One week ago, when the NFL announced that Super Bowl XLVIII would be played at New Meadowlands Stadium on February 2, 2014, a battalion of fans and members of the media grew incensed over how this new open field venue could potentially impact the outcome of the game, especially if it was determined by mercilessly cold weather conditions.
According to meteorologists from the Weather Channel, the weather in New York/New Jersey for the Super Bowl will be a nippy 39 degrees with a chance of snow. This has already sparked some sharp grumbling, such as from ESPN’s Mike Golic, who doesn’t want to see a Super Bowl decided by wind, snow, and ``lots of bad weather.’’ Golic’s reasoning is that the Super Bowl should be a neutral-site, and inclement weather could tip the advantage to teams accustomed to playing in cold wintry-like weather conditions, such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay.
It might be worthwhile reminding critics like Golic that the NFL was around long before the arrival of the Super Bowl in 1967, when championships were once decided under bitterly cold weather conditions with snow, ice, and freezing rain frequently mixed in.
So to get a better sense of how championships were decided before the Super Bowl, I dipped into the archives of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland in order to find examples of the unforgiving elements players battled before claiming the right to be called champions.
December 9, 1934: Playing in near zero temperatures, with biting winds, the field a sheet of thick ice, the New York Giants overcame a 10-point deficit entering the final quarter to win the national championship against the undefeated Chicago Bears, 30-13, in one of the frostiest of days at the Polo Grounds with Casey Stengel and Mickey Cochrane in attendance.
Outside the football field, temperatures in New York dropped to 11 degrees, the coldest of the year; one person was found frozen to death under the Williamsburg Bridge; two others, both homeless, were treated for frost bite.
The Giants success in scoring 30 points in the 4th quarter despite the slick field conditions was accomplished in no small part by replacing their cleats with basketball shoes (courtesy of Manhattan College) as backup Giant quarterback Ed Danowski regained his footing enough to connect on a 28-yard pass to Ike Frankian, while NYU star Ken Strong ran for two touchdowns: one for 42 yards, the other an 11-yard dash.
Danowski ran for yet another Giants score to secure a brilliant comeback best remembered as ``The Sneakers Game’’
December 15, 1935: Neither rain, nor sleet, not even blowing snow could keep 15,000 adoring fans away from Dinan Field in Detroit see the Detroit Lions crush the New York Giants, 26-7 on a muddy field to give the Motor City its first professional football championship.
Despite miserable field conditions, Dutch Clark, Ace Gutowsky, Ernie Caddell and Buddy Parker of the Lions, hands nearly frozen, braved the harsh elements to rush for a combined 235 yards with each scoring a touchdown. The Giants only score came in the third quarter.
1935 turned out to be a perfect year for the Motor City. Prior to the Lions winning the title, the Detroit Tigers won their first World Series at Navin Field; and four months later, the Detroit Red Wing won the Stanley Cup.
December 16, 1945: With hard punishing winds whipping off Lake Erie, snow swirling and the temperature just above zero, Jim Gillette, Don Greenwood and Fred Gehrke of the Cleveland Rams powered their way through the Washington Redskins line for 180 yards to secure a 15-14 win and claim their first (and only) national football championship before 32, 178 freezing fans at Cleveland Stadium.
Despite playing with hands nearly frozen in the biting cold, on a field likened to that of a hockey rink, ``Big’’ Jim Benton and Gillette pulled in passes from Rams’ rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield, who connected on 14 passes for the day.
Considered the coldest game in the NFL since 1933, fans were wrapped tightly in blankets, galoshes, and ear muffs.
December 19, 1948: As luck would have it, the 1948 NFL championship game in which the Philadelphia Eagles unseated the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 was played during Philadelphia’s worst storm of the year with a game time temperature of 27.
Despite the poor weather conditions, 28, 864 fans braved the severe elements and were appropriately rewarded with their first national championship.
Shibe Park was blanketed with snow, causing the start of the game to be delayed for 30 minutes as work crews worked tirelessly to remove heaps of snow from the tarpaulins. The playing field, so thick with snow and visibility impaired by a spray of blinding white-outs that the chains used to mark forward progress became a matter of mere speculation.
Players soldiered on ankle-deep in snow.
Both the Cardinals and Eagles known for their deep aerial assaults were limited to five completions between them, which became an odd twist in itself since everyone was anticipating a high-scoring shoot-out.
The players’ cleated high-tops, however, the only saving grace for the day, benefited both teams as they remarkably managed to keep their footing while trudging through the snow.
Only two of the 13 punts during the day were caught cleanly without the ball slipping through the players hands.
Not until the fourth quarter did Steve Van Buren, who rushed for 98 yards on 26 carries, cross the goal line to break the scoreless game and give the Eagles the NFL title in a epic battle that would go down in history as the ``Snow Bowl’’
December 30, 1962: With freezing temperatures and winds gusting up to 40 mph, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants, 16-7, to capture their second consecutive NFL title in front of a capacity crowd of 64,892 at Yankee Stadium.
The Packers cause was helped to a great extent by three Jerry Kramer field goals of 26, 29, and 30 yards, while Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle hampered by cold piercing winds was surrounded by a dominant Packer line of Bill Quinlan, Willie Davis, and blitzing linebacker Ray Nitschke, who smothered two fumbles that resulted in Packer scores.
The Packers tore through the Giants line; Jim Taylor, all 215-pounds of him, rumbled for 85 yards on 14 carries; and combined with rushes from Paul Hornung and Tom Moore, ``the Bays’’ racked up a total of 148 rushing yards for the day.
The only Giant score came in final quarter when Jim Collier picked up a fumble in the end zone.