For Dallas Cowboys fans, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Ice Bowl cold.
Sunday’s playoff game against the Green Bay Packers is being billed as Ice Bowl II — a rematch of the Dec. 31, 1967, NFL Championship Game, which the Cowboys lost in treacherous subzero conditions.
The Cowboys’ current ownership, which began in 1989 when Jerry Jones bought the club, understands the history all too well. This week, the team began selling royal blue T-shirts with the slogan “Ice Bowl II, Jan. 11, 2015.” The $26 garments disappeared off shelves at Dallas Cowboys Pro Shops at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and other locations in Dallas-Fort Worth. Many fans gobbled up the merchandise before employees could get the shirts out of the box.
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“I think the Cowboys have a real chance,” said Philip Robinson, 26, a southwest Fort Worth resident who browsed a Hulen Mall shop while workers waited for their shipment of T-shirts. “Why not?”
The Cowboys and Packers have faced off in four playoff games since that 1967 classic — with Dallas winning all of them at Texas Stadium in the 1980s and ’90s. Dallas last played at Lambeau Field during the 2010 regular season, when the Packers won 45-7.
While that game is a distant memory for most, the Ice Bowl played 47 years ago — the coldest game in NFL history — still stings.
“Those who were around certainly remember watching that game,” said Mike Rhyner, co-host of the Hardline radio show on KTCK/96.7 FM “The Ticket” in Dallas-Fort Worth. Rhyner grew up in south Dallas and as a teenager watched the Ice Bowl live on a neighbor’s black-and-white television.
“Those who weren’t around heard about it, and its place in Cowboys lore can’t be questioned,” Rhyner said. “It holds that place for a reason. It is one of the most-talked-about games ever. It was a great game played in unusual conditions, conditions that have not since been approached. And make no mistake: It meant something to the Packers fans, too.”
Interest in the Cowboys is at a fever pitch, giving younger football fans an idea of how much fun it can be when the team, which has had little success the past 18 years, is playing with swagger.
“I grew up in Richardson, and wanting the Cowboys to win without knowing why, because I knew the mood in my house would be better,” said Ben Rogers, co-host of The Ben and Skin Show on KRLD/105.3 FM “The Fan,” which broadcasts Cowboys games.
Rogers and many others agree that locally, talk of the Cowboys’ playoff run has dwarfed the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship matchup between Oregon and Ohio State, set for Monday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It’s a huge moment for national sports audiences. ESPN is spending the week broadcasting at Fort Worth’s Sundance Square Plaza, and the college game is a common topic.
But in North Texas — at sports bars, at work and on radio talk shows — the Cowboys are the focus.
“If you’re a college football fan, most likely you’re extremely passionate about one school, whether it’s Texas A&M or Baylor or TCU. But once your team is out of it, you’re just like a casual fan,” Rogers said. “But with the Cowboys, these roots are here, and there is interest because you are born and raised on Cowboys football.”
Sunday’s contest took on added meaning after news spread about the death Wednesday of Jethro Pugh, 70, part of the Cowboys’ famed Doomsday Defense. He played in the Ice Bowl and in four Super Bowls — winning two — before retiring in 1978.
The defensive tackle went on to become an entrepreneur, opening five Western-style gift shops at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Little in common
Despite the Ice Bowl II billing, Sunday’s game has little in common with the one played in 1967.
That game was for the NFL championship, before the NFL-AFL merger was complete. After winning, Green Bay advanced to Super Bowl II and beat the AFL champion Oakland Raiders.
Sunday’s game is a divisional playoff, and the victor still has to win the NFC championship to reach Super Bowl XLIX.
Also, this game won’t be nearly as cold. Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 18 degrees in Green Bay — 31 degrees above the kickoff temperature of minus 13 in 1967. Blustery winds created a wind chill of minus 36 — conditions so miserable that one fan died in the stands and several players on both teams suffered frostbite on their hands and feet.
Lambeau Field was frozen in 1967, and players could not get their footing. The field did have heating coils below the surface to prevent ice from forming on the grass, but the machinery failed the morning of the Ice Bowl.
Today’s Lambeau Field is equipped with more than 30 miles of radiant heating pipe, according to www.packers.com, which maintains the root-zone temperature at 55 degrees and keeps the field from becoming a surface more suited for ice skating.
Some of the players who took the field that fateful day would just as soon forget it.
The Cowboys lost 21-17 after Green Bay drove the length of the field in the final minutes. Packers quarterback Bart Starr snuck the ball into the end zone with 13 seconds left.
Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, now 73, started the game without wearing gloves — at the behest of a tough-minded defensive coach.
“Our defensive coach, Ernie Stautner, said, ‘I don’t want you guys wearing gloves.’ I said, ‘Guys, I can do it if y’all can.’ But after the first series, I came back and got me a pair of gloves,” Jordan said.
Another compelling memory of the game is seeing referee Norm Schachter bleeding at the mouth because a whistle froze to his lips, Jordan said. After that, referees ditched their whistles and used shouts and hand signals to stop the game action.
“I knew about the official who put the whistle in his mouth and took it out and removed his lips,” Jordan said. “He bled for most of the game. They went to plastic whistles after that game. The guy looked pitiful. His jersey was bloody all the way to his belt.”
Donny Anderson, now 71, has much fonder memories. Anderson starred at Stinnett High School in the Texas Panhandle and helped put Texas Tech on the college football map from 1963 to 1965. A first-round draft pick of the Packers, Anderson had 35 yards rushing and 44 yards receiving in the Ice Bowl.
Anderson downplayed the weather somewhat, saying cold games happen in Texas, too. With Stinnett High, he said, he once played when it was 5 degrees.
But he did say that while it’s always cold in Green Bay in late fall and winter, bone-chilling temperatures can be sneaky.
“When we woke up the morning of the Ice Bowl, it was supposed to be around 10 or 12 degrees, and when we got to the stadium, it was closer to 20 below zero,” he said.
George Andrie, now 74, was an outstanding defensive end for the Cowboys, often leading the team in sacks.
In a way, Andrie thinks Mother Nature stole the game from the Cowboys.
“It was one play at the end, a quarterback sneak. We were winning, except that one play,” said Andrie, who scored the Cowboys’ first touchdown on a 7-yard fumble return. “I don’t think there’s any avenging to be done. I think if you look back, we should have won the game. It was a tough loss.”
Andrie played the entire game without gloves, his hands touching the ice-caked field before every snap. He suffered frostbite, and his hands still ache in cold weather — even when he’s wearing gloves. Each time it happens, it’s a painful reminder of the Ice Bowl.
Andrie wishes the Cowboys success. But he isn’t confident of a victory Sunday.
“They [the Packers] have a solid team,” said Andrie, noting that the Cowboys “have a lot of things to address, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The tackling is atrocious.
“But I hope they pull it off. If Green Bay turns it over, who knows? That’s what makes the game interesting.”
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796