The Great History of NFL Cold Weather Games

By Bryan Knowles

Sunday's playoff game between San Francisco and Green Bay looks poised to be one of the coldest ever recorded—the high temperature for Green Bay that day is projected to be -3 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be the sixth coldest NFL game ever recorded.   That's the high temperature, too—by kickoff, that could plummet further, into the negative double digits.

Both teams are putting up a brave face preparing for the game, with Jim Harbaugh proclaiming that "football weather is any weather", and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson opining that the weather was "not enjoyable for anyone."

The game has potential to rewrite the record books for coldest game ever played.  The weather also could have a huge impact on who wins and the point spread -- check out these reviews of betting sites.  Here are some of the other legendarily cold NFL games this one could emulate.

December 31, 1967—Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers, NFL Championship

Temperature: -13 degrees

The "Ice Bowl" needs very little introduction—one of the greatest games in NFL history, it saw the Packers punch their way to Super Bowl II with a game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining in the game.  With wind chill factored in, temperatures dropped below 40 degrees below zero, and it was cold enough that Lambeau's then state-of-the-art turf-heating system broke down, resulting in an icy mess on the turf itself.  It was so cold that the marching band scheduled to perform at the game couldn't—the brass instruments were freezing to their lips.

The referees found themselves in a similar predicament, being unable to use their metal whistles without risking serious harm to themselves.  The combination of the weather, the thrilling finish, and the sheer number of legends who participated—Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bart Starr, Bob Lilly, etcetera—has caused the game to go down in lore as one of the greatest ever played.

January 4, 1981—Oakland Raiders @ Cleveland Browns, AFC Divisional Playoffs

Temperature: -5 degrees

This game is more famous for being "Red Right 88", referring to the critical, game-losing interception the Cleveland Browns threw at the end of the game more than its weather, per se, but it was the coldest game in nearly 15 years, with a wind chill factor of -36 degrees, due to the whipping winds.  The interception came with the Browns down only two; a field goal would have won the game.  However, they had already missed two field goals on the day, with the cold weather keeping the ball from compressing as normal—it was described as like trying to kick a boulder through the uprights.  Hence the pass play, and hence the interception.

The Great History of NFL Cold Weather Games
Dec 8, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (29) during the second quarter at FedEx Field. Photo courtesy by Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

January 10, 1982—San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals, AFC Championship

Temperature: -9 degrees

The week before this matchup, the Chargers battled Miami in 88 degree weather, with high humidity.  To find themselves just one week later in the frigid conditions of Riverfront Stadium, where the wind chill made it feel nearly 40 below, must have been absolutely shocking.  It was so cold and windy, the Bengals actually kicked off to begin both halves, because they wanted the icy winds to be at their back as much as possible.  It was so cold, San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts' beard sported icicles.  The Bengals came out for the "Freezer Bowl" with their offensive line sporting bare arms, in an attempt to gain a psychological edge.  Who can say if it worked—but the Bengals convincingly beat the Chargers, never trailing in their 27-7 victory.

January 7, 1996—Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Divisional Playoffs

Temperature: -6 degrees

San Francisco's coach, Jim Harbaugh, knows something about cold weather games—he was the winning quarterback in this one, leading his Colts to a somewhat sloppy 10-7 victory over the Chiefs, one of the larger upsets in playoff history.  Was the weather a factor?  Hard to say—the Chiefs did miss three field goals and turned the ball over four times, but no one, at the time, blamed it on the weather.  Still, it shows that Harbaugh may, in fact, know what he's doing when he's talking about performing in cold weather.  It's amusing that, after all his games at the University of Michigan and in Chicago, his coldest game would come as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

January 20, 2008—New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers, NFC Championship

Temperature: -4 degrees

With a Super Bowl berth and a date with the 18-0 Patriots looming, the Giants and Packers battled to an overtime finish in the coldest game at Lambeau Field since the Ice Bowl. The weather forced the Giants to cut their pregame warmups short, because neither Amani Toomer nor PlaxicoBurress could feel their hands, due to the bitter cold.  It didn't seem to hurt them too much in the actual game—Lawrence Tynes kicked a 47-yard field goal to ice the victory in overtime, sending the Giants to Super Bowl XLII.

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