...


I don't know if you would find a liberal Cowboy fan. To be a Cowboy fan requires some sort of mental defect in the first place, and this is much more common among conservatives. ;)