by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Since we’ve been publishing, we think the most memorable of these conference/pre-merger league title games came in the 1967 NFL title clash at Green Bay, the Packers’ famed “Ice Bowl” win over the Cowboys by a 21-17 count at Lambeau Field. And it’s a game in which we believe some of the real heroes of that day have been overlooked by a sports media that has instead continued to shower accolades on Vince Lombardi’s Packers.

That’s because we’ve always believed the better team that day at Lambeau Field was actually Dallas, even though we’d have a hard time convincing anybody other than Dan Reeves, Bob Lilly, and any other old Cowboys of the same thing.

Remember, the conditions were deplorable that New Year’s Eve afternoon in Green Bay, with the temperature dropping to -16 and field eventually freezing solid. Dallas’ big play offense was having much more trouble dealing with the elements, and when the Pack had jumped to an early 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of Bart Starr-to-Boyd Dowler TD passes, Tom Landry’s team could have been excused for throwing in the towel, especially considering the deplorable playing conditions.

Instead, the Cowboys gallantly made a game of it, not only clawing back thanks to a TD and field goal set up by their defense, but soon dominating it, and when Dan Reeves hit Lance Rentzel with a clever 50-yard halfback option pass for a TD on the first play of the 4th quarter, Dallas had amazingly surged ahead by a 17-14 count. Landry’s innovative streak had caught the Lombardi defense completely flat-footed on the option-pass TD. Indeed, Green Bay's offense had done little from early in the 2nd quarter until midway in the 4th Q, when finally moving into range for a potentially-tying 40-yard FG by Don Chandler that missed badly. The early version of Landry's "Doomsday Defense" had not only taken control of the game, but directly helped the Cowboys miraculously forge a lead.

Interestingly, it was a malfunction of one of Lombardi’s proudest innovations that might have given the Packers a chance to rally. Lombardi had boasted of the heating system he had installed under the Lambeau Field surface, which he believed would prevent the field from freezing should temperatures dip to alarmingly-cold levels. The day before the game, Lombardi had even taken visiting members of the press corps to tour the control room for the field’s heating system, proudly pointing out the gadgetry that would assure a decent playing surface should it be required. But the bone-numbing cold on New Year’s Eve proved too much for the heating system machinery, which failed during the game. The field would indeed freeze. So much for Lombardi’s newest toy.

But the Pack would indeed benefit from this malfunction, because when Starr got the ball back for one last drive beginning at his own 32-yard-line with 4:50 to play, the field had almost completely frozen over, at that stage giving an enormous edge to the Green Bay offense, which at least knew where it wanted to go on its plays; by that time the Cowboy defenders were literally on ice skates, having trouble keeping their footing, forced to react rather than anticipate. And Starr was able to methodically move the Pack downfield, mostly using short passes mixed with occasional runs featuring Donny Anderson and unsung star Chuck Mercein, although the Cowboys eventually made what was looking like a heroic goal line stand in the last minute. Until, that is, Starr sneaked across from the 1-yard line with 13 seconds to play to give the Packers a 21-17 win, a play in which G Jerry Kramer (who famously took credit for the winning block instead of C Ken Bowman, just as instrumental on the play) appeared to jump before the snap, but was not whistled.

Nonetheless, the combination of the stakes of the game, the elements, the drama, and the storied combatants continue to enhance the memories of the “Ice Bowl” and rightfully place it as perhaps the most-memorable game in NFL history. Even if we believe, 43 years later, that the better team might have lost that day.

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