Coldest NFL championship games

There may very well be a chill in the air on Feb. 2, 2014 when the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks battle in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. It won’t, however, be the first time the NFL’s title game has been played in wintry conditions. Here is a glimpse at some of the coldest NFL championship games on record.

Chicago Bears fullback Bronko Nagurski is brought down by Mel Hein and other members of the New York Giants in the 1934 title game. The Giants’ use of sneakers in the second half helped the team win the championship.
1934 – New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13
LOCATION: New York, N.Y. | STADIUM: Polo Grounds
Icy conditions and near zero temperatures caused an icy, frozen playing surface at the Polo Grounds. The Giants alertly recognized the problem during the pregame and put a plan in action to obtain basketball shoes from a nearby college to enhance their footing on the field.

Both teams struggled in the first half but the Bears forged ahead and entered the locker room with a 13-3 halftime lead. Then, many of the Giants players switched shoes which worked as expected. The sneakers helped with New York’s traction on the field and they were able to put up four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to dominate the Bears 30-13 and win the NFL title. The championship tilt is now known as “The Sneakers Game.” (See our expanded feature on the game>>>)

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1935 – Detroit Lions 26, New York Giants 7
LOCATION: Detroit, Mich.  | STADIUM: Titan Stadium    
A morning rain combined with winds which changed into sleet and then a whipping snowstorm caused havoc in Detroit a created miserable playing conditions for the NFL championship match. A total of 15,000 fans, however, braved the elements to watch the hometown Lions win 26-7 over the Giants for their first championship in franchise history.

Detroit’s offensive line helped the running attack on the muddy field while the Giants’ dominant passing game was stifled by the weather conditions. Led by Hall of Fame halfback Dutch Clark, the Lions sprinted to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. The Giants responded in the second quarter when halfback Ken Strong scored on a 42-yard pass. New York threatened Lions territory several times in the second half but was never able get into the end zone.

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1937 – Washington Redskins 28, Chicago Bears 21
LOCATION: Chicago, Ill.   | STADIUM: Wrigley Field     
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The Redskins opted to practice outside in Chicago on the day before the game to get used to the weather conditions. The Bears chose to go indoors. Temperature at kickoff was 15 degrees and most linemen wore fleece-lined cotton gloves. The ice-coated field made it difficult to run the ball even though both teams wore rubber soled basketball shoes to gain better traction.

Washington’s rookie quarterback Sammy Baugh overcame the difficult conditions and threw for 345 yards, including three TD passes in the third quarter, to give his team their first NFL title in franchise history. Hall of Famer Wayne Millner, who had 179 yards on 9 catches and 2 TDs, was Baugh’s favorite target. The Redskins defense held their ground late in the game when the Bears twice turned the ball over on downs deep in Washington territory.

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1945 – Cleveland Rams 15, Washington Redskins 14
LOCATION: Cleveland, Ohio | STADIUM: Municipal Stadium     
Terrible winter weather plagued Cleveland leading up to the 1945 NFL Championship Game. To keep the field in the best shape possible, the Rams bought 900 bales of hay to keep the field from freezing. Just days before the matchup, the field was covered with five inches of snow underneath protective layers of straw, paper and a tarp.

All that straw was eventually used to keep the players warm on the sideline as the temperature was a wretched 6 degrees at kickoff. Wind gusts lowered the temperature to near zero. Newspaper accounts described field as a hockey rink but the game was hard-fought and neither team was able to take full control. In the end, the goalpost became a deciding factor in the Rams win. Cleveland benefited in the first quarter when Redskins thrower Sammy Baugh’s pass hit the crossbar in the end zone which resulted in a safety, according to rules in the place at the time. In the second quarter the Rams scored when Bob Waterfield threw a 37-yard TD pass to Jim Benton. Waterfield’s PAT kick then struck the crossbar and plopped through for the extra point. Those lucky three points proved to be the difference in the game.

See more on this NFL classic>>>

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The blizzard-like conditions before the 1948 NFL Championship Game almost prevented Eagles Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren from getting to the game. The snow was so deep that he was unable to get out his driveway. As a result he had to take three trains to get to Shibe Park in time for kickoff.
1948 – Philadelphia Eagles 7, Chicago Cardinals 0
LOCATION: Philadelphia, Pa. | STADIUM: Shibe Park    
Philadelphia experienced a crippling combination of rain, hail and snow leading up to the 1948 NFL championship. Just days before the game the weather wreaked havoc on traffic, grounded planes and kept the football players indoors. On game day, the field was completely covered by snow in what was Philadelphia’s worst storm of the year. None of the sidelines markers were visible due to ankle deep snow. The start of the game was delayed for 30 minutes since fans were arriving late and extra help was needed for the grounds crew to remove the tarp from the field.

The conditions completely eliminated the passing game as both teams combined for a measly 10 yards, still an NFL playoff low. Turnovers on either side of the ball were a common occurrence throughout the game but staunch defenses and missed field goals kept the game scoreless until the fourth quarter. That was when running back Steve Van Buren, who total 98 yards rushing on the day, bulled his way for five yards into the end zone to give the Eagles their first NFL championship.

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1961 – Green Bay Packers 37, New York Giants 0
LOCATION: Green Bay, Wis. | STADIUM: City Field     
The first NFL championship game played in Green Bay (the Packers’ 1939 championship bout was played in Milwaukee) carried with it a great deal of angst due to the predicted artic conditions. Just two days before the game, thermometers plummeted to -15 degrees. A crew of 50 men covered the field with 20 tons of hay to keep the field from freezing. A local businessman named Scott Olsen even developed what is believed to be the first sideline heating system in NFL history to keep the players warm. 

After the game kicked off in 20 degree weather, the Packers and Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung dominated the New York Giants 37-0 to win the team’s first NFL title in 17 years. The Packers stingy defense intercepted Y.A. Tittle four times, while Hornung rushed for 89 yards and one TD and kicked three field goals and two PATs.

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Coldest Super Bowl Games

There have been only two games in Super Bowl history in which the game time temperature was less than 50 degrees and both occurred in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. The first, and coldest on record, was Super Bowl VI when the temperature at the beginning of the game was 39 degrees. The cold weather had little effect as a then-Super Bowl record 81,023 fans witnessed the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Miami Dolphins 24-3 to win the team’s first championship.

View Super Bowl VI program and box score>>>

Three years later, the kickoff temperature was 46 degrees at Super Bowl IX when the Pittsburgh Steelers battled the Minnesota Vikings. The greater issue, however, was the driving rain that flooded Tulane Stadium and created a “small lake” just days before the big game.

The stadium grounds crew was able to drain the field but the AstroTurf soaked up the water as if it were a sponge. This made for slick footing during the game and made route running and passing a challenge. The Steelers took full advantage of running back Franco Harris on the slippery surface. The Hall of Famer ran the ball 34 times for 158 yards and one TD. His MVP performance allowed the Steelers to win the franchise’s first NFL championship 16-6.

View Super Bowl IX program box score>>>

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw tip-toes over a plank to avoid the flooded field at Tulane Stadium just two days before their victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.
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