Nature's Fury On The Gridiron
Mother nature’s wrath will spare nothing and no one, not even championship games. Rain, fog, ice and blizzards are all part of life on the planet but their unwelcome arrival can transform sporting matches into brutal weather contests.
Several climate-wrought games remain etched in football memory as testaments to athletic endurance and resilience under punishing conditions
In a college game that belonged to the weatherman, the infamous 1947 Cotton Bowl pitted the Arkansas Razorbacks with the LSU Tigers on New-Year’s day in Dallas.
Sub-zero temps and an ice-covered gridiron confronted two southern teams unaccustomed to the low mercury reading. On the sidelines, players huddled around oil drums filled with charcoal to stay warm; some fans even started fires in the stands to avoid frostbite.
LSU’s junior star quarterback and future Hall of Famer, Y.A. Tittle, managed to advance the ball to the 1, 6, 7 and 8-yard lines but the team missed on scoring opportunities, including a botched snap for a winning field goal. The match ended in a 0-0 tie.
Twenty years later, the 1967 NFL Championship became pro-football’s version of the “Ice-Bowl”. In the coldest game posted in NFL history, the Green Bay Packers took on the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Game-time temperatures of -15 F and an average wind chill of -36 F tested the limits of the outdoor contest. From the outset, the turf-heating system malfunctioned, leaving moisture that froze the field as soon as the tarp was removed.
The marching band’s wind instruments failed to play and several band members were hospitalized for hypothermia. After the opening play signal, the referee’s whistle froze on his lips, forcing officials to use voice commands for the rest of the game.
The Packers eventually won the arctic battle, defeating the Cowboys 21-17 in one of the NFL’s greatest encounters. Two weeks later, Green Bay would claim the Super Bowl crown in balmy Miami.
In December, 1979, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers met the Kansas City Chiefs in a water-logged slugfest with a playoff berth on the line. Under torrential rains, the most saturated match on record saw the Chiefs manage only 80 yards the entire game. The Bucs would claim the “Monsoon Bowl” 3-0 with a last-minute field goal.
On New-Year’s Eve day in 1988, it was a lack of visibility that wreaked havoc on the field. The Chicago Bears were hosting the Philadelphia Eagles in a playoff when a thick fog enveloped Soldier’s Field during the 2nd quarter.
Visibility was cut to 15-20 yards. Players couldn’t see the sidelines or first down markers and the second half was reduced to a running game with only 6 points scored. Chicago would triumph in the “Fog Bowl” 20-12.
Though Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham led his counterpart in total passing yards and completions, mother nature forced a different winning strategy that day.
In addition to player endurance, credit must be given to the loyal fans who braved difficult weather conditions to see their teams play.
Over 50,000 football goers attended the “Ice Bowl” in 1967 and fans at the “Monsoon Game” in 1979 sat through cascading waterfalls pouring down the steps of the stands.
In a tribute to the spirit of athletes and fans, nature doesn’t always win.
BASKETBALL November 28, 2009 The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 130-97 at Golden State. The Lakers would wrap up the season with a 57-25 record and go on to defend their title at the NBA Championship by overtaking the Boston Celtics 4-3. Kobe Bryant, star player on the Lakers roster, played all 7 games, averaging 28.6 ppg and taking home the MVP award.
BOXING November 20, 1999 Junior middleweight fighter Stephan Johnson fights Paul Vaden in Atlantic City for a $10,000 purse. Johnson is knocked out with two punches in the 10th round and falls immediately into a coma. Despite hospital efforts, he never recovers and dies less than three weeks later on December 7th. The 154-pounder who lived and trained in New York City turned pro in 1987.
FOOTBALL November 26, 1989 The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 43-40 to win the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup. Finishing only 9-9 for the season, the Roughriders were underdogs going into the 77th annual Grey Cup championship. With the game tied at 40-40 and only 9 seconds left in the 4th quarter, they clinched the title with a 26-yard field goal.
BASEBALL November 19, 1979 Nolan Ryan signs a record 4-year, $4.5 Million contract with the Houston Astros. The gifted pitcher who hurled consistent throws at 100 mph and above remained a force on the mound into his 40’s. Ryan started off with the NY Mets where he won the World Series in 1969 before moving on to the Angels, Astros and Rangers. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.