The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts were set to kick the season off, Sunday. Instead, just a few hours before kickoff, the Hall of Fame Games was canceled due to poor field conditions. Disappointed fans and angry players have all expressed various degrees of rage over what amounts to an insignificant game especially the Pittsburgh Steelers outspoken running back DeAngelo Williams.
Naturally, considering this was a preseason game that was most likely to be played by guys that will see limited action during the regular season, the NFL opted to play it safe and cancel it. However, there have been certain instances in the history of sports where that just wasn’t going to work.
1975 AFC Championship Game
There were no bigger rivals in the AFC in the 1970s than the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. Both teams were noted for their stifling defenses. Both teams had larger-than-life quarterbacks. The Steelers had the “Blonde Bomber” Terry Bradshaw, and the Raiders has the “Snake” Kenny Stabler. As the Steelers official site wrote, the two teams had met five times in the three previous seasons leading up to the AFC Championship.
However, the winner of this game would go on to the Super Bowl. In 1972, the Raiders were one play away on this very field, and the Immaculate Reception dashed their hopes of a Super Bowl shot. The Raiders claimed that the game was stolen from them so tension was already high. While the Hall of Fame Game’s field conditions were accidental, the Raiders claim that the Three Rivers stadium conditions were completely designed to neutralize the Raiders passing game.
Freezing conditions prompted the Steelers ground crew to set up heaters to blow air under tarps to keep the field warm and presumably unfrozen. However, in the evening hours, winds blew the tarp back. The moisture built up around the edges of the tarp and completely froze the sidelines. Coach John Madden talked about the effect on the Raiders offense.
“The ice may have been worse than the cold, especially the ice along the sidelines. It made it tough for our receivers, because we use them for turning and cutting and working their way back to the ball. A lot of times when we thought we had something going, we couldn’t use those things.”
With sidelines like concrete and sub-freezing conditions, the game had a slew of turnovers. Eventually, the Steelers would pull out the victory 16-10, and they would then go on to win the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season helping cement them as the team of the 70s.
The Ice Bowl
No list like this would ever be complete without the 1967 NFL Championship Game. The game forever etched into our minds as simply “The Ice Bowl” saw Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers take on the Dallas Cowboys. The winner would go on to face the AFL Champions, but in most people’s minds, this was the championship game.
While games in December in Green Bay, Wisconsin are known to be extremely cold, this game outdid them all. At game time, the thermometer read 15 degrees below zero, and the “frozen tundra of Lambeau Field” was every bit living up to its name.
As the game drew on, conditions worsened. ESPN chronicled the final play. With a single play left in the season, and the ball sitting near the goal line down by three, Packer quarterback Bart Starr told Coach Lombardi that it had become too cold to guarantee a hand off. Lombardi answer summed up everyone’s feelings.
“Then run it and let’s get the hell out of here.”
Starr took the snap, and behind a great block by Jerry Kramer, the Packers had won their third consecutive NFL Championship.
There are countless other stories in the history of the NFL of games played when the conditions warranted a second glance. More can be found on the official NFL website. Maybe that is why the Hall of Fame Game cancellation has fans in an uproar. However, with livelihoods on the line, with careers on the line, and with opportunities to make the team on the line, the league ultimately made the only decision they felt needed to be made. Do you think they made the right call?
[Image via Joe Robbins/Getty Images]