Flashback: 1985 Snow Bowl game

With snow falling in Green Bay and throughout most of the state of Wisconsin today, it is appropriate that we look back to Green Bay's 21-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 1, 1985. Writer Peter Jackel describes the adventure of two hardy Packers fans who made the trip north to Green Bay, as well as the joy that the Packers had in whipping the wide-eyed Buccaneers, who wanted nothing to do with the elements of the day.

A powerhouse storm that dumped up to two feet of snow across the southern Rockies swung eastward Saturday and spread ice, slush and snow across the Plains, threatening to snarl traffic for Thanksgiving weekend travelers all the way to the Great Lakes.

Sixteen people had been killed in weather-related accidents since the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began.''

"It's a powerhouse storm that will have tremendous blowing and drifting,'' said meteorologist Walter Drag.
- Excerpt from a weather story that appeared in The Racine Journal Times on Sunday, Dec. 1, 1985.

With precious Green Bay Packers tickets folded in their respective wallets, buddies Jeff Stern and Paul Warick settled into Stern's Volkswagen Rabbit that Sunday morning in Burlington 20 years ago for a journey they would never forget.

There were no signs of the treacherous storm that was supposedly bearing down on Wisconsin at that very moment, save for overcast skies and a few flurries. Everything seemed reasonably decent as the pals headed north on Highway 41 for Green Bay and their Sunday afternoon of football salvation.

Seven years prior to the arrival of a legend named Brett Favre - whom, incidentally, was a 16-year-old junior at Hancock North Central High School in Kiln, Miss., at the time - Packers tickets were almost impossible to come across.

And these weren't about to go to waste, as far as Stern and Warick were concerned.

After all, these were still the Packers.

Even as the buffoonery of then coach Forrest Gregg was gradually bringing this franchise to its knees with a bandit image that would become a national topic within a year.

Even with the 2-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then only in the running for the chance to draft Auburn Heisman Trophy-winning running back Bo Jackson, coming to town for a meaningless game.

"It was a huge thing,'' said the 47-year-old Stern, senior editor for Referee Magazine in Racine. "I had only been to one or two Packers games in my life, so it was a big deal.''

As the two buddies proceeded north, ominous signs undermined their anticipation of attending a Packers game - in the fifth row near midfield, by the way.

A weather bulletin on the radio warning of deteriorating conditions.

Snow flurries that intensified as their trip progressed until sheets of blinding snow were relentlessly blowing at their windshield.

"It was absolutely incredible when we got about halfway up there,'' said the 48-year-old Warick, a Burlington police officer. "As we got farther north, it was really getting nasty.''

But Packers tickets have a way of impeding a proper sense of judgment. Common sense gives way to rationalization.

While the angel on their respective shoulders were reminding Stern and Warick about the hazardous conditions, the demon was waving those fifth-row tickets in their faces.

By the time they got to Port Washington, though, Stern's angel started to get the best of his demon.

"I said, 'Paul, this is nuts. Let's go home,' " Stern said. "He said, 'No, we're going.' We kept going farther north and I said, 'How much were the tickets? I'll give you triple what the tickets cost.'

"He refused to be dissuaded and we just kept going. I'm glad I did it now. I was younger and stupider in those days.''

And so it was that afternoon as Stern's Rabbit somehow made it to Green Bay and then skidded down icy city streets for a game that lives on in memories because of its sheer folly.

It was an afternoon when howling 40-mph northerly winds were so merciless that snow, which would total a foot by the time this storm finally moved on, was blowing in at an almost horizontal angle.

It was an afternoon when just 19,856 brave souls - there were 36,586 no-shows - felt their way toward the general proximity of their seats and then pushed aside mounds of drifting snow.

It was an afternoon when sportswriters comfortably seated in the heated press box were taking up collections to pay fans to wipe clear windows that were fogging badly from the converging elements.

It was an afternoon when fans were sliding down snow-covered bleachers on makeshift cardboard toboggans with no intervention from freezing stadium ushers.

And it was an afternoon when the place all but emptied out around the third quarter when the public-address announcer informed the crowd that hotels and highways were on the verge of closing.

All the while, a football game was being played.

And what a football game it was.

Just a day earlier, the Buccaneers' charter jet was taxiing on a Tampa runway with a backdrop of palm trees and blue skies.

And then there was this.

As they gingerly trudged through the rapidly accumulating snow obscuring the Lambeau Field turf for warm-ups that morning, the Buccaneers' body language spoke volumes.

This was already another pointless game in another pointless season for them. And now they had to play in this stuff?

"I went out there during pre-game when the snow started building up on the field and watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come out the visitors' tunnel,'' said tight end Paul Coffman, who played for the Packers from 1978-85. "I mean, they were tip-toeing and had everything on imaginable.

"I just shook my head and said, 'Oh, man, we're going to kill these guys today. They're just worried about getting back on the plane and getting back to Tampa.' "

The Buccaneers' defeatist attitude was matched by equipment that was, to say the least, grossly insufficient for the horrid conditions.

"I can't remember who their linebacker was, but he and I were pretty friendly,'' said offensive right tackle Greg Koch, who played for the Packers from 1977-85. "I was just laughing at him. I said, 'All you've got are Nike Sharks a (a style of running shoe with cleats)?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's all we brought.

"I said, 'Good luck, because we might put 50 on you. We might hang half a hundred on you.' "If you're playing on grass, those shoes are great. You can get all the traction you need. But we're playing with three-inch fiberglass steel-studded cleats and they're playing with half-inch rubber cleats.

"They (the cleats) weren't even touching the ground. They were just barely in the snow.''

As the driving snow reduced visibility to virtually nothing, Packers veteran quarterback Lynn Dickey limbered his right arm on the sideline. Most of the key components remained from an offense that set a franchise record with 429 points two years earlier, from running backs Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis to receiver James Lofton to Coffman, the reliable tight end.

And as this afternoon would play out, Dickey would use them all as efficiently as he did the previous season, when he completed 27 of 37 passes for 371 yards against the Broncos during a blizzard on a Monday night game in Denver.

Warming up on the other sideline was Buccaneers quarterback Steve Young.

The same Young who would direct a hapless Buccaneers offense to 65 total yards that afternoon.

And, yes, the same Young who was enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame last summer.

"Granted, take the conditions, but if you would have told me that guy would end up in the Hall of Fame, I would have laughed in your face because he sure didn't look like it that day,'' Stern said.

Like their opponents that afternoon, there was little at stake for the Packers. With a 5-7 record, they were hopelessly behind the eventual Super-Bowl champion Chicago Bears in the old NFC Central Division.

Nevertheless, the Packers played with such a passion, it was as if the ghost of Vince Lombardi had materialized out of the sheets of falling snow and taken his familiar place on the west Lambeau Field sideline.

For those who chose to brave these impossible conditions, they were rewarded with a show of dominance.

Dickey, making what proved to be his final appearance for the Packers - he injured himself lifting weights later that week and was among the victims of Gregg's infamous and ill-fated purging of veterans the following summer - was nothing less than masterful.

Playing with what seemed to be a sixth sense in the blinding conditions, Dickey somehow completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards. Lofton caught six passes for 106. Coffman added five for 62. And Phillip Epps had four for 64.

"Lynn had some of his best games in weather like that,'' said Coffman, who lives in Peculiar, Mo., and still talks weekly with Dickey. "He had the concentration and he had big hands, so he had a grip on the ball.''

Ivery and Ellis were piercing a Buccaneers defense that had all the mobility of tackling dummies and all the intensity of corpses. Ivery pierced the Buccaneers for 109 yards on 13 carries and Ellis added 101 yards on nine carries for a collective average gain of 9.5 yards.

And then there was defensive end Alphonso Carreker, the Packers' No. 1 pick in 1984 who long ago was relegated to bust status. On this afternoon, though, he heralded images of Reggie White a decade later, sacking Young four times.

If Young only knew futility, so did referee Ben Dreith.

"He threw a flag for holding,'' Stern said. "He threw it forward and it wound up behind him because he threw it into the teeth of the wind.''

The Packers were going nowhere that season, destined to finish 8-8 for the fourth time in five years and prompting Gregg to clean house. But during that one afternoon, it was a time to be a kid again.

"You're just like a little kid,'' Coffman said. "You go out there and you say, 'This is unbelievable.' You like optimum conditions, but when you get the ridiculous, you've got to look at it and just laugh.''

Said Koch, "Before the game, all the guys were running and jumping and sliding in the snow. Here you have these grown men in their 30s and they're just out there playing like kids. It was just like being a kid again.''

The childhood joy of this afternoon escaped the shivering Buccaneers. Just ask Stern and Warick, who were seated near their bench.

"The one guy I remember the most was their kicker - do you remember Donald Igwebuike?'' Stern said. "He was a little guy and he had his hands under his armpits. And every once in awhile, he'd look up and you could tell he was just like saying, 'What in God's name am I doing here?' "

Said Warick, "They were all just walking around in disgust, like, 'What the heck is this?' They come up from Florida, where it was 80 degrees and the people who obviously weren't used to that weather were just looking around in total awe.

"It appeared that to the majority, the attitude was, 'We can't wait to get the heck out of here.' I don't really think they gave two hoots about that game.''

No, the Packers didn't quite put up 50 points as Koch warned they might, but their dominance suggested a score of the magnitude.

While the Packers won ONLY 21-0 - it was their first shutout since 1977 - they piled up 31 first downs to just five for Tampa Bay. And their advantage in total yards was a resounding 531-65.

And while there was a party on the field, the same was true in the snow-covered stands. The few who hung around witnessed things that almost bordered on the absurd.

"The thing I remember the most is some kids brought in like a box that a refrigerator comes in,'' Stern said. "They cut it so it was flat. And they were starting at the top row of the bleachers and riding it all the way down, like a toboggan.

"During timeouts and stuff, people were just roaring. They just thought that was fabulous. And the ushers didn't try to stop them. I think the ushers gave up around the fourth quarter.

"I'll never forget that.''

With the stadium all but empty by the end of the game, there was still a matter of getting out of a Lambeau Field parking lot buried under a foot of snow.

Koch couldn't get his car to budge and had to catch a ride from Coffman. As for Stern and Warick, who saw this game through to the end, they managed to make it out of Green Bay literally minutes before all roads were closed.

Twenty years ago, there was so much apprehension.

Now there are only warm memories.

"I convinced Jeff to go and I guess we'll never regret going because it was really an experience we'll never forget,'' Warick said.

Peter Jackel is a longtime sports writer for the Racine Journal-Times and frequent contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com.

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