Snapshots by Gloria Freeland -- Jan. 18, 2008

"The Game"

Whenever we visit husband Art's native state of Wisconsin at Christmas, I'm amazed the way people shrug off the cold. Cold weather, along with the Green Bay Packers, beer and bratwurst seem to be eternally connected in the land of the cheese heads.

And that was never more apparent than during our recent holiday visit.

Art's Mom became hooked on the Packers when Art's Dad took her to a scrimmage in the late 1920s. The Packers were less than 10 years old then. While Art's Dad had played football in high school, Donna's interest in the sport soon eclipsed his and by the fall of their first year of marriage, Donna was glued to the radio on Sunday afternoons.

By the late 1930s, Donna's sister Ione was working in Green Bay and had dated several of the Packer players. Sister Arline's husband Ora bought season tickets for the rest of the family.

But through most of the 1950s, hard as it is to believe today, professional football had only a small following of fans. But skillful public relations by the league, competition with the upstart American Football League and a number of other factors served to propel the sport into the limelight.

And Donna has been there to see it all. Sometimes I wonder if it is just coincidence that the walls, linoleum and carpet in her home are all green. In her living room above the green sofa are three framed items - all related to the Packers. The largest, measuring several feet on each side, is a collage of pictures and paintings spanning the years from the beginning of the team in 1919 through the early 1990s. Around the edges are the actual signatures of legendary players and coaches.

Near the center of the collage is The Play of The Game - a game Donna, Art, Art's brother Tommy and other faithful family fans attended. The December 1967 game wasn't famous because the play that day was outstanding. Although it was a league championship game, it wasn't the Super Bowl either.

It was the "Ice Bowl" - the game where heating coils installed in the playing field had been unable to keep the ground from freezing. The pre-game show featured a large hand-painted thermometer indicating -13 degrees. Even from the 29th row on the 40-yard line, Donna, Art and the others could see the broadcasters at the edge of the field shivering in their weather-inappropriate light coats.

The performance scheduled for the halftime was cancelled because marching band members had trouble with their instruments freezing to their lips. Sportswriters were left to their own devices to keep their fingers working in the unheated press box.

Everyone thought the Packers would win easily, for the Dallas Cowboys were their opponents and were completely unaccustomed to Wisconsin weather in late December. But while the Packers led early, the weather was a great neutralizer and the home team found itself behind 17-14 when they got the ball back with less than five minutes left in the game.

With 16 seconds remaining, the Packers were a yard from the goal line. Packer quarterback Bart Starr decided to keep the ball rather than hand it off as the called play dictated. Starr scored behind guard Jerry Kramer's key block

When we gathered this year at Art's cousin Kris's home for a New Year's Eve party, there was more talk than usual about the Ice Bowl, for it was the 40th anniversary of the game. Many of those present that day, such as Kris's father Art, are now gone. Donna, Tommy and Art all agreed that it wasn't so bad in the stands. People arrived in clothing suitable for other favorite Wisconsin winter pastimes such as ice-fishing and deer hunting and when they sat in the seats spaced for fall clothing, they found themselves packed so tightly it was almost impossible to be cold. Cardboard on the concrete stands helped keep feet from getting too cold. In fact, Tommy said he didn't even need the schnapps he had brought along for antifreeze.

Still, being the cold-averse person I am, I marvel at how a bunch of cheese heads could have voluntarily put themselves through that just for a game - even for "The Game."

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