Bengals History

Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Bengals vs Chargers in 1981 season

Eric Bruns
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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For this Bengals Throwback Thursday, I wanted to do something a little different. In the 1982 postseason, one of the most famous or infamous games in NFL history was played, dubbed as the “Freezer Bowl”.

Before that game could be played the Chargers and Bengals both had to get through the ’81 season and make the playoffs. In doing this they played each other during the regular season as well. Let’s look at both games.

Nov. 8, 1981 – Bengals thrash Chargers in regular season

This week 10 matchup in San Diego was a highly anticipated game. Both teams came into the game at 6-3 and were looking good. Dan Fouts was leading one of the greatest offenses the NFL had seen for the Chargers.

Ken Anderson and his mighty mustache was also leading a stout offense for Cincinnati. Fouts however, ended up breaking the NFL passing yardage record for a third time as he threw for 4,802 yards. He averaged 300 yards a game and ended the season with 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

These stats are incredible when you think about the fact that this was all done in an era where a defensive back could hang all over a receiver. This is why three years later Dan Marino’s passing record stood for 30+ years. Unfortunately for the Chargers, in a tale as old as time, their defense was among the league’s worst.

This is a combo that will equal a lot of regular-season wins, but not a championship victory. In this week 10 meeting, while their offense isn’t clicking, their bad defense couldn’t keep them in the game.

The first quarter was all Cincinnati with Ken Anderson throwing a touchdown and they added a field goal to make it 10-0. The second quarter was more of the same. Fouts found the endzone on a touchdown pass, but so did Anderson as well as a Bengals rushing score and a 102-yard pick-six against Fouts. Add a second field goal and it is 31-10 at the half.

A third field goal and another Bengals rushing touchdown, with a failed extra-point attempt, made it 40-10. Fouts threw a 52-yard garbage time touchdown ending the massacre at 40-17. A complete domination by Anderson and the Bengals proved that this Cincinnati team was for real.

Jan. 10, 1982 – The Freezer Bowl

Respectively the Bengals finished the 1981 regular season 12-4 and the Chargers finished 10-6. Back then the playoffs only had 10 teams with five in each conference, three division winners, and two Wild Card teams. The Bengals earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the Chargers were the three-seed, both as division winners.

In Wild Card weekend the two wild card teams played each other. The Winner would play the 1 seed while the 2 and three seeds (the other division winners) would play each other in the divisional games.

The fifth-seeded Bills defeated the Jets and moved on to play the No. 1 Bengals in the Jungle, a truly important game in Bengals history. This 28-21 victory over the Bills would mark the first playoff victory for the Cincinnati Bengals in franchise history.

Down in Miami, the Chargers and Dolphins played a game that went down in history as the Epic in Miami. It’s considered by many pundits as one of the greatest games ever played because of the numerous records broken at the time, along with the weather conditions.

The 1981-82 Playoffs were truly a historic NFL postseason.

It is now most remembered by the image of an exhausted Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by two Charger teammates. It set records at the time for most points scored by both teams in the postseason (79), most total yards by both teams (1,036), and most passing yards by both teams (809). The Chargers ultimately won 41-38 in OT.

Winslow proved he might’ve been the toughest player ever receiving 166 yards and a touchdown all while being treated for a pinched nerve, dehydration, severe cramps, and a gash on his lower lip that required stitches. You can read in more detail about the Epic in Miami here.

After the raging heater in Miami, the Chargers came to the Jungle to face the Bengals in the AFC Championship game except it wasn’t a jungle on this day; It was a frozen tundra. The air temperature that day was -9 F with a wind chill of -37 F.

Though the Bengals thrashed the Chargers earlier in the season, this was still expected to be a tough game between two high-clicking offenses. As previously stated, Dan Fouts set another passing season record and Ken Anderson earned NFL MVP honors.

Thanks to the freezing conditions, literally, the Chargers couldn’t get anything going on this frigid day. Fouts connected with Winslow for a touchdown, but that was the extent of the Chargers’ offense on this day.

It was all Bengals all day in this Freezer. Anderson had two passing touchdowns and the Bengals had one rushing score as well along with two field goals. The final score was 27-7 as the stripes truly rolled their way to their first Super Bowl appearance.

These two games weren’t the only ones this postseason to go down in history. The NFC Championship game Dallas vs 49ers included “The Catch”. Dwight Clark caught a touchdown pass from Joe Montana late in the 4th to beat the Cowboys.

Unfortunately, we all know how Super Bowl XVI ended.

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What do you think? Did I miss any other important games?

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