Editor's note: The following story was made possible by Wayne Bisek, who organizes Buckets for Hunger, a fundraiser to help fight hunger. At the end of this story are details on how to buy tickets for this month's "The Ice Bowl Cometh," an event featuring about a dozen players who were part of the legendary Ice Bowl. Enjoy.
Picture it. Lambeau Field. Dec. 31, 1967. Lambeau Field. It's cold. Brutally cold.
With the Green Bay Packers losing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers call a timeout. There are 16 seconds remaining and the ball is at the Cowboys' 1-yard line. Quarterback Bart Starr tells coach Vince Lombardi that he'd like to run a quarterback sneak.
"Well, run it and let's get the hell out of here," is Lombardi's reply.
So, with the NFL championship on the line, Starr took the snap from center Ken Bowman and followed the block of Jerry Kramer.
You know the rest of the story. But what if Jethro Pugh had beaten Kramer's block and stopped Starr? Imagine how history would have been different had the Cowboys won the game. Would the Glory Years Packers be romanticized all these years later? Would Kramer and Starr and Lombardi and the others be the legends they are today?
The thoughtful Kramer has pondered those questions.
"That's the nature of the game. They respect the winner and not second place," he said.
Mel Renfro, the Cowboys' Hall of Fame cornerback who had 52 career interceptions, also has considered how history would have been different had Dallas hung on to win that day.
"Aboslutely it would have been different," said Renfro, who was part of four Dallas teams that reached Super Bowls, including the Super Bowl VI and XII champions. "History is history. Vince Lombardi and his heritage and his toughness kind of overwhelmed us. We learned a lot from the Packers back in those days. It helped us get over the hump."
Kramer and the Packers were no strangers to close championship games. The first leg of the Packers' historic championship three-peat came on Don Chandler's controversial overtime field goal against Baltimore, a 13-10 victory to cap the 1965 season.
"Certainly the Ice Bowl could have gone the other way, too," Kramer said. "Two plays, and we could have been just another bunch of guys."
Instead, the Glory Years Packers are NFL immortals. The Ice Bowl, and Super Bowl II that followed it two weeks later, marked the Packers' fifth championship in seven years.
"There's no question we had a hell of a football team and no question that we had to make supreme efforts against the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs — two teams that physically you could argue maybe were better on paper than we were," Kramer said.
Kramer gives the credit to Lombardi. It was the coach's driving presence that allowed the Packers to find that hard-to-define extra something after seeing a 14-0 lead turn into a 17-14 deficit in the final minutes.
"Having Lombardi and all of his principles — commitment and discipline and consistency and perseverance and all of those other things — made him different and made us different, and it is what we think we found when we reached down for that last drive," Kramer said. "We had 31 plays, 10 series and a total of minus-9 yards prior to that. All of a sudden, you've got to reach down. You're not sure what you're reaching for and you're not sure what the hell you got or what you've got when you got a hold of it.
"What it is, I believe, is Lombardi's preparation, the repetition in practice, the consistency of beliefs. All of those things together are that ‘thing' that you need when you're trying to make something happen. You're not sure what the name of it is. I guess it could be called ‘will.'"
That's what made Lombardi great. The X's and O's mean nothing after a player's career is over. It's the character and the work ethic that never disappear.
"I think they're a part of my life today," Kramer said of those traits. "Coach Lombardi said, ‘All the rings, all the colors, all the display, linger only in the memory for a short time and are soon gone. But the will to win, the will to excel, these are the things that endure and these are the things that are far more important than any of the events that occasion them.' So, developing the will to win, the will to excel, I think that's a part of all of our lives, everyone that was touched by him."
Not surprisingly, Kramer continues to be asked frequently about the Ice Bowl. The same is true for Renfro, even though he was part of two Super Bowl champions.
"You'd be amazed how often that game is brought up," Renfro said. "I know a lot of fans, they always talk about the Ice Bowl. ‘How cold was it really?' When I go around and speak, I always talk about my experience and how miserable I was and how Green Bay had the upper hand.
"Coming from Texas, we're used to 80 degrees, and even that time of year, it gets pretty warm. Going to Green Bay, the day before it was sunny and 20 degrees, and we were happy. We woke up that morning and got the report that it was below-zero and it got worse. It turned out to be catastrophic for us."
The brutal conditions that day more than 40 years ago ensure the Ice Bowl will remain a legendary game for as long as professional football is played. By persevering and earning a classic victory, the Glory Years Packers remain the gold standard of NFL franchises.
At Fan Fest recently, Kramer and several other Glory Years stars were given standing ovations by the fans. While at the event, Kramer told fans that he's surprised that he remains a "football player" all these years later.
"That's been a bit of a surprise," he said when asked to expound on that thought during a phone conversation this week. "I always felt that in a couple years, I would drift into the mist of time and have my own little memory box and that would be the end of it. I assumed that I would become a Realtor or oilman or businessman or some other kind of man instead of a football man, but I think it's because of the classic nature of the Green Bay fan. I do get recognized everywhere. People say, ‘Hey, Jerry, how you doing?' They don't intrude on me much, but a lot of people have got to say hello or have to touch the ring. There's certainly been a little bit of awareness because of my charity events and my ring and some of the things that I've been through. I guess it shouldn't surprise, but as a lineman, it always does surprise."
The Ice Bowl Cometh
Buckets for Hunger Inc. is offering Green Bay Packers fans a chance of a lifetime. On Thursday, April 16, at the Marriott West in Middleton, Wis., the Madison-based hunger relief organization — which has raised $1.1 million since 1995 — is bringing in five Packers who starred in the famous Ice Bowl, the NFL championship game played at Lambeau Field on Dec. 31, 1967. Four of the Dallas Cowboys stars from that game also will be there.
Tickets for "The Ice Bowl Cometh" are $150 per seat or a table of eight for $1,000. They are available at BucketsForHunger.com or by calling 1-888-351-9154. The Packers scheduled to attend are Donny Anderson, Dave Robinson, Ken Bowman, Jerry Kramer and Boyd Dowler. The Cowboys are Mel Renfro, Don Perkins, Cornell Green and Jethro Pugh. Packers legend, NFL Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung will be the master of ceremonies. The event, which will include silent and live auction items, raffles and plenty of great conversation, promises to be extremely entertaining. All proceeds will go to fight hunger.
For more information, send an e-mail to Wayne Bisek at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the number above.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport