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50 Years Ago: The Ice Bowl

Posted on December 30, 2017 by Dean Hybl
It was 50 years ago that the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers met in the Ice Bowl.

It was 50 years ago that the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers met in the Ice Bowl.

There have been a lot of iconic games during the nearly 100 year history of the NFL, but no game has quite combined championship drama with unprecedented weather conditions like the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Played fifty years ago on December 31, 1967, the game has become known simply as “The Ice Bowl.”

The buildup to the 1967 NFL Championship Game actually started a year earlier when the Packers made a late goal line stand to preserve a 34-27 victory over the Cowboys in the 1966 NFL Championship Game played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Neither team had an easy path through the 1967 season. In actuality, the two best teams in the NFL during the regular season were the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Colts. However, they were in the same division and only one of the two teams could make the playoffs in an era before the wild card.

Baltimore entered the regular season finale in Los Angeles with a 11-0-2 record, including a 24-24 tie with the Rams during their earlier meeting. Not only did the Colts lose their chance at an undefeated regular season during their 34-10 loss, they also lost a chance at reaching Super Bowl II. Instead, the Rams earned the Coastal Division title and a spot in the playoffs.

Even though the Rams had a better record (11-1-2) than the Packers (9-4-1), their divisional playoff game was played in Green Bay on December 23, 1967. The Rams had defeated Green Bay 27-24 in a hard fought regular season game two weeks earlier, but this time the Packers dominated.

After the Rams took an early lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Roman Gabriel to future TV actor Bernie Casey, the Packers regrouped and soon took control.

A 46-yard touchdown run by Travis Williams tied the score and then Bart Starr and Carroll Dale connected on a 17-yard touchdown pass to give Green Bay a 14-7 halftime lead. Short rushing touchdowns by Williams and Chuck Mercein in the second half sealed a 28-7 victory and left the Packers on the cusp of a third straight NFL title.

After reaching the NFL Championship Game for the first time the previous year, the Cowboys had been slightly underwhelming in 1967. They lost three of their final five regular season games to finish the year with a 9-5 record. However, they were the only team in the Capital Division with a winning record, so easily reached the playoffs for the second straight year.

Don Meredith led the Dallas Cowboys to back-to-back NFL Title games against the Packers.

Don Meredith led the Dallas Cowboys to back-to-back NFL Title games against the Packers.

Hosting the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional Playoffs, Dallas raced to a 24-0 lead and ultimately won 52-14. Quarterback Don Meredith completed 11 of 13 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yard pass to Bullet Bob Hayes.

Thus, the rematch was set as the Cowboys and Packers would faceoff for the second year in a row with a spot in the second Super Bowl on the line.

Dallas Coach Tom Landry and Packers Coach Vince Lombardi had both been assistant coaches for the New York Giants in the 1950s, so they were very familiar with each other and had great mutual respect.

By the time they met for the 1967 title, Lombardi had won four NFL Championships while Landry had turned the expansion Cowboys from the worst team in the league during their early years to a budding dynasty.

The weather in Green Bay, Wisconsin had been seasonable in the days leading up to the December 31st game with temperatures in the 20s and 30s. However, cold air stormed into town prior to the game and suddenly the temperatures were plunging.

On the morning of the game, the temperature was -8 and by game time was down to -15. Wind chill made the temperatures even colder for both the players and fans.

To make things even more challenging, the heating system that had been installed under Lambeau Field malfunctioned the night before the game and the field was more like a frozen ice rink than a field conducive for playing a game.

Early in the game, it looked like the hometown Packers were immune to the cold while the visitors from Texas were adversely impacted.

Green Bay took the early lead as an early drive culminated with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Starr to Boyd Dowler. Another Starr to Dowler connection, this one for 46-yards, made the score 14-0 early in the second quarter.

The Dallas offense struggled throughout the first half, but the defense soon got them into the game. A sack and forced fumble by Willie Townes led to a seven-yard fumble return for a score by George Andrie. Another Green Bay turnover on a fumbled punt late in the quarter led to a Dallas field goal and made the score 14-10 in favor of the Packers at halftime.

Playing a role reversal in the second half, Dallas suddenly was able to move the football while the Packers were suddenly unable to gain any traction.

Dallas eventually took the lead when running back Dan Reeves hit receiver Lance Rentzel on a halfback pass for a 50-yard touchdown.

Bart Starr (15) scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.

Bart Starr (15) scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.

Suddenly, with 4:50 remaining in the game and knowing that they had not moved the football at all during the second half, the Packers trailed 17-14 and needed a score to keep alive their dream of a third straight NFL title.

Fortunately for the Packers, their offensive leader was a quarterback who made a career out of leading his team back from the brink when the obstacles seemed overwhelming.

Bart Starr coolly mixed short passes and runs to guide the Packers down the field. They reached the one yard line in the final minute.

Needing one more yard to claim victory, the Packers were stopped on consecutive running plays as the iced field made it difficult for the running backs to get traction. However, Starr believed they had the right play called.

Having used their last timeout and with just 16 seconds remaining, Starr and Lombardi knew they had just one chance left to score. Instead of handing the ball off to Mercein, who was expecting it, Starr kept the football and followed the block of Jerry Kramer into the end zone to seal the victory.

With the victory, the Packers became the first team to win three straight NFL Championships since the 1929-1931 Packers and the first to do it during the playoff era. They would go on to defeat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win Super Bowl II.

That season proved to be the end of the Green Bay Packers run as a dominant NFL team, but the Cowboys were just getting started. Ultimately, Dallas posted 20 straight winning seasons and reached the playoffs 18 times during that stretch.

The 50th anniversary of the Ice Bowl has sparked renewed interest in the legendary game. With the players from that game now in their 70s or 80s or having passed away, capturing the memories from that incredible day is becoming more significant.

NFL Network recently broadcast a special edition of The Timeline in which Michael Meredith, the son of Dallas quarterback Don Meredith, interviewed several players from both teams. You can find other memories from the game in several videos available on YouTube.

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