Sunday, January 5, 2014

ICE BOWL II Cometh? I Don't Think So!

At Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin, December 7, 2009. It wasn't an "Ice Bowl" but it was bracing cold at 22F.

As today dawns in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the weather heads are warning of possibly the coldest playoff game in NFL history.  The Green Bay Press Gazette in its last forecast has -1 F  at game time and with wind chills factored in, it will feel like maybe -15F. By game's end the latter could be as low as -35F.   Many in the media, probably to ramp up hype for the game, are calling it "Ice Bowl II", but maybe they forgot just how severe that NFC title game was on Dec, 31, 1967.

I was living in New Orleans at the time and watched most of it on TV with my then gf. What astonished me then wasn't the details of the cold - which only came out later in an NFL documentary on the game - but how well a southern team (the Dallas Cowboys) played. Indeed, if not for a final drive by the Pack, the hated Cowboys would've won - sending the Packer faithful home to mull the rest of the week.

For comparison sake, the game-time temperature at Lambeau Field then was about −15 °F (−26 °C), with an average wind chill around −48 °F (−44 °C); under the revised National Weather Service wind chill index implemented in 2001, the average wind chill would be −36 °F (−38 °C).   These stats alone show me it is highly unlikely the conditions in Green Bay this afternoon will be anywhere close - though again, yes, the conditions will be brutal. But Ice Bowl I level?  Uh uh.

Oh, another aspect that contributed to the dreadful conditions: Lambeau Field's turf-heating system malfunctioned, and when the tarpaulin was removed from the field before the game, it left moisture on the field, which flash-froze in the extreme cold, leaving an icy surface that got worse as more and more of the field fell into the shadow of the stadium. Some Dallas players believed that Lombardi had purposely removed power to the heating coils, but this was later debunked and exposed as baloney.  (Packer players suffered as much from falls on the hard glass-like turf as Cowboy players.)

Another side point: When ref Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle to signal the start of play, it froze to his lips. As he attempted to free the whistle from his lips, the skin ripped off and a stream of blood spouted out then froze in a red icicle.  This was noted by Dallas DT Bob Lilly as the most enduring image of that game - in an interview for the NFL documentary on it, "The Ice Bowl".

In the scheme of things, it might be just as well conditions won't be anywhere as severe as the original Ice Bowl, because all the players will be tested. Despite the repeated media malarkey that the Packers "love the cold" and have an advantage, this is mostly bunkum. The truth is most of the Packers detest the cold (many are from the south) - and the story remains from the 2011 season when - before facing the NY Giants in a playoff game - Coach Mike McCarthy had the team practice indoors using frozen footballs.  This is something Lombardi never would've tolerated and one hopes this time around players actually got out and practiced in the cold - to have the advantage they believe against the Niners.

In the end it will be a bruising, physical game and the team that makes the fewest mistakes is the one likely to win. My heart, of course, picks the Pack to steal the win and move on. My head, however, sees the Niners having too many weapons creating mismatches- and unless early injuries remove some key 9'er  players (as happened yesterday with KC players in their game)  - it may be a long day for the Pack.

Yes, football is a brutal, opportunistic game - make no mistake. Not many players say it or promote the thought, but they know one single key injury in a superior opponent can open the game up for their team to get a 'W'.  For their opportunity. No one necessarily wants it, but no one is fool enough to deny it.  And every team exploits the weakness when it occurs, whether it's an opponents' Pro Bowl  corner leaving with a torn ACL, or a 1000+ yard  RB leaving with a concussion - as two KC guys suffered yesterday - removing  any chance of KC prevailing over Indy.

My prediction (though I hate to say it): Niners 23 Packers 17

Finally, it was good to hear Peter King yesterday afternoon (before the KC-Indy wild card game) saying that the NFL has essentially shelved the nonsense idea of Division winners being deprived of home games if their W-L record is below that of a competing wildcard team. Of course, this is bollocks since any number of factors can diminish a division winner's W-L record. For Green Bay, winners of the NFC North, at 8-7-1,  it was a lengthy loss of key players. 17 total  injured at some point, including LB Clay Matthews (Bennett's fracture of thumb, re-broken 2 weeks ago, QB  Aaron Rodgers - fractured collarbone - out 7 weeks during which  the Pack went 2-4-1, and Randall Cobb - only returned last week)

Should the Pack have been penalized because they played and fought through their numerous critical injuries to arrive at being  NFC North Division winners with an 8-7-1 record? Hell no!  They have nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, the Niners and their fans can whine that with a 12-4 record they have had to travel to the frigid  home of an 8-7-1 team , i.e. as in this missive posted on the SF site:

"It is ridiculous that Green Bay has home field advantage, Green Bay having only won 8 games to the Niners 12. The NFL should adopt a playoff system like they have in the NBA and the NHL seeding the teams based on wins and losses. The Niners have every chance of losing today not because Green Bay are a better team but because of the awful conditions they are likely to face."


Them's the breaks, Sparky. Deal with it. If your Niners wanted to host a game then they ought to have taken care of business and taken out the Seahawks, bested their record.

Hopefully, irrespective of which team wins at Lambeau today, the game will be as competitive as those played yesterday - unless it's a Packer blowout of the Niners of course!

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