History Lessons : The Ice Bowl

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With the recent blast back into frigid temperates, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the Ice Bowl this week.

The Ice Bowl isn’t a catchy name descriptive of the surrounding area like the Rose Bowl in California or the Orange Bowl in Florida. The Ice Bowl was one fateful championship game in which everything literally turned to ice as temperatures plummeted from 10 to nearly 20 degrees below zero – without adding in the windchill.

It was the classic setting for a classic game.

It was 1967 and the Cowboys and Packers had earned a trip to the NFL Championship game. The temperature at the start of the game was 15 degrees below zero, making it the coldest game in league history. You’d think that would deter a few fans from showing up that day, maybe persuade the commissioner to postpone it.

However, that’s not how Green Bay rolls. Over 50,000 fans were in attendance – an attendance which has become the ultimate badge of honor for Packers fans. (If only I had been born two decades sooner!)

The Packers had won the title 4 of the past 6 years and were primed for another victory over the warm-weather-based Cowboys. It certainly started in the Packers favor: Green Bay had a 14-0 lead at halftime. But the Cowboys came back in the second half, piling up 17 points to the Packers 14. Led by iconic coach Vince Lombardi and future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, Green Bay claimed the victory in the final seconds to earn a trip to Super Bowl II, which they would win.

It’s a good story, but words won’t do it justice until you see just what kind of conditions we’re talking about:

However, if there are words to do it justice, Mike Juley’s would be my pick. His memories of going to the Ice Bowl with his dad are priceless:

Whenever the Packers scored, the famous “thwump, thwump, thwump” of mittens hitting mittens permeated the stadium. Dad was happy to clap. It assured him that his arms were still working.

We made it through most of the first half, with the Packers leading, 14-10. Seeking warmth, we left our seats late in the second quarter for the concession stand, where Dad ordered a coffee — they had run out of hot chocolate. In the minute it took the attendant to bring back change, the coffee had turned ice cold.

Numbed, we decided to spend the third quarter thawing out across the street in the office of a service station. Amid gasoline fumes, we listened to the radio broadcast of a touchdown pass by the Cowboys that gave them the lead early in the fourth quarter, 17-14.

Returning to the stadium — the gate attendants had fled from their positions shortly after the game started — we reclaimed our seats in time to see the final Packers drive, culminating in Starr’s dramatic quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining that won the game.

By then, we couldn’t feel anything. Yet, Dad and I hugged each other, two clumps of frozen clothing jumping up and down. It must have been quite a sight.

 It sure must have. But a good one, for sure.

If possible, this bit of history makes me love the Packers even more.

History Lesson : Helmet Evolution

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Guess when the first non-leather helmets were worn?

No really, guess.

Here are a few numbers to help you out.

Football in American started in earnest in the 1890’s.

Most guys weren’t even wearing helmets then.

The NFL was born in 1920.

Having some sort of head protection seemed like a good idea to most at this point, so players wore leather helmets (hence the term “leather heads”) which increased in size and padding as the years went on.

Plastic helmets became the standard in…

1949!!! How in the world those guys survived without helmets for all those years, I’ll never know. Oh my word.

But we do know the story of how plastic helmets came into existence, and it’s actually really good.


Ok, so, Riddell, the company that still makes the NFL’s helmets, made the first plastic prototype in 1939. But then World War II happened, so making harder helmets for men who were playing a game, not fighting a war, became less of a priority. Thus, the helmet construction process slowed down quite a bit until materials became more widely available.

In 1949, Riddell produced a much, much better model of their original 1939 edition, and it soon became the official helmet of the NFL. It even featured a leather chin strap! But you might not recognize it for lack of one missing feature:

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The face mask. Oh, the face mask. Who needs ’em, am I right?!

Otto Graham may beg to differ. Here’s that portion of the story, straight from Riddell:

All NFL players were maskless until the Browns’ home game against the 49ers where Otto Graham took an elbow to the face, ripping open the side of his mouth near the end of the half. His coach, Paul Brown, had a lucite prototype put on Otto’s helmet by the team equipment Manager. Otto insisted on playing the second half. Paul Brown owned the patent for the face mask made by Riddell and used his profits to create the Cincinnati Bengals.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And the mother of the Browns/Bengals rivalry.

Today, with all of the legitimate concern over head trauma, helmets are heading into a whole new era. Riddell has developed several revolutionary models which feature sensors that measure impact and determine whether or not it’s safe for a player to continue playing. The sensors can even transmit wireless messages to coaches on the sidelines when a player has exceeded the predetermined impact capacity and needs to be evaluated before getting cleared to go back out on the field. Given the gravity of the situation, it’s an encouraging prospect. And just look at how far we’ve already come since the leather head days!

Reason to be optimistic for the future, I think.

History Lesson : Thanksgiving (in Detroit, not Plymouth)

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You’re thinking turkey, of course. Probably family and pie, too. But you’re also thinking football, right? Aside from the Super Bowl itself, I doubt there’s a day of the year more synonymous with football than Thanksgiving.

So…why? How did that get started?

It began with the Lions. Hence the annual Lions game on Thanksgiving, for better or for worse (and, sorry, Detroit – it’s usually for worse). In 1934 the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit and became the Detroit Lions.

(Although, aren’t we all just a little surprised that there isn’t an NFL team named the Spartans? Especially in the company of Cardinals and Ravens and Dolphins and Colts…a veritable zoo of animals that will leave the terror right out of your heart?)

(I realize I’m a fan of the Packers, which doesn’t necessarily strike fear into the heart of an opponent by name alone. But it’s such a rich history! Maybe that will be a history series in the future: team name origins.)

(Have I digressed?)

So, in 1934, the Spartans catch the midnight train to Detroit and become the Lions. Local radio executive George A. Richards purchased the team and was looking for a way to get a little of the limelight off of baseball and onto football. So he opted for a holiday game in an attempt to lure fans in during the team’s first year in the city.

And lure he did! The 26,000 tickets for the game sold out 2 weeks in advance, and it was estimated that nearly double would have been sold had they been available.

Not too shabby for their first year in town!

This was no homecoming game, no easy victory set up so that the home team comes out on top. This was a clash of the titans: the hometown Lions, who had lasted 8 straight games without allowing a touchdown (um, wow) and had a 10-1 record, and the rival Chicago Bears, who were one game better at 11-0 coming into the game.

They left 12-0.

The Bears took the division title that year, but roles would be reversed in the following year, when Detroit went on to win the Thanksgiving game (again against the Bears) and the 1935 Championship as well.

And, save for a small streak in the late 30’s and early 40’s, the Lions have played every Thanksgiving game since in one of the best Thanksgiving traditions since turkey. The Cowboys became a perennial Thanksgiving staple during the 60’s, and teams have rotated in and out of the Turkey Day schedule ever since it began, but it all started with the Lions.

Good job, Detroit. We’re thankful for you.

History Lessons : The 1st NFL Championship

football, history, championshipLong before we had the Super Bowl (in 1967 – but we’ll get to that later), we had the NFL Championship.

And let’s just chat about that for a moment, because some fans, not naming names or anything (ahem – Steelers fans), think that because their team has the most Lombardi trophies they have the most total titles. But that is (SO) false! The NFL Championship was the Super Bowl before the Super Bowl was cool. Same game, different name. So by definition, the Green Bay Packers (well, hey, look at that!) have the most total titles in the NFL, with 11 NFL Championships and 4 Super Bowls.

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s move on.

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The first NFL Championship took place on December 17th, 1933. And aren’t we all glad that the season goes on for well over a month after that now? I don’t know that I would enjoy the holidays quite as much if I knew that football’s end would precede them. But that’s neither here nor there.

Had you been in attendance at the first NFL Championship game, you would have found yourself at Wrigley Field in Chicago watching a matchup between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants. Fitting, since both of those teams are still relevant today. An estimated 26,000 fans showed up, which I think is pretty impressive for a first run!

And they definitely had something to cheer about once they arrived. It was a close back-and-forth game with plenty of offense and it’s fair share of notable names: Bronko Nagurski, Bill Hewittt, Red Badgro, and Ken Strong. In the end, the Bears pulled out the win on a Bill Hewitt lateral to Billy Karr for a touchdown, 23-21.

Interesting anecdote: each Bears player took home $210.34 for the win, while each Giants player took home a $140.22 consolation prize.

Oh, how things have changed.

(Thanks Pro Football Hall of Fame for the education!)

Offseason Schedule 2013 : History Lessons

This week, we’ll be previewing the offseason schedule. You can still expect posts every weekday, a mix of education, information and inspiration, nice people in the comments section, and a reason to hold onto hope: the 2013 season will be here before we know it. Here’s what we’ll be talking about until then:

football, games, historyMichael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

This offseason, we’re going to be part of the tree.

Every Thursday, we’ll go back to a great moment in football history and discuss it’s significance. Being familiar with moments like the Immaculate Reception, the Tuck Rule, the Ice Bowl, and so many others will add so much to your overall knowledge of the game.

Here’s a quick preview to get you excited about our upcoming history lessons:

It’s going to be a good time! We’ll see you here next Thursday when class is officially in session.