When the weather outside is frightful

And when there are games to be played, as there are this blizzard weekend, well, we've been there, done that. And it's not much fun. But the stories are great.

So we figured if Publisher Ryan Abraham could share his Raiders game story at the Coliseum from when he was a USC student to honor the return of the NFL to town, we could go into our own stories this bad-weather weekend in honor of a blizzard we're so happy to be viewing from 2,500 miles away.

We will say this: Those of you who've lived all your lives in California haven't really lived. Not if you haven't had to call off your alma mater's Division I basketball game because you can't find your coach and the other team is trapped in a snow bank 200 miles away.

Or literally been afraid for your life -- that if your car didn't start after an NFL playoff game in 59-below wind chill conditions, you would not have been a cinch to make it out alive -- not in that prehistoric time before cellphones.

Been there, done that.

Never did get an answer how two of the worst weather weekends in the history of American sports happened in my home town of Cincinnati. Right in the middle of the country. It's not like we were in Canada. And within four years of one another.

But there it was. The first came in "The Great Blizzard of 1978" when I was the sports information director at Xavier. And we were returning from a game in Chicago at Loyola and the coaches had stayed behind to scout and as our plane neared Cincinnati, it had to stop short and land in Dayton, 60 miles to the north. The fast-moving blizzard had beaten us to the punch and we were the last plane to land in Southwest Ohio.

They said they would get us back to Cincinnati by cab and they did as the blizzard closed in from the north and we scurried for home. We're pretty sure that cabbie never made it back to Dayton.

But we were safe at home. Only as the the snow piled up -- 31 inches in all that January and 24 of those that weekend -- and the Ohio River froze over, we knew this wasn't your normal winter wonderland. One day, two days at home and a couple of feet of snow on the ground and nowhere to go and no way to get anywhere, we realized there was a home game with Dayton coming up.

Only no one had heard from the Flyers, who had played Western Kentucky in Bowling Green their last game and had no way of getting out of there. They were stuck. But they weren't the only ones.

Our head coach and assistant, who had stayed behind in Chicago to scout, had realized the weather system that was coming in would keep them from flying home so they'd rented a car and headed south on I-65. And that was the last we heard from them. They were gone. Disappeared into the storm.

Again, with no cellphones -- I know, hard to imagine a time like that -- we had no idea what had happened to them. They were just gone.

But we did get in touch with Dayton. And with our AD out of commission for reasons I can't recall to this day, the decision came down to me. What do we do about the Dayton game? It was still a couple of days away. But we couldn't practice -- even if we would have known where our coaches were.

So it was my call, again for reasons I still can't understand. And without a coach, and no idea when the blizzard would break and the streets would be safe, we said no game. We'll catch you later.

And then we found our coaches -- or at least the National Guard in Northwest Indiana did. They'd run off the interstate and down a steep embankment in a whiteout near the tiny town of Remington, been rescued and taken to an armory where there was no phone service for the first two days.

When they were heard from finally, we were able to tell them there was no hurry to get home. Which was a good thing. Their car was never found.

And you'd have thought that was enough of a bad weather moment for a lifetime. Only it wasn't. Less than four years later, in January again, the Bengals were hosting the Chargers in the AFC championship game at Riverfront Stadium.

And this time, as a sportswriter now, I didn't have to worry about the snow all that much, just the cold. It was minus-9 at kickoff. And the 37 mph wind -- with gusts stronger than that -- dropped the wind chill factor to minus 59, the coldest football game ever played in the NFL. Can't imagine how the Chargers even got through warmups.

One Charger, running back/special teams guy Hank Bauer said how "When I came out of that tunnel . . . man, it (the wind) just hit you-like somebody threw 100 knives at you." When he went back to the locker room, Bauer told his teammates: "Whatever you got on, take it off. No. 1, you won't be able to move (with all the layers) and No. 2, it ain't gonna help."

The Bengals agreed, to some extent. Cincinnati's O-line went with bare arms the entire game and and mostly without gloves. But they weren't crazy. The best story of how to handle the cold was the way they put hot water bottles inside the cups in their athletic supporters and kept their hands in their pants between plays. It looked a little goofy but worked as well as anything.

Also can't imagine how or why 46,302 crazies showed up for the game. Walking the last three or four blocks in that wind right next to the Ohio River literally took your breath away. It was scary. If you hadn't climbed Everest, you'd never been in conditions like that.

How the LA-based broadcasters for NBC, Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen, handled it is also pretty amazing. It was so cold in the press box, even where it was enclosed with thick plexiglass windows, it required car ice scrapers to chip off the thick frost that kept building up so you could see.

At halftime, the media huddled at the back of the press box lounge as far away from the cold as possible. And yes, there was talk of taking some of the furniture apart to start a fire to warm things up. And they weren't completely kidding.

Give the Chargers credit. They were coming off the heat and humidity of an epic 41-38 playoff win in 88 degree weather in Miami and now were teeing it up seven days later where it was, in effect, 147 degrees the other way.

Some great players in that game. The Chargers had quarterback Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Charlie Joiner and running backs James Brooks and Chuck Muncie. The Bengals had Trojan Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, MVP Ken Anderson at quarterback and rookie wide receiver Cris Collinsworth.

The home field advantage for the Bengals was too much in a 27-7 win that was played way better than it had any right to be.

And then it hit you. After writing and filing a story and heading out to your car a couple of hours after the crowd had left, you were by yourself and walking into that wind and not at all sure your car would start. And knowing if it didn't, in that wind and cold, you'd be hard-pressed to walk far enough to get help.

It was a very long walk. And yes, the car did start. But never again. From now on, bad weather games will be viewed on TV. We've done this enough.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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