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Review: Sub-Zero Heroes

Fifty years ago this Sunday, the Packers and the Cowboys played for high stakes at low temperatures.

David Shribman reviews ‘Ice Bowl ’67’ by Chuck Carlson.

By David Shribman

Dec. 29, 2017

Sports fans with a historical bent—which is to say, sports fans—often employ shorthand to describe the landmark episodes of stadiums, arenas and playing fields: The Fifth-Down Game (Cornell vs. Dartmouth, 1940); the Mazeroski Walk-Off Homer (Pirates defeat Yankees in the World Series, 1960); the Immaculate Reception ( Franco Harris’s improbable catch in an AFC divisional playoff game, 1972). And there is another, indisputably one of the legendary moments of all sports: the Ice Bowl.

For devotees of football it is unnecessary to explain that we are talking about the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers in icy northeastern Wisconsin, where a blast of Arctic air had pushed temperatures well into double digits below zero, with wind chills hitting minus 65 degrees. The game itself is of course at the center of sportswriter Chuck Carlson’s “Ice Bowl ’67,” though he also offers up context as well as interviews with participants and spectators, now thawed but still awed. Reflecting on the weather conditions that day, Dan Reeves, a Cowboy at the time and later a coach, writes in the book’s foreword: “How did we do it? Who knows? Instinct takes over. So did competitiveness. The will to win overrides everything including frozen fields and fingers.”

By game time the field was frozen solid. The players couldn’t get traction. The members of the band couldn’t play because their instruments were too cold. The referees abandoned their whistles for fear they might freeze to their lips, and besides, the little wooden balls inside were frozen in place. Many of the 50,861 at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field suffered frostbite, despite huddling under blankets and sipping from flasks. But surely none of them regrets the experience of being there. Seldom have two more accomplished teams played for an athletic championship.


By Chuck Carlson
Sports Publishing, 180 pages, $24.99

The Cowboys (9-5) were America’s Team, the Packers (9-4-1) were, in Mr. Carlson’s felicitous term, “America’s comfort food.” The game pit Texas cool against Wisconsin cold; the swashbuckling newcomer Cowboys (founded 1960) against the established royalty of the Packers (founded 1919); Dallas’s cerebral coach Tom Landry against Green Bay’s martinet Vince Lombardi. The principals on the field included a murderers’ row, if you will forgive the mixed-sports metaphor, of pro-football legends: Jerry Kramer. Ray Nitschke. Herb Adderley. Don Chandler. Lance Rentzel. Bob Hayes. Bob Lilly. Jethro Pugh. Not to mention quarterbacks Bart Starr and Don Meredith.

The record book shows that the Packers defeated the Cowboys, 21-17, and that Green Bay’s Starr completed 14 of 24 passes and threw for two touchdowns. But the game lives on well beyond the record books, not least for the moment that clinched a victory for the Packers, the rare late-game play remembered as much for the blocks (Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman ) as for the touchdown (Mr. Starr in a starring role). The CBS camera angle was perfect—it captured a touchdown made for television—and as a result the play has become endlessly viewable for anyone who missed the game at the time and for generations of sports fans to come.

Mr. Carlson organizes his book by theme—coaches, players, fans, the rivalry, the game, its aftermath—and as a result “Ice Bowl ’67” is more scrapbook than narrative. Even so, the drama comes through, and Mr. Carlson captures the frosty pageant with an enthusiasm and awe appropriate to the topic. The book’s subtitle speaks of “The Game That Changed the NFL”—perhaps the only example of hype in the book. The game that changed the NFL was more likely the 1958 championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, featuring Alan Ameche’s sudden-death overtime touchdown before a huge television audience.

But let’s not tarry over whether the Ice Bowl changed the NFL or had some other large transformative effect on American culture. It is enough to say that it prompted its fans to change their socks once they got home and assured that no one who watched the game on television changed the channel. And it remains, for its collision of meteorology and sports destiny, a classic of the gridiron game.

—Mr. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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bamafan Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Remember that game well (have watched it many times over the years ;) ) as a huge GB Packer fan. Was 13 years old at the time and think I had my first orgasm :) as Bart Starr quarterback sneaked it over the goal line to give the Packers the victory.
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