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Weather History: “Ice Bowl” Marks 50th Anniversary

Weather records still hold for bone-chilling championship football game

Picture of 1967 Ice Bowl in Green Bay, WI, New Year's Eve, 1967, courtesy of NWS/The Associated Press
Courtesy of NWS-Green Bay and The Associated Press

Fifty years ago, two teams battled more than each other for sports glory. The Ice Bowl, as it came to be known after the 1967 NFL Championship game on a frigid New Year’s Eve, outdid the hype of most professional football league contests by going down in history among the greatest games played in extreme weather.

Well-below zero temperatures and bitter wind chills packed a sudden, unexpected punch that Sunday due to an Arctic front that swept across Wisconsin, where the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys poised to play at Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field. The night before the rivalry, the temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees. By 9 AM CST on gameday, the temperature was −16°F with wind chills of −38°F, based on the revised Wind Chill Temperature Index of the National Weather Service (NWS). After kickoff at 1 PM CST, temperatures ranged from -12°F to -14°F with wind chills between −33°F and −37°F, making it the coldest game in the history of the football league.

Ice Bowl Sets Long-standing Local Weather Records

Several local records still stand from that wintry day, according to the Green Bay NWS Forecast Office:

  • Lowest average temperature for any December 31 in Green Bay: −6.5°F for the day.
  • Lowest minimum temperature for any December 31 in Green Bay: −19°F reached just before midnight.
  • Fifth all-time lowest maximum temperature for any December 31 in Green Bay: 6°F above zero reached early that morning just after midnight.

“The weather the day before the Ice Bowl was relatively tranquil with a high of 20°F,” writes the Green Bay NWS Office in a 50th anniversary commemoration of the extraordinary event. “Temperatures were so cold, in fact, that referees had to shout signals so that the metal whistles wouldn't stick to their lips.”

Although December 31, 1967, does not set the Wisconsin state record for lowest minimum temperature, recorded twice in 1996 at −55°F, the conditions for the game caused frostbite and other injuries among players and fans, including one weather-related death among the more than 50,000 spectators braving conditions.

Weather Added Drama to Ice Bowl Rivalry

The extreme weather conditions added to the drama of the rivalry that pitted two soon-to-be legendary coaches, Tom Landry of Dallas and Vince Lombardi of Green Bay, in a second high-stakes matchoff. A year prior, the Packers and Cowboys had played in the same game, won by Green Bay, 34–27.

This time, according to media reports and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the field was like a “sheet of ice.” Though conditions made running difficult, Packers quarterback Bart Starr dove for the winning touchdown. In the last several seconds of the game, Starr brought his team back from a 3-point deficit and clinched the win, 21–17.