Sunday’s Playoff Game Shares Ties With The Historic ‘Ice Bowl’

1967 NFL Championship Game Holds Special Place In Packers Lore

An exhibit in the Packers Hall of Fame recreating Bart Starr's last-minute touchdown sneak that led to a Green Bay victory in the 1967 “Ice Bowl.” Photo: A.C. Flynn (CC-BY-NC-ND).

When the Packers host the Dallas Cowboys this weekend for a divisional playoff match at Lambeau Field, it will mark the first time the two teams have met for a postseason game in Green Bay since the famous 1967 “Ice Bowl.”

It will be cold in Green Bay on Sunday, but not as cold as it was on Dec. 31, 1967 during that year’s NFL Championship game, which the Packers won at the last minute to earn a spot in the second-ever Super Bowl. For that game, the temperature was 15 degrees below. This weekend, temperatures could hit 15 degrees above.

Packers CEO Mark Murphy said earlier this week that the players are ready, and that he doesn’t think the cold will be a factor. He noted that technology has improved, and that both the field and sidelines will be heated for Sunday’s game.

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“You think back in ’67, they didn’t have so many of the advantages that we have now in terms of keeping people warm and being able to play in the conditions, he said. It’s pretty remarkable that the players were able to play the way they did back in that time.”

Mel McCartney, left, and John Hess attended the original Ice Bowl, and plan to be at Sunday’s game as well. Photo: Michael Leland/WPR News.

Bart Starr, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl, went on to coach the Packers, and is known today for his work with at-risk youth. Photo: UW Health (CC-BY-NC-ND).

The Ice Bowl will be remembered for the heart-stopping action on the field just as much as it will for the weather. In what’s perhaps the most famous play in Packers history, quarterback Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown by sneaking the ball into the end zone with 16 seconds left on the clock.

It’s a game that will live in the annals of sports history, according to Green Bay Press-Gazette sports writer Wes Hodkiewicz.

“I believe it was Ken Bowman and Jerry Kramer — the offensive linemen opening up the hole — and Starr going right through it,” said Hodkiewicz. “And the Dallas defensive line — I think it was the ‘Doomsday Defense’ — they were known for being able to stop teams in short yardage situations. For it to not only be that scene and that environment, but to come down to a significant play like that, a last-second play, that doesn’t happen a lot. That’s magic.”

A lot of things have changed since 1967, but not the love John Hess and Mel McCartney have for their team. The Madison-area friends will be in the stands Sunday in the same seats they were in back then. John Hess knows this because he embroidered his seat number in his vintage Kromer hat: “Our seat is in section 116, row 7, seat 23, as I read my hat,” he said.

The two may need a reminder of where their seats are, but McCartney will never forget the cold that day. He thinks this weekend’s temperatures won’t be a big deal.

“That’s a big difference in terms of how you can function,” said McCartney. “And one of the key things is the ball freezes at 15 below. I mean, the ball will be cold here and hard, but the ball gets like a rock when it’s 15 below.”

The Ice Bowl, some might say, is like the Woodstock of football: McCartney said that if everyone who said they were there was actually there, Lambeau Field would have to have been a lot bigger.

“Instead of 53,000 people, it’d have to have been 530,000 people,” he said. “People wanted to be there and were there in spirit, but they forgot they really weren’t there.”

Whichever team wins at Lambeau on Sunday will play either the Seattle Seahawks or the Carolina Panthers in the NFC championship game. The winner of that matchup will meet the AFC champion in the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.