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BIG GAMES IN EXTREME CONDITIONS

Now that the holidays are completely behind us and snow has lost its magic, we are left with cold hard winter.  As we are fully engulfed in the month of January that also means we are in the heart of the NFL postseason.  This brings me to an annual oddity in the world of sports.  Yes, baseball’s big games are sometimes played in cool conditions as summer gives way to autumn, but nothing is more extreme weatherwise than football in the middle of the winter!

Last week I gave you my take on the top plays in the NFL playoffs.  Today I focus on old man winter and its influence on professional football’s big stage.  I give you my top five games played in less than ideal conditions.

Number 5, January 23, 1983:

Image result for mud bowl afc championship

When we think of playoff games played in extreme weather conditions, the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, the swirling lake winds in Buffalo and Cleveland, and the frigid outdoors of Minnesota all come to mind.  This game had none of that.  This game was played in that frozen playing field known as…the Miami Orange Bowl.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my home state of Florida. rainstorms aren’t limited to our wet summers.  When cool fronts sweep across the state of Florida lowering our temperature to the frigid 50’s and 60’s they are usually ushered in by rain.

A cool front was on its way to South Florida on this January Sunday when the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins met for the AFC championship.  The Jets would complain that the Dolphins didn’t cover the Orange Bowl field prior to the game when the rain was at its worst.  Rain continued throughout the game and the contest was marred by many turnovers.Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe would intercept Jets quarterback Richard Todd three times.  The third one was run back 35 yards to seal a Dolphins 14-0 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.  The controversy of the tarp (or lack of it) is still a sticking point in the rivalry between the Jets and Dolphins to this day.

Number 4. January 10, 2016:

Image result for blair walsh wide left gif

We have to look way back to last year for this one.  While the Minnesota Vikings new stadium was under construction on the footprints of their old digs, the Hubert H. Humphry Metrodome, the team played on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  This would mean for the first time since the mid 1980’s they would be playing in an outdoor venue in frigid Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s cold winter would be the theme of the NFC Wild Card Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Vikings.  Game time temperature at TCF Bank Stadium was -6 degrees Farenheit, with wind chills making it feel like -25.  This ranked as the coldest game in Minnesota Vikings history  which includes many frigid Sundays at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the franchises early days.  It also ranks as the third coldest game in NFL history.

It was a low scoring affair with very limited pass plays.  Vikings kicker Blair Walsh would kick field goals from 22, 43, and 47 yards to give them a 9-0 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks would finally score early in the fourth with a three yard touchdown pass from Russel Wilson to Doug Baldwin.  Seattle would take the lead on a 46 yard field goal three minutes later. Walsh would have a chance to be a hero on this frozen Minneapolis Sunday with 26 ticks left on the clock.  His 52 yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, sending the Seahawks to the divisional round and the Vikings home.

Number 3, January 19, 2002:

Image result for the tuck rule game

This AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots turned out to be the finale at Foxboro Stadium.  The Patriots would open the 2002 regular season in their current home, Gillette Stadium.

The game was played in a heavy snowstorm that didn’t let up from start to finish.

With the Raiders leading 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were driving.  Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady causing what appeared to be a fumble, which was recovered by Oakland.  This appeared to seal the game and send the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.  The officials reviewed the play and ruled that Brady appeared to halt his passing motion before his arm went forward and attempted to tuck it into his body.  The play was ruled an incomplete pass.

New England would advance into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri would tie the game with a 45 yard field goal.  The Patriots won the game in overtime and would eventually win the Super Bowl.

Like last week, we have a tie, two classics at the Frozen Tundra:

Number 2, January 20, 2008:

Image result for 2007 nfc championship game

The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field lived up to its nickname on this January Sunday.  The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers kicked off in frigid conditions.  Gametime temperature was -1 degree Farenheit (-23 with the windchill).  The temperature dropped during the game as they played from late afternoon into the evening.

In a back and forth game, the Giants would win the game in overtime to reach the Super Bowl.  Lawrence Tynes kicked the game winning field goal in a 23-20 victory.  This game featured two certain future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre (who threw a 90 yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver) and Eli Manning (who went through this frozen game without an interception).

Number 2, December 31, 1967:

Image result for the ice bowl 1967

The 1967 NFL Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers was one for the ages.  The gametime temperature in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field was -15 degrees Farenheit.  Wind chills made it feel like -48.

With wind chills around -70, and the Cowboys leading 17-14, Packers quarterback Bart Starr lead them down the field.  The Packers would end up on the Dallas 2 foot line with 16 seconds remaining.  Everyone was expecting Starr to roll out on the 3rd and goal play.  What happened next is etched in NFL lore.  With blocking in front of him, Starr would take the ball himself and get into the end zone.  The Packers would advance to Super Bowl II, Dallas was sent home.  This game has gone down in history as the Ice Bowl due to the frigid conditions in which it was played.

Number 1, January 10, 1982:

Image result for freezer bowl

The game that ranks number one was purely because of the weather conditions. The 1981 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers was an otherwise uneventful 27-7 Bengals victory.

Gametime temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was -9 degrees with wind chills of -59.  In addition to the brutally cold air, the game was played in sustained winds of 27 mph.In NFL lore this game has been referred to as the Freezer Bowl.

This year’s NFC Championship Game is already destined to be an indoor affair.  With the Falcons victory over the Seahawks yesterday, they will either be home against the Packers (at the Georgia Dome), or at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas (which sports a retractable roof).

Conditions in AFC could lead to another memorable weather game.  Today’s AFC Divisional Game between the Steelers and Chiefs has been moved back from a 1:00 start to 8:20 due to an ice storm forecasted in Kansas City.  The forecast for tonight in Kansas City is for rain.  The winner heads for New England next week.

Will we have another ice bowl, snow bowl, freezer bowl or even a mud bowl?  Enjoy the games today and tonight!