The Coldest Football Game Ever
Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field is forecast to be one of the coldest in NFL history, with the temperature at kickoff expected to be -2 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it may threaten the NFL record for the coldest game in the history of the league. But despite the myth surrounding “frozen tundra” of Lambeau, the coldest game wasn’t the famous “Ice Bowl,” where Green Bay bested the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL Championship on Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak. Instead, it took place in Cincinnati in 1982 in the lesser-known AFC Championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers dubbed the “Freezer Bowl.”
According to the thermostat, the Freezer Bowl was slightly warmer than the Ice Bowl—the kickoff temperature was a balmy -9°F as opposed to the Ice Bow’s -13°F—but that doesn’t take into account the wind chill. Once that’s done, the Freezer Bowl ended up feeling even colder, with a wind chill of -59°F. So why is the Freezer Bowl relatively obscure? Because it just wasn’t as good a game.
The San Diego Chargers came into the freezing cold of Cincinnati a week after playing an overtime playoff game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami where the game time high was 76°F. The Chargers were reliant on a high-powered “Air Coryell” passing offense led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts throwing to Pro Bowl targets like tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner, both of whom were eventually inducted into Canton as well. Their offense wasn’t able to adjust to the frigid weather and the Bengals, led by veteran quarterback Ken Anderson, that season’s MVP, ended up winning 27-7. The Bengals went on to promptly lose Super Bowl XVI to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 26-21, and the Freezer Bowl never quite cracked the national consciousness.
In contrast, the Ice Bowl was played just as football was becoming the most popular sport in the United States. It was before the merger of the NFL and the AFL, when the NFL Championship was still a much bigger deal than the AFL’s Super Bowl. The Cowboys and Packers were playing in a rematch of the previous year’s championship. Neither was the best team in the NFL; that was the Baltimore Colts, who, led by MVP Johnny Unitas, had beaten both the Packers and the Cowboys in the regular season, but were unjustly kept out of the NFL playoffs due to a tiebreaker. It ended dramatically with Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak with 16 seconds and the Packers having no timeouts. It was a great game, perhaps the greatest in NFL history. It just wasn’t the coldest.