Warm memories of a cold, cold day Ice Bowl: Today will be the first Packers-Cowboys title game since the epic 1967 matchup at frigid Lambeau Field an unforgettable day for the Packers' Fuzzy Thurston and his family.

January 14, 1996|By Michael Madden | Michael Madden,BOSTON GLOBE

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Fuzzy's Shenanigans is the bar, 75 cents is the cost for draughts of Wisconsin's own Miller, and the Fox River, frozen solid and still, is the view out the front window.

Inside, though, are warm memories of a very, very cold day.

"I remember I was 9 or 10 years old," said the bartender, Mark Thurston. "My brother and I were going to the game, but Dad called up from Lambeau and told my mom, 'Don't let 'em go. It's too cold.' I was so mad. I remember how mad I was because I wanted to go to that game so badly."

Mark Thurston kept tending the bar as he talked, wiping it with a cloth, joshing with customers Mike Crooks and Al Leuderman and Tim Ebert, Packer fans all, who've heard the tale many a time. Still, all leaned toward the bar to hear more.

"So I just put on my coat and left the house and started walking to Lambeau," said Thurston. "No way I was going to miss that game. I was going to walk to Lambeau. But I didn't get too far, maybe a block from my house, when my grandma came by and picked me up."

Who couldn't understand? Here are the Dallas Cowboys in town on New Year's Eve, 1967, the Dallas Cowboys with Don Meredith and Dan Reeves and Lance Rentzel, and you're 9 years old and your father plays for the Green Bay Packers, who are seeking their second straight NFL title and showdown with the AFL winner for the championship of the pro football universe. The Cowboys, denied the NFL crown by Green Bay in Dallas the previous year, 34-27, before the Packers went on to claim the first NFL-AFL showdown, are intent on retribution. So what if it's 13 degrees below zero?

"I got to the game all right," said Mark Thurston. "And my biggest memory of it? How cold it was. I remember they wrapped me up in a sleeping bag and I sat in Lambeau and watched the game in a sleeping bag."

Another era

Mark Thurston kept wiping the bar on this dark January afternoon with a cloth. All around the bar were mementos, footballs and more footballs, all with writing on them, pictures of Fuzzy Thurston, a canceled check made out to Fuzzy Thurston for $15,000 for playing in the first "NFL-AFL Championship Game." After all, this was before the name "Super Bowl" had been coined.

Just as it was before the weather conjurers had conjured up the term "wind-chill factor." The temperature might have been minus-13 degrees, but the wind chill? Who knows? Maybe 40 or 50 below zero.

"Dad will be in in a little while," said Mark Thurston, reflecting the hoopla surrounding Sunday's Packers-Cowboys rematch in Dallas for what is now the NFC championship and a trip to Super Bowl XXX. "CNN is coming and ESPN with their cameras . . . Dad will tell you all about the Ice Bowl."

Not far from Fuzzy's Shenanigans on Riverside Road is the road sign with its legend, "Entering Green Bay -- Pop. 96,466." But so many of the old Packers are gone. Ray Nitschke had left that very afternoon for Orlando and warmth, and Jerry Kramer was out in Idaho, and Bart Starr was down in Alabama, still selling cars, and Max McGee still does the color commentary for Packer radio broadcasts, but as one and all at the bar noted, "Max just comes in on game days. He lives over in Minneapolis."

And Tom Landry, the Cowboys coach for then and so long, was down in Texas, with some cold, cold memories of New Year's Eve, 1967. "It was something else to take part in that game," said Landry. "It was really something else."

Frozen field

Meeting for the right to play in the second NFL-AFL Championship Game between the soon-to-merge leagues, the Cowboys and Packers both had noticed a substantial change in conditions between their pre-game warm-ups and kickoff time. The playing surface at Lambeau Field had been protected during the cold days and nights leading up to Dec. 31, but as soon as the tarp came off the field, Mother Nature had done her dastardly deed. The field seemed playable during warm-ups, but by kickoff, it had frozen solid.

It was so bad, said Landry in a tidbit little known, "that the coaches made a request to [then NFL commissioner] Pete Rozelle to postpone the game because it was just too cold to play. But Pete was down in California where it was warm and he just said, 'Go ahead. We've never called off a game yet, so we're not going to call off this one.' "

Seesaw game

Landry recalled how the game seesawed. How the Packers jumped out to a quick lead, but how the Cowboys' defense twice forced fumbles by Starr, and how Reeves took a handoff from Meredith, rolled left and threw a halfback option pass to Rentzel for a touchdown, and how the Cowboys took the lead, 17-14, as the cold froze them all.

Then, in probably the second most-memorable game in pro football history after the New York Giants-Baltimore Colts overtime thriller a decade earlier, the Packers took over with little more than five minutes left and two-thirds of the field to traverse.

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