Don’t be fooled by this mild December. Winter is coming. Last year the country experienced a mild entry into snow season, only to be clobbered with record blizzards and deep freezes that left cities across the country covered in white drifts well into the new year. If we’re all being honest, that’s what fans want to see for NFL playoff games—harsh conditions are synonymous with football weather. And these are the games people remember most—those played in epic elements. Players slip and slide in every direction, steam rises off of sweaty bodies and lineman never, ever wear long sleeves. So in the spirit of the forthcoming winter, we recount five of the coldest, snowiest games in NFL history.
Green Bay Outlasts Dallas at Lambeau Field
Conditions: -36 degrees with the wind chill
The “Ice Bowl” had all the makings of an epic game. The teams were led by coaching legends Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, and the winner would advance to the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. It took place on the last day of the year, and, oh yeah, the game-time temperature was -15 degrees without the wind chill. Just how cold was it? According to lore, the college marching band that was scheduled to play at halftime couldn’t perform because the woodwind instruments froze and band members’ lips froze to their brass horn mouthpieces.
On Green Bay’s final drive the Packers were at 3rd-and-inches in Dallas territory with 16 seconds remaining when quarterback Bart Starr called a timeout to confer with Lombardi on the sidelines. “Coach, the linemen can get their footing for the wedge, but the backs are slipping. I’m right there, I can just shuffle my feet and lunge in,” Starr told his coach. Lombardi’s response is now infamous: “Run it, and let’s get the hell out of here!”
Cincinnati Tramples San Diego in Ohio
Conditions: -32 degrees with the wind chill
Dubbed the “Freezer Bowl,” this contest took place at Riverfront Stadium where the wind gusts whipped off the Ohio River. Still, there were a few brave/insane spectators who attended shirtless. (There always has to be at least one.) “Back then, they didn’t have the gloves they have now,” recalled Chargers running back Hank Bauer. “They didn’t have all the technology. We were trying everything, women’s nylons, plastic food baggies.” After running through his on-field warm-up, Bauer returned to his team’s locker and told his teammates to take off everything they were throwing on to stay warm. “No. 1, you’re not going to be able to move with all this stuff on,” he said. “And No. 2, it ain’t gonna help.”
Indianapolis Defeats Kansas City at a Sold Out Arrowhead Stadium
Conditions: -6 degrees with the wind chill
This AFC-playoff game is one of the coldest NFL games on record. However, compared to the Ice Bowl and Freezer Bowl, it was downright balmy. Current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, then playing quarterback for the Colts, and Steven Bono, the Chiefs QB, performed like guys with frozen fingers. They had six turnovers between the two of them. While the Colts were “a long way from Dome,” they prevailed because Chiefs field goal kicker Lin Elliott couldn’t navigate the frozen tundra and missed three field goals, including one for the tie with less than one minute to go. “This is what made this league…when you have to play the elements and throw where the field is not frozen,” said Colts Team Director Bill Tobin.
Green Bay Beats Tampa Bay at Lambeau Field
Conditions: 16 inches of fresh snow
This was one of those rare occasions where a Packers home game wasn’t packed with fans. More than 36,000 fans stayed home because 16 inches of snow fell to the ground over the course of the day. (However, nearly 20,000 Green Bay loyalists did show up in the -16 degree weather.) Since the snow didn’t let up come game time, field maintenance staff had to periodically remove the snow from the field with snow blowers. The conditions didn’t deter the Packers offense. Quarterback Lynn Dickey threw for 299 yards. Meanwhile, the Bucs managed 65 yards of total offense, which some blame on the fact that the team wore white uniforms and therefore lost receivers who blended in with the snow.
Buffalo Topples the New York Jets…in Detroit
Conditions: 7 feet of snow
This was one of the all-time craziest snowstorms to ever hit northern New York. According to the Bills, more than 220,000 tons of snow needed to be removed from the team’s home stadium. The situation was so dire that the Bills tried to recruit locals to come and shovel out the stadium for $10/hour. Except, no one in greater Buffalo could even leave their homes, since they were all socked-in. Ultimately, the NFL decided to move the Bills home game to the Detroit Lions’ indoor arena. There, the “home” team stomped the Jets 38-3 in perfectly pleasant conditions.