Bengals Throwback: Remembering the Freezer Bowl

30 Sep 2001: A general view of the line of scrimmage during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran /Allsport
30 Sep 2001: A general view of the line of scrimmage during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers at the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran /Allsport /

Remembering events from the Bengals’ past 50 years can be painful and fun. Memories of the 1982 AFC Championship game awaken thoughts of the Freezer Bowl.

If you happen to be a diehard fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, sudden memories are carved in stone. They’re the ones that make you smile and often times make you wonder why you still root for a team that hasn’t won a Super Bowl. But, the bottom line is simple and rewarding. Being a Bengals fan is more than just counting rings and talking trash. It’s about the honor and history of the franchise. One of those historic memories is the Freezer Bowl.

The AFC Championship Game was played at an ice-bound Riverfront Stadium between the Bengals and San Diego Chargers (they weren’t always in Los Angeles). Any fan 35-years-old or younger remembers this game only because some family member has been harping about it for years. 

Yes, it actually happened. It wasn’t fabricated by some drunken sports writer to hype the Bengals’ new striped helmets and uniforms. The game was played in extreme temps that tested the athletes’ abilities to focus and cope with the elements.

Sure. Games have been played in the cold before. After all, football is a sport that knows few boundaries. Rain, sleet, snow, hail…well maybe that’s going too far. But, it’s a contest that has always pitted man against the elements. Yet, these conditions were brutal. As far as temperature, the number for the day was -9 degrees. With the sustained wind chill, the temps hovered around -59 Fahrenheit. Twas not a fit day for man nor beast to be out in the open. But, the Bengals braved the weather to play in the franchise’s first AFC Championship.

Putting Them On Ice 

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January 10, 1982, holds a place in the hearts of seasoned Bengals fans for reasons other than the NFL lore. This was a chance for the city of Cincinnati to revel in the possibility of the Orange & Black going to their first ever Super Bowl. With a team that boasted the likes of  Ken Anderson, Anthony Munoz, Dan Ross and a rookie named Cris Collinsworth, the Bengals were an offensive powerhouse.

If you really paid attention to the details of the day, you’ll remember the psyche job that wowed the nation. The Bengals’ offensive line played the entire game with their arms bare. Not to be outdone, the Bengals’ defensive linemen were spurred on by cornerback Ken Riley. It was all about getting into the Chargers’ heads.

"“It was a psyche game all the way,” Riley said, per “I remember when we would go to Pittsburgh and Mike Webster would do that with his guys. Play with no sleeves. And Pittsburgh is cold like Cincinnati. Before the game, I got together with our defensive linemen. Eddie Edwards, Ross Browner, Wilson Whitley and I told them they should do the same thing. We did. The Chargers were coming from California. They didn’t want to be out there. We heard they showed up for practice Saturday and got right back on the bus to go back to the hotel.”"

Let’s Do It Again

Of course, the ploy worked. Accordingly, Bengals fans were rewarded with a 27-7 victory and a trip to Super Bowl XVI. If you’re suffering from a fuzzy memory, Cincinnati dominated the game. It wasn’t only the bare-arms mind job. The Bengals were actually prepared for the match. Head Coach Forrest Gregg had played in the Green Bay version of the Freezer Bowl (The Ice Bowl) during his career. And this incarnation had the same result for Gregg. His team was victorious.

Next: Make Some Noise!

The Bengals’ 50th anniversary is also the 35th celebration of the Freezer Bowl. Additionally, winters in Cincinnati can be cold and unforgiving. But, a winter without the Stripes playing deep into January is even worse. Many Bengals fans would gladly accept frozen tundra conditions at Paul Brown Stadium if it meant a trip to the Super Bowl. But, maybe–just maybe–this could be the year cold weather and a frozen Ohio River make a comeback. Hopefully, a trip to the Big Dance will follow.