Shell hoping '81 Ice Bowl story will melt Raiders' frosted fears

January 16, 1991|By Bob Keisser | Bob Keisser,Knight-Ridder

LOS ANGELES -- Besides being the Los Angeles Raiders' resident father figure, Art Shell is also the team storyteller. Each week, he considers the team's pre-game circumstances and selects an appropriate story from the vast Raiders legacy.

This week's will be rather chilling.

In preparation for the worst kind of weather Sunday in Buffalo for the AFC title game, he'll undoubtedly recall the Jan. 4, 1981, Ice Bowl, a playoff game in Cleveland that the Raiders won, 14-12, en route to the Super Bowl title.

"I'll talk about that," said Shell, the Raiders' coach. "I can relate to cold weather."

The temperature at game time was 1 degree. With the wind chill, it was minus-37. As the game progressed, the wind chill dropped to minus-59. And Municipal Stadium's configuration made it seem even colder, with the wind whipping off Lake Erie and then blowing through the stadium's open end.

"The field was frozen rough, as opposed to smooth like an AstroTurf surface," said Raiders executive assistant Al LoCasale. Every cleat mark and divot from the previous football game was frozen in place. So every time you hit the ground, if you landed on something not padded, you got a bruise."

Shell's attitude this week is that cold, wet, snowy weather is no detriment to success. It's just a condition to be overcome. And he rejects the thought that warm weather teams are at a disadvantage when they head into snowy climates.

"I don't believe in the theory that if you work in it, you're better suited to play in it," he said. "We'd all like to play in 60 degrees with clear skies. But we've all played in cold weather before."

When the Raiders visited Buffalo in October, the region was having a bit of Indian summer and it was almost balmy. The Raiders visit to Kansas City the same month, though, presented them with 37-degree temperatures, a wind chill of 20 degrees, and intermittent snow flurries. They dropped a 9-7 decision.

In December, they played in 35-degree conditions (wind chill 15 degrees) in a 24-21 win over Denver. A year before that, they ended their season on Christmas eve in New York, a 34-17 loss, with temperatures of 18 degrees and a wind chill of minus-six.

Many Raiders vividly remember their last winter visit to Buffalo two seasons ago. It was 11 degrees with a wind chill of minus-14, supplemented by what is called lake effect snow, snow that blows off Lake Erie and swirls around the stadium.

"Why they don't have a dome, I don't know," said defensive end Greg Townsend. "It was too cold to spit. You'd try to spit and it'd freeze on your facemask.

"My ear pad [in his helmet] froze and cracked when I made a tackle. At first, I thought it was my ear, and I freaked out."

Center Don Mosebar smiles at his memory.

"I was on the field during a timeout, and someone came out to give us water. I looked at him, and he had icicles coming off his ears from when he tried to sweat. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen."

That someone was Raiders legendary team aide George Jones. "He gave me a great doubletake," said Jones, known to everyone as Run-Run from his roller derby days. "I put Vasoline on my face to protect against the wind, and it sort of froze on my ears."

The Raiders lost that game, 37-21, after the Bills opened up a 27-7 lead in the third quarter. The Bills, behind Thurman Thomas' 104 yards, ran for 255 yards. Bo Jackson gained 64 yards on 12 tries, Marcus Allen 37 on 11, and Jay Schroeder threw for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on a 14-for-24 day.

Other cold weather stories include the time Marcus Allen, in his rookie season, snuggled up to a heater along the sidelines in Kansas City, "and my shoes melted."

Nose tackle Bob Golic remembered the time he was playing in the slush in Cleveland, "and fell into a muddy puddle at the 3-yard line and was soaked to the bone. My halftime, I felt like I had hypothermia."

Golic has plenty of experience with the cold, having played in Cleveland and at Notre Dame and growing up in Ohio, as do other Raiders. Howie Long grew up in Massachusetts and played college ball at Villanova. Bill Pickel played at Rutgers, Greg Bell at Notre Dame (and with the Bills), Scott Davis at Illinois, and Steve Wisniewski at Penn State.

"Maybe it'll be real cold," said Golic, "and someone will get one of those real great pictures of me with icicles hanging from my beard."

Then again, maybe not. The very early forecast for Buffalo calls for temperatures in the mid-30s and clear skies.

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