Mac Engel

The Ice Bowl reminds us why we love the NFL

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, walking on Lambeau Field’s cold, hallowed ground, has listened to Bart Starr’s recollections of Ice Bowl I.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, walking on Lambeau Field’s cold, hallowed ground, has listened to Bart Starr’s recollections of Ice Bowl I. AP

The snow-covered metal bleachers do not look like they have changed much. The field is as miserably rock hard as it was in 1967. The team logos are the same. Other than that, the similarities between Ice Bowl I and Ice Bowl II end there.

Ice Bowl II should be great theater but, like most sequels, the followup to the original will be a reach. Even Hollywood was smart enough to know it cannot make a sequel to Gone With the Wind.

There is no player today who was born when the Cowboys faced the Packers at Lambeau Field for the 1967 NFL Championship, but that game, along with a handful of others, should be mandatory viewing — especially by the NFL and boss Roger Goodell.

The NFL is not the NFL without it. Those are the games that we fell in love with, and why football became the game Americans love far more than baseball, or any other. Yet, the way the NFL has evolved, games like that are infrequent.

The NFL today is clean, pretty, slick and sexy — the Dallas Cowboys — but the roots and the soul of this league are in its snowy, muddy, bloody bruises — the Green Bay Packers.

The NFL would be wise to embrace these imperfections, and maybe even look to create a few of them rather than try to scrub everything clean with instant replay, more rules and extended uniformity. Like any wedding, we remember and celebrate the gaffes more than we remember the nuptials that are flawless.

The Ice Bowl is great because it wasn’t perfect. And it may be so old it may not matter to this generation, but it should never be forgotten.

“We make it part of orientation for our rookies,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I know our players are very in tune with the history.”

The original Ice Bowl would not be allowed to exist today, and won’t on Sunday. There have been too many improvements to ensure that such a raw, rough and tough product can exist today.

Even an entity as powerful as the NFL has yet to figure out a way to corral Mother Nature in an outside event, but the rest it can control. Technology has created wonderful advances that make it more comfy for the players, and the viewers in the stands.

On that day, Dec. 31, 1967, there was no comfort.

It was a game that Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly said they didn’t think they should even have played considering the conditions — average wind chill was reportedly minus-48 degrees. The players who played that day readily admit the field was so slick that the quality of play was not up to standards for a normal game, much less an NFL Championship.

“I’ve been with Bart [Starr] a couple of times when he’s described that game’s final seconds and he’s fun to be around,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It must have been a rough day for everybody involved. The fans didn’t have the hand warmers that our fans get to have. The players, I don’t know how many heaters were going on the sidelines … little bit different conditions.”

The fans who attended, many of whom still live here in Green Bay and even provide tours at Lambeau Field, agree about the only thing that kept them warm was the proximity to so many other human beings.

In 1967, the NFL was entirely about being different. In 2014, through league legislation, everything is uniform. There is a sameness that exists now that makes games indistinguishable.

With the exception of the respective homes of the Raiders and Packers, and possibly the Chargers, the stadiums all look the same. Thirst for suites and wider concourses to sell more food, beer and merchandise has created a more homogenized look from venue to venue.

With the exceptions of the logos and the color schemes, the players look the same. Many of the plays and hits that made the NFL so beloved are now either no longer allowed, or instant replay will reverse their existence. A fear of lawsuits about concussions has something to do with this.

Green Bay is truly the final vestige of originality beyond the uniform and logo in the NFL. If it were not for the tradition of this franchise, there is no way the NFL allows a team in a city of but 100,000 to retain a franchise. This is a college town with an NFL team.

The Ice Bowl at Lambeau is one of the handful of games that made this league so popular, and while we might never see an event like it again, the NFL should rewatch it to remember why we love football.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof

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