Friday, January 9, 2015

Ice Bowl 2? Hardly

So it's Dallas and Green Bay again in Lambeau Field in the dead of winter, and of course it comes up. Of course you're going to turn on ESPN and see the clip -- Bart Starr lowering his head, Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman moving Jethro Pugh aside like twin shovel blades -- and everyone will talk about the most famous NFL game ever played, if not the greatest.

Everyone will talk about the Ice Bowl back there in 1967, about 13-below at game time and 20-below by the time Starr ended it, about 100 yards of turf that gradually turned white as it froze as solid as a New York  sidewalk.

This is the first time since then the Cowboys and Packers have met in the playoffs in Lambeau, and, listen, it won't be any Ice Bowl 2. For those who witnessed it and played in it, one was enough.

 I was 12 years old the day they played the game, and what I remember most watching on TV is the haze of white smoke that hung over Lambeau that afternoon. Except it wasn't smoke. It was the exhaled breath of thousands of fans, carbon dioxide chuffing out into the super-refrigerated air in mighty plumes, and it gave the place the look of a factory site, churning out some great commodity for the American consumer.

The commodity in this case was football, or allegedly so. Truthfully, it didn't look much like football. It looked like 22 men tiptoeing across a sheet of literally frozen tundra like nervous ballerinas, trying to keep from freezing to death.

Running backs couldn't cut. Receivers slithered through patterns with their thinly gloved hands stuffed in their pants. Passes from quarterbacks who couldn't really set up in the pocket fluttered like lace handkerchiefs in a wind that blew straight out of hell. It was awful football.

But memorable?

Oh, sure. It was that.

Because of the Ice Bowl, we remember Donny Anderson, who caught a key pass on the Packers' final drive. We remember a running back from Yale named Chuck Mercein, who got the ball down to the shadow of the goal with a big run. And of course we remember Kramer and Bowman and Jethro Pugh, the Dallas defensive lineman who would go down in history as the Guy Who Got Blocked On the Last Play.

Old-school fans who like to bemoan the death of football as we know it always hold up the Ice Bowl as the prime example of men being men, conquering the elements, bending them to their will. Those who played in it, and those who watched it, know that for the horse pucky it is. The players -- the survivors -- today will tell you the elements kicked their ass, and that the game was a miserable experience. Some were afflicted with frostbite that plagues them to this day; the rest just marvel that they actually tried to play football in those sort of conditions.

And those of us who watched, or at least some of us?

I can't speak for everyone. But all I kept thinking was this: Wow, look at those guys. They've got to be crazy, playing in that kind of weather.

And yet ... now, all these years later, I realize what a unique thing it was. In an era of domed multi-purpose stadiums and liability issues, nothing like it will ever happen again. And it for sure won't happen Sunday in Green Bay.

The forecast high, after all, is supposed to be 23 degrees.

Pah. Might as well bring sunscreen.

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