Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Really Cold War

On this day in 1982, there were lots of stories vying for the attention of the editors of metro newspapers.

Jan. 10, 1982, was a Sunday. And, historically, Sundays are pretty slow news days.

There are exceptions to that rule, of course. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on a Sunday. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon on a Sunday. As far as news is concerned, Sunday is just another day in the week.

And that Sunday 30 years ago was a spectacular exception to the rule.

Sports desks were busy — as they had known they would be — with the AFC and NFC championship games that were to be played that day. I worked on sports desks for several years, and I can easily imagine the anticipation in newsrooms across the country.

But the news desks were busy with a developing story that would seize the nation's attention — a fierce cold front that set records in many cities across the country. Hundreds of those records would be shattered within the week by an even more brutal cold front, leaving in its wake record low temperatures that still stand today.

In pro football lore, the 1967 NFL Championship game played in Green Bay has long been remembered as the "Ice Bowl" — and deservedly so. The air temperature was –15°. The wind chill was –48°. No other postseason game has ever been played in conditions as cold as that.

But the game played in Cincinnati three decades ago today came close. The air temperature that day was –9°, and the wind chill was –37°.

I wasn't in Cincinnati that day. I was in Fayetteville, Ark., where I was in college at the time. Fayetteville was well acquainted with cold winters. It always had snow during the winter months. The snow didn't always remain for days or weeks, but sometimes one snowfall would still be on the ground when the next one came along.

That winter, snowfall after snowfall fell and stayed for weeks because it was so cold — and on that day, it might have approached 30° briefly at some point, but my memory is that the temperature was mostly in the teens if not single digits. And it was windy — not fiercely so but windy enough to make it feel colder than it actually was.

I spent nearly all that day indoors next to the fireplace watching the football games — with a mug of hot chocolate in one hand and a blanket over my feet.

Of the second game that was played that day — the now–legendary Dallas–San Francisco game — I will have more to say in my next post later today. It was a very exciting game with plenty of big plays and momentum shifts.

The Cincinnati–San Diego game wasn't really that way. Maybe it was the extreme cold. Mind you, it was cool in San Francisco that afternoon, cooler than it normally is, I suppose. But it was cold in Cincinnati, and that made it memorable.

If it had come down to the final seconds, the way it did in Green Bay 15 years earlier, I guess that would be what people remember about that game.

But it wasn't close. The Bengals had things under control early. They forced four turnovers and won by 20 points.

Cincinnati's coach that day was Forrest Gregg, the right tackle for Green Bay in the "Ice Bowl," but, reportedly, he could not recall a game that was played in colder conditions than the one played in Cincinnati 30 years ago today.

Perhaps moving around on the field helped him feel warmer in Green Bay.

I remember feeling sorry for the fans I saw shivering in the stands in Cincinnati. I feel the same way whenever I see footage from the "Ice Bowl." I suppose it was a good thing — in both instances — that the home team won. That way, most of the fans had plenty to cheer for and jump up and down about (thus generating a little warmth).

The fans in Cincinnati didn't have a lot to be happy about two weeks later when their Bengals lost the Super Bowl.

But, because it was so cold 30 years ago today — coldest ever in the AFL/AFC — the game with the Chargers achieved a memorable status all its own.

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