What was already a great matchup was made more intriguing by the sub-zero temperature. The official game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero with the wind chill at minus-48 degrees. It was the coldest game in NFL history.
"The operator said, 'It's 7:30 AM and 19 below,'" said Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. "I got up out of bed, looked out the window and saw 40 other guys staring out in disbelief. It was cold."
"We weren't prepared for that kind of cold," said Jim Tunney, who served as the alternate referee of the game and patrolled the Packers' sidelines. "We went out that morning and rousted the store owners out of bed. We got more thermals and gloves."
When the teams arrived at the stadium, they found the field nearly frozen. A layer of condensation had built up between the field and the tarpaulin the night before. When the tarpaulin was removed and the field was exposed to the bitter cold, it froze.
The Packers began the game like two-time defending champions. Quarterback Bart Starr hit wide receiver Boyd Dowler with an eight-yard touchdown pass to give Green Bay a 7-0 first-quarter lead. In the second quarter on third-and-one, Starr connected with Dowler again, this time for a 43-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
But the Cowboys began adjusting to the cold and came to life in the second quarter.
"After you forget about how cold it is and all the other things that are going through your mind, you just figure you've got to go play football," said Cowboys cornerback Cornell Green. "They weren't going to cancel the game or call it off, so you better get it in, try to play and try to win. That's when we started playing better."
The Dallas defense stepped up. Defensive end George Andrie recovered a Starr fumble and returned it seven yards for a touchdown, cutting the Packers' lead to 14-7. Another Green Bay fumble led to a second Dallas score - a 21-yard field goal by kicker Danny Villanueva. The Cowboys had stormed back and trailed by only 14-10 at halftime.
Despite the freezing temperatures, 50,861 fans braved the cold. The game was a sellout.
"I don't know how those people stayed up in the stands," said Packers center Ken Bowman. "When you're down on the field, you're moving around, burning some energy, building up heat. To sit in the stands must have been sheer torture."
When the second half began, the Cowboys continued their defensive dominance and stifled the Packers. The Dallas offense started to move the ball and was poised for a score at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Running back Dan Reeves took a handoff, ran to his left, stopped to throw and hit a wide-open Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard touchdown and the Cowboys' first lead of the game, 17-14.
With 5:04 remaining in the game and trailing 17-14, the Packers received a punt at their own 32-yard line and began one of the greatest touchdown drives in NFL history. An unprecedented third NFL championship awaited 68 yards away.
"We were ready on that last drive," said Starr. "We were totally focused on what we needed to do in order to go down and win the ballgame. As I looked into the eyes of my teammates, I knew all I had to do was call the play."
On first down, Starr passed to running back Donny Anderson for six yards. Running back Chuck Mercein ran around right end for seven. Starr completed his second pass of the drive to Dowler for 13 yards. The Packers had crossed midfield, but on the next play, Anderson lost nine yards on a handoff. Starr regained those yards with a 12-yard pass to Anderson, but now faced third-and-seven at the Dallas 39.
Starr completed his fourth pass of the drive to Anderson for nine yards and a first down. On the next play, he connected with a wide-open Mercein in the left flat, who then ran to the Dallas 11 for a 19-yard gain. It was Starr's final pass of the game. He finished a perfect five-for-five on the drive.
On the next play, with 1:11 remaining, Starr called "30 Give." Tackle Bob Skoronski opened a hole with a powerful block on Andrie and Mercein charged through the middle to the three-yard line for a gain of eight.
Anderson took a handoff and gained two yards to give the Packers a first-and-goal at the one-yard line with 30 seconds remaining. Starr handed off to Anderson again, but he slipped and fell short of the goal line. They tried the same play again and got the same result.
Starr called the Packers' final timeout and asked his linemen if they had enough footing to run "31 Wedge." They said they did. "31 Wedge" was put into the Packers' playbook by Lombardi during the week after guard Jerry Kramer had noticed a weakness in the Cowboys' short-yardage defense and suggested the play.
On the sidelines, Starr suggested to Lombardi that he run it instead of the backs because of the poor traction. Lombardi replied, "Then run it and let's get the hell out of here."
When the ball was snapped, Kramer and Bowman plowed into Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, opened a hole and Starr lunged through for the game-winning touchdown and a third consecutive NFL championship.
"I understood my responsibility," said Kramer. "If I don't get a great block, we don't do it. I understood perfectly. On a block, you can get cute, duck your head and aim for the shoulder. Or, if you can't afford to gamble, you go into the guy with your head up and your eyes open and hit him with your face."
The Cowboys had time to try some desperation passes, but they all fell incomplete. The "Ice Bowl" was over. Packers 21, Cowboys 17. The Green Bay Packers were NFL champions......again. They went on to win Super Bowl II two weeks later in somewhat warmer conditions - Miami, Florida.
"What that game meant was unbelievable," says Starr. "We had fought through a very tough year. We won two consecutive championships prior to that, and to have it come down to such brutal conditions and to win it in that fashion, from our perspective, we think it was the greatest game of all time."
ICE BOWL SCORING
Dallas 0 10 0 7 17
Green Bay 7 7 0 7 21
GB: Dowler 8 pass from Starr (Chandler kick), 1st
GB: Dowler 46 pass from Starr (Chandler kick), 2nd
Dal: Andrie 7 fumble return (Villanueva kick), 2nd
Dal: FG Villanueva 21, 2nd
Dal: Rentzel 50 pass from Reeves (Villanueva kick), 4th
GB: Starr 1 run, 4th (Chandler kick)