“Ice Bowl” turns 42 and we have artifact to prove it


One of my favorite aspects of football is that it is generally played in any type of weather (except lightning, tornados and hurricanes). I love to watch two teams slogging it out in rain, snow or mud. Watching some of the recent cold weather games reminds me of one of the most unusual objects in our collection, the heating coil from Lambeau Field. We only have a small piece of the heating system that was installed under Lambeau Field. However the reason we collected it was that it played a role in the “Ice Bowl.” In a few days we’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve but this New Year’s Eve will be the 42nd anniversary of the famous 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys that will forever be known as the “Ice Bowl.”

{GALLERY}The heating coil in our collection had been installed six inches under Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in 1967 and was used by the team until the 1996 NFL season. It was part of intricate heating system that was designed to prevent Lambeau Field from freezing during cold weather. Packers head coach Vince Lombardi was instrumental in bringing the system to Green Bay. The first ground heating system was installed at the Air Force Academy’s home football field in Colorado Springs, CO. The Academy used the system to help grass grow in the high altitude. Lombardi’s idea was to keep Lambeau Field from freezing during the cold months of November and December. The cost of the heating system was nearly one million dollars ($969,000 to be exact). Today’s equivalent would be $6 million.

As I mentioned earlier, this heating coil played a significant role in the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Packers and Cowboys on Dec. 31, 1967. Many believe the term “Ice Bowl” refers to the simple fact that game time temperatures were 13 degrees below zero but “Ice Bowl” also refers to the field conditions that were caused by this heating coil.

The weather forecast for the game on the 10:00 PM news the night before the game was actually for a high of 25 degrees. Not knowing the forecast would be off by 38 degrees, the ground crew turned on the heating system and a tarp was placed over the field for the night. When the field crew removed the tarp in the morning they noticed quite of bit of condensation had formed on the grass but the field was not frozen. The heating system had done its job but had it done it too well.

John Harrington, the engineer who installed the system, told Vince Lombardi that with the tarp removed and the heating system would need to be turned off during the game. If the heating system continued to run during the extreme temperatures it would need so much more power to keep the field from freezing that the system would overheat itself and be destroyed. Lombardi feared that if the system was destroyed the waste of money would be known as “Lombardi Folly,” and he agreed that the system should be turned off.

Once the tarp was removed the condensation that had formed immediately froze in the frigid 13-below-zero temperature. The field literally became like a sheet of ice. The players had a horrible time not only adapting to the cold but field conditions as well. Few players were able to gain much traction during the game. Because of the horrible condition in the air and on the ground, the game quickly was labeled the “Ice Bowl.”

To their credit, the Dallas Cowboys hung tough during the game. They held a late 17-14 lead when the Packers took possession of the ball with 5:04 left to play at their own 32-yard-line. From there quarterback Bart Starr lead the Packers on a 68-yard touchdown drive which culminated in his game-winning one-yard QB sneak with 16 seconds left in the game. Two weeks later the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II.

As far as this year’s playoffs, I believe the Green Bay Packers have a shot. Although they’ll most likely play every game on the road as a Wild Card, they seemed to have stabilized their offensive line and their defense has made huge strides during the season. Both the Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles seemed to be peaking at the right time in the NFC entering the playoffs and they will be dangerous in the postseason. I also like the San Diego Chargers in the AFC. After a slow start they’ve won 10 in a row. Could we have a Packers vs. Chargers Super Bowl. I don’t know for sure but I do know if we have 13-below temperatures in South Florida for Super Bowl XLIV something has gone horribly wrong.

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