Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mother Nature: The 12th Man

I owe inspiration to today’s look at NFL history to two sources:  (1) DC’s first snow of the season and (2) the playoffs, when most of the games below happened.  Today, we look at the craziest weather games in NFL history!*

Chicago Bears @ New York Giants (NFL Championship Game, 1934):  Known in the annals of NFL history as the “Sneaker Game,” this contest illustrated how things get interesting when moisture mixes with cold.  The teams were greeted at the stadium by a field completely frozen over by freezing rain; players couldn’t get their footing on what was essentially a grass ice rink.  Giants assistant coach Abe Cohen was dispatched to find sneakers to replace the players’ cleats.  Finding no open sporting goods stores, Cohen was able to borrow a few pairs from the Manhattan College basketball team and the players made the switch at halftime.  It was a perfect, and creative, solution and the Giants won 30-13, outscoring the Bears 27-3 in the second half.

Chicago Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles (NFL Championship Game, 1948):  Mother Nature was ready for her close-up.  For the very first televised NFL Championship game, she dialed up a snowstorm of biblical proportions.  Officials considered postponing the game, but the players on both teams voted to continue and they all helped the grounds crews remove the snow-buried tarp from the field.  Mired down by the deep snow, neither offense could move the ball.  It wasn’t until the Cardinals fumbled in the fourth quarter that Eagles running back Steve Van Buren was in position to score what would be the only points in the game, for the win.  An interesting footnote to this game… When he couldn’t get his car out of the snow that morning, Van Buren had to take two buses and a train before walking six blocks in the thick snow to get to the stadium.  After being carried off the field as the game’s hero, he did the commute in reverse to get back home.  Ah, the good ol’ days of pro football…

Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers (NFL Championship, December 31, 1967):  Known in NFL lore as the “Ice Bowl,” this is still the coldest NFL game ever.  Plenty of cold games have been played on the “Frozen Tundra” of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, but this one took the cake.  The temperature:  -13°F.  The wind chill: -48°F.  It wasn’t just the temperature that made this one memorable, however.  It was also an epic battle between two legendary coaches:  Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi and Dallas’s Tom Landry.  The action in the game was straight from Hollywood, and the Packers won by a final score of 21-17.  But the main story, for our purposes, was the bitter cold. 

So, how cold was it?  The marching band from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse was supposed to perform in a pre-game show and at halftime.  However, during warm-ups the mouthpieces of the brass instruments stuck to players’ lips and the woodwind instruments froze up entirely; seven band members had to be taken to the hospital for hypothermia.  Their performances were canceled.  Officials were unable to use their whistles during the game after the referee’s became stuck; instead of forming a scab when the skin tore from his lips, the blood simply froze in place.  An elderly spectator even died from exposure, and several players suffered frostbite.

In case you were wondering, two other games in NFL history were played in sub-zero temperatures:

á  San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals (AFC Championship Game, January 10, 1982):  Temperature:  -9°F; wind chill:  -59°F (with winds of up to 35 miles an hour); Cincinnati won, 27-7.

á  New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (NFC Championship Game, January 20, 2008):  Temperature:  -1°F; wind chill:  -23°F; the Giants won in overtime, 23-20.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (December 16, 1979):  Mother Nature doesn’t always need ice and snow to put her stamp on a football game.  In the final game of the season, a torrential downpour soaked the Tampa Bay area.  Rain was coming down so hard, it made the stairs in the stands look like miniature waterfalls.  The rainfall during the game set a local record.  In conditions this sloppy, points were hard to come by; the Chiefs were held to 80 total yards.  The Bucs won the game, and their division’s title, by the score of 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Chicago Bears (NFC Divisional Playoff Game, December 31, 1988):  For those of you unfamiliar with Chicago geography, Soldier Field, the Bears’ home stadium, is situated just off the shore of Lake Michigan.  You might expect sub-freezing temperatures for a January playoff game, but on this day, there was instead unseasonable warmth.  The result?  A silent, eerie fog that completely covered the field in the second quarter and lasted for the entire game.  I happened to be living in Chicago at the time and remember this game.  My recollection is probably faulty, but I remember it happening relatively quickly, as if the telecast had gone to commercial break with a clear view of the field and came back 90 seconds later to a gray screen.  However sudden, the effect was complete.  No one, not the commentators, fans or even coaches and players on the sidelines could see what was happening in the game.  Players on the field could only see a few feet in front of them and complained that they couldn’t even see the down markers on the sidelines.  Nevertheless, officials decided not to postpone the game after talking with the teams.  The Bears won 20-12.

NFL Network airs a “Top 10” show and, naturally, has put together an episode on the Top 10 Weather Games in NFL History.  If you’d like to see videos describing these games and the others on their list, click this link:

*These are in chronological order, and in no particular order of craziness.  Also, while reasonable minds may differ as to what defines a “crazy weather game” the games in this post are those that, in my opinion, a football fan should know about.


  1. I remember that 1982 Chargers-Bengals game because it was the day after I got married -- we flew to the British Virgin Islands that day for our honeymoon and the cab driver had the game on the radio. (That was the same day the 49ers beat the Cowboys on the famous Montana-Clark completion.) It was brutally cold in Washington, DC that week as well -- a few days after the Chargers-Bengals game, an Air Florida 737 crashed into the Potomac River after taking off from National Airport due to ice on its wings.

  2. Thanks, Gary! I didn't realize that game was surrounded by so much other history--football and otherwise.


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