With the recent passing of Bart Starr, the Ice Bowl has been in the news a lot, but Cincinnati’s Freezer Bowl has its own place in NFL history.
When cold weather football games get talked about, the 1967 NFL Championship game between the Starr/Vince Lombardi led Packers and the Tom Landry coached Cowboys is the holy grail, and rightly so.
However, a game that took place well over a decade later in similar conditions between two far less historically significant franchises had several unique backstories.
Factoring in wind chill, the game was played at −59 °F, the coldest temperature in NFL history. The Bengals beat the Chargers by 20 to advance to their first Super Bowl.
The NFL has uploaded the entire game to its YouTube channel. You can watch all or part of it below. When you consider that it was so cold that my late grandfather poured a beer that immediately froze in its cup, Ken Anderson’s performance was amazing. The 1981 league MVP completed 14 of 22 passes for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Anderson’s Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy is hotly debated to this day. For those that believe Anderson belongs in Canton, the argument starts with this game.
Interestingly, Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg was an offensive lineman for the Packers in the 1967 game. Gregg was a tangible link between two of the coldest games in NFL history. He passed away earlier this year.
For the Chargers, the Freezer Bowl was the end of an era. The 1981 team was widely considered the best Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts ever had around him. Fouts never got to a Super Bowl and his team only reached the playoffs one more time in his career after the loss in Cincinnati. Chatter about whether or not the game should have been stopped or cancelled remains today.
Being based in a warm weather city as well as having played in Miami the previous week, it isn’t surprising the conditions affected San Diego as much as they did, but conditions were the same for both teams and you must play whatever hand you are dealt.
In today’s NFL, weather delays are not uncommon. Given that backdrop, we will likely never see anything like the Freezer Bowl again. Thus, the game should be remembered. However, it is likely remembered more fondly by those who watched from the warmth of their own homes than it is by the players, coaches, and fans who braved the conditions.