The Freezer Bowl – 1981 AFC Championship Game

For all the romanticized hyperbole when The Ice Bowl is brought up, The Freezer Bowl is largely forgotten about. The 1981 AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers was colder from a wind chill factor at -59*. This was where  Air Coryell unceremoniously crash landed.

One man that happened to be in both games was Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg. He was the starting Tackle for the Green Bay Packers in the ’67 NFL Championship. Then he was the Head Coach of the Bengals in 1981 when they advanced to the AFC Championship Game. In a game where the winner would make the trek to Super Bowl XVI, they first had to endure the coldest game in NFL history.

Error
This video doesn’t exist

From the perspective of the ’81 San Diego Chargers

Error
This video doesn’t exist

One reason this game wasn’t remembered with the reverence of The Ice Bowl is it didn’t produce a champion. Another reason is it was buffered against 2 other memorable playoff games in January 1982. One was the Epic In Miami where the Dolphins and the Chargers played in 81* weather for 6 quarters in a 41-38 thriller. The other was The Catch or the NFC Championship between San Francisco and Dallas later that same day.

If you’re keeping score at home, yes the San Diego Chargers had to play in 140 degree temperature difference in one week’s time. Cincinnati won the game and went on to Pontiac, Michigan to face the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI. Yet it’s hard to forget -59* below zero.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Advertisements

SUPER BOWL XVI RUNNER UP 1981 CINCINNATI BENGALS

The NFL and the media leave some of the greatest stories in NFL history on the cutting room floor.  It gets old that the only stories recounted are those centered on the 49ers, Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers. The league is too vast to just talk of a few glamour teams when others deserve their due and have stories just as rich.

sbxviRemember when the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 to 7-9 in 1990 and CBS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc. acted like Moses had just parted the Red Sea?  This turnaround was NOTHING, I repeat nothing compared to what the 1981 Cincinnati Bengals pulled off.  Imagine a perennial loser winning 6 more games than the season before, then 2 playoff games and coming within 5 points of winning the Super Bowl after having a losing season the year before.

Can a team really change its stripes??  Actually in 1981 the Cincinnati Bengals did.  Gone were the drab orange helmets with the dull “Bengals” written across it being replaced by simulated tiger stripes on the helmets, jerseys, and pants.  Back then teams rarely changed their uniforms at all…there wasn’t NFL Properties and Pro Shops back…huh?  *whispers off stage*…  We’re not talking actual stripes?  Oh about how a team plays…got it…Where were we?

sbxvi2The 1981 Cincinnati Bengals had one of the three greatest turnarounds in the history of the NFL.  From a 6-10 season to 12-4 AFC Champions,  and having lost in one of the most competitive Super Bowls of the first 16 games.  Don’t forget this is before ALL of free agency as we know it today which includes the defunct “Plan B” free agency of the late 80’s.  How did they do it?

Having been a member of the 1960’s Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Forrest Gregg infused Lombardi-esque work ethic and toughness into Cincinnati. This team’s belief in itself actually began in 1980 when they stood up to perennial division and league champion Steelers sweeping them in both games. THIS SWEEP ended the Steelers dynasty and allowed the Cleveland Browns to win the division.

Cleveland finished 11-5 to the Steelers 9-7 and since they split their games, Browns winning by 1 and Steelers winning the other by 3 points.. In the event of a tie breaker with the same record, Pittsburgh would have won the division. With new-found confidence they battled the Browns to the bitter end in the season finale, losing 27-24 in a great game where the lead changed hands 6 times.  Yet the seeds for the next year had been planted.

The 1981 team was bouyed by a youthful enthusiasm stemming from several good young players who didn’t have that Bengal loser baggage of the previous decade.  WR Cris Collinsworth was a rookie sensation with a 1,000 yd season. OT Anthony Munoz, building his Hall of Fame resume’ was in his 2nd year. Throw in DB Louis Breeden, rookie DBs the late Bobby Kemp, and Robert Jackson.  Rookie WR David Verser and this team was younger at many key positions.

sbxvi3Of course there were some old pros on hand too: Under the radar QB Ken Anderson became league MVP throwing for 29TD passes, and there was ageless CB Ken Riley (should be in the Hall of Fame). The late Dan Ross was a good TE. As with the WRs of this team they faced older CBs in the division who had a hard time chasing the Bengal kids on astro turf in 3 of the 4 stadiums within the division. A very hard time…

So they went into 1981 ready to go.  After a so-so beginning to the season they finished winning 7 of their last 8 games including a second straight sweep of the Steelers to nail the coffin shut on that dynasty forever which gave them 5 wins in the last 6 games against them.  The Bengals were headed to the playoffs…Who? The Bengals…

I’m still upset over the AFC Divisional Playoff game where leading MY Buffalo Bills 28-21 and frantically driving to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.   When on 4th down Joe Ferguson hit Lou Piccone who slid over the 1st down mat (when they drop the chains) on the sideline and the refs ruled the catch short of a first down. Horrible spot…one of the worst in history yet I digress…**remember what the dr. said…count to 10…and…sigh**

cc16On to the game this team is most remembered for, winning the 1981 AFC Championship game in -59* wind chill over the Chargers 27-7. Yikes!! The poor Chargers had to play in a temperature difference of 140 degrees just 1 week after the “Epic in Miami” which they stood NO chance of winning. There were heated buses outside Riverfront Stadium in case fans needed to heat up. Temperature difference withstanding, the divisional game against Miami went into 6 quarters in high humidity, so the Chargers were exhausted.

Well win more games and get home field advantage next time.

Since they weren’t used to the cold, the Chargers were dismissed easily by the Bengals. Then of course SuperBowl XVI against the San Francisco 49ers in the Silverdome. Where they came within a goal line stand of producing the greatest turnaround in Super Bowl history.  They were down 20-0 at the half and were held off 26-21 after a furious second half rally.

Boys and girls that is a turnaround!!  Here is the bauble for the achievement of becoming the 1981 AFC Champions.  Fall short of their goal?? I doubt they began the season thinking they’d seriously win the Super Bowl…

What do you think???

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

SUPER BOWL II CHAMPION 1967 GREEN BAY PACKERS & The Ghost of Vince Lombardi

To threepeat or 3 NFL Championships in a row…only time it’s been done in the modern era…19651966-1967…concluded with Super Bowl II win over the Oakland Raiders 33-14 and included the legendary ICE Bowl win over Dallas in the NFL Championship game 21-17. Legendary teams do legendary things! Can you imagine playing football in -15*F and wind chill near -50*F in 1960s fabrics?? Yikes but that’s what made the difference between Lombardi’s Packers and Dallas during that game. I can’t remember a famous last minute drive under similar conditions. I mean “The Drive” of Elway fame, Cleveland v. Denver in 1986, took place in a balmy 12 degrees.

alt_sports_cd_super_bowl_ii_lg

Super Bowl II was the final of 3 NFL championships in a row. Hence the 3 large diamonds.

But wow, three championships in a row! Vince Lombardi IS a football God and he kept teams from equaling that feat. Look at the strange circumstances that surrounded others trying to equal it…its Lombardi I tell ya’

1. Early 70s Dolphins after winning Super Bowls 7 & 8, loses to the Oakland Raiders in the famous Sea of Hands play in ’74 playoffs…Divine intervention? Go watch that play and you’ll see that the Dolphins had 2 backups trying to cover the throw from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis…the Dolphins lost two DBs in the second half of that game and also gave up a bomb to Cliff Branch in the 4th quarter also…not saying Lombardi did it…but he had a hand in it…

2. Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowls 9 & 10 come into ’76 primed to duplicate. Long story short…Pittsburgh overcomes a bad start and in winning their last 9 games while only giving up 28 pts including 5 shutouts. Both Rocky Bleier AND Franco Harris rushed for 1,000 yds that season with Bradshaw injured.

Finally healthy they light up Baltimore 40-14 in the divisional playoff (only AFC playoff pt total that high in the 70s) and lose BOTH Franco and Rocky in that game? Really?? Without either RB able to play the next week, they lose to the Raiders in AFC title game 24-7. I’m tellin’ you…Lombardi has something to do with all these strange circumstances…

super bowl ii23. Oh those wonderful 49ers of late 80s lore. Won back to back in Super Bowls 23 and 24, started 1990 10-0 and went on to go 14-2 and host their old protagonist, the New York Giants in the NFC Championship. Now yes, Leonard Marshall knocked Joe Montana from the game…but leading 13-12 and running out the clock, dependable Roger Craig loses the ball, squirting out behind him without really being hit? WTH? Giants recover and make last second field goal to escape 15-13: I can’t make this up!! Ghost of Lombardi and another strange circumstance…

4. The boisterous Dallas Cowboys of Super Bowls 27 and 28, and fairly healthy yet without Jimmy Johnson are coming to San Fran for the ’94 NFC Championship, were geared up for this battle. OK, Emmitt Smith was nursing a hamstring injury. Including the playoff game with the Packers, the week before, the Cowboys had only turned the ball over 20 times all year!! ALLYEAR!!

me.jerry.sbIIring

Jerry Kramer’s ring last week 9/23/17 in Green Bay

Wouldn’t you know they turned it over 3 times in 5 minutes and were out of it 21-0 after 7 minutes of play on their way to losing 38-28…so Emmitt’s hamstring had nothin’ to do with it! LOL. This represented the first time in NFL/NFC championship history that a team was down 21-0 in the 1st quarter. That is a span from 1933-1994!! 61 yrs that hadn’t happened. Off in the distance you can hear Lombardi’s ghost chuckling…

super bowl ii35. Then you had the steady Denver Broncos who won Super Bowls 32 and 33, over the Packers and Falcons respectively. With an opportunistic defense, John Elway with Terrell Davis (the 2000 yd rusher in 1998) was the engine that made that team go.

With the specter of a possible three-peat looming, Elway decided to retire. Shanahan whom many thought would start Bubby Brister the veteran over 2nd year player Brian Griese… a total brain freeze where Lombardi must have “clouded his judgment.” LOL So what happened…? Enter 1999, the Broncos struggled out of the gate 0-2 when Griese threw an interception against the Jets in week 3, Terrell Davis blew out his knee while making the tackle.

Now the two most indispensable Broncos: Davis and Elway were gone and the 0-3 record doomed the season… In a more ironic twist, tackle Mark Lepsis was a backup tackle in ’98, was the first to help Davis off the ground when he crossed 2,000 yards. It was he who fell on Davis in ’99 blowing out his knee on exactly the same spot on the field. Ah, that Lombardi…can almost hear his voice now “What the hell is goin’ on out here?”

super-bowl-logo-1967Now someone may ask “what about the 78-79 Steelers or the ’03-’04 New England Patriots?” Well let’s just say Lombardi’s intervention wasn’t necessary. The ’80 Steelers were swept by perennial division rival doormat Cincinnati, which gave the Browns the division title knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Hmmm maybe Vince was busy.

The Patriots just seemed to run out of gas in their playoff run. All strange circumstances of Green Bay’s 3 championships about to be equaled and goofy, weird circumstances kept it from happening EACH time. If you listen closely, off in the distance, you can hear Vince laughing.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

NFL Bracketology: 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers v. 1981 Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals coach Forrest Gregg led the Bengals past the rival Steelers and into Super Bowl XVI.

Alright, raise your hand if you know who was responsible for halting one of the most revered dynasties in NFL history?? It was the Cincinnati Bengals THAT ENDED THE STEELERS DYNASTY!

In 1979, the final season the Steelers won a Super Bowl, they lost to an 0-6 Bengals team 34-10. Then in 1980 the Bengals SWEPT the Steelers who went 9-7 allowing the Browns to win the AFC Central 11-5 ending the Steelers dynasty. Then for good measure, in 1981 the Bengals SWEPT the Steelers again to hammer the last nails in Pittsburgh’s dynasty coffin enroute to their Super Bowl XVI appearance. The Bengals beat the Steelers 5 out of 6 times and you’re asking why would they belong here?

Terry Bradshaw drops back during the first half of Super Bowl XIII.

That being said, the ’81 Bengals would have lost in a competitive game to the ’78 Steelers who were at the height of their power (offense, defense & experience). As a defense they peaked in 1976 but once the offensive rules were liberated, Terry Bradshaw came into his own as an elite passer and threw for 28 TDs in 1978.

The defense didn’t have to be as good as 1976 because the offense, still with 1,000 yard rusher Franco Harris, was the most complete in the NFL. Still they only allowed 195 points for the season (Denver was second with 198) and this team roared to a 14-2 record. Their dynasty apex (ed) somewhere during the 3rd quarter of Super Bowl XIII against the Dallas Cowboys.

In that game we watched Roger Staubach, after the Jackie Smith TD pass drop, start hitting receiver after receiver bringing Dallas back from a 35-17 deficit to within 35-31. Thank God Rocky Blier recovered that onside kick. The Steeler defense was running on fumes by the end of the game and it carried over into 1979 and especially in the 1979 playoffs. They were never as strong as this 1978 team.

The Cincinnati Bengals were built to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers and were strong on the line of scrimmage. Pete Johnson and Charles Alexander would be able to run but not with as much success as Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Steve Furness and John Banaszak would bend but not break.

Also in 1978 and 1979 the Steelers had to blitz more to get pressure on the quarterback.Look at the Super Bowl XIII and XIV highlights and you’ll see it. How do we know this? In Super Bowl XIII against Dallas, the Steelers blitzed with an 8 man front that Staubach burned for a 39 yard TD to Tony Hill to tie the game at 7-7.

Bengal QB Ken Anderson would have success throwing intermediate passes which are effective against this blitz. You forget that Bill Walsh and the west coast offense is really Paul Brown’s offense as it was taught to Walsh in Cincinnati.

You also forget that Ken Anderson had been a league passing champion in the mid 1970s and led Cincy to the playoffs in ’73 and ’74. So the Bengals had some success and would have been able to get deep at least twice in this game with lanky rookie Cris Collinsworth.

The difference is that LB Reggie Williams, DE Eddie Edwards, DE Ross Browner, and LBs Glen Cameron and Bo Harris were physical and emotional players but couldn’t make enough big plays against the 1978 Steelers and would lose. 34-18. Against the ’78 Steelers they wouldn’t win but I already showed you how they owned the Steelers after that…so don’t doubt their being mentioned in this tournament.