Chapter 24 : Ice
Ed Sabol could not sleep the night before a title game. He and his son Steve had been working pro football championships for NFL Films since 1962, and every year he was nervous, as if he had never done this before. Were his cameras in the right locations? Would there be a dramatic story line? Would the weather create problems again? By seven on the morning of December 31, 1967, he already had been awake for two hours, and now he was standing at the window of his hotel room, staring out into the northern darkness. Friday seemed unforgiving in Green Bay, with heavy snow and a fierce wind, but on Saturday there was a brilliant winter sun and the temperature had soared toward thirty. Local forecasters had predicted more of the same for today's one o'clock game.
The telephone rang. Steve, who had been asleep in the other bed, fumbled for the receiver.
"Good morning, Mr. Sabol."
The wake-up message came in a gentle singsong voice.
"It is sixteen degrees below zero and the wind is out of the north. Now have a nice day."
"Dad," Steve said. "You're not going to believe this!"
The same words of disbelief were being uttered all over town. The phone at Paul's Standard station on South Broadway had started ringing at five that morning, and the overnight man couldn't handle it, so Paul Mazzoleni went in himself and took to the streets with his tow truck and jumper cables. One of his first stops was at Willie Wood's. The free safety was standing next to his dead car, shivering, convinced that even when Mazzoleni brought his frozen battery back to life he was not going anywhere. "It's just too cold to play," Wood said. "They're gonna call this game off. They're not going to play in this." Chuck Mercein, the new man on the Packers, brought in at midseason to help fortify the depleted backfield, was alone in his apartment, semiconscious; his clock radio had just gone off. Had he really just heard someone say it was thirteen below? He must have misunderstood. Wasn't it near thirty when he went to bed? He called the airport weather station to see if he had been dreaming. "You heard it right. It's thirteen below and it may get colder."
Lee Remmel of the Press-Gazette had arranged a ride to the stadium with a cityside writer, one of eleven reporters the home paper had assigned to the game. His colleague called at seven with the question, "Lee, do you know what the temperature is?" Remmel guessed twenty. No. Twenty-five? Go look at the thermometer. "I was aghast," he recalled. "The weatherman had been predicting twenty." Chuck Lane, the Packers' young publicist, had grown up in Minnesota and was familiar with the telltale sounds of severe winter in the northland. As soon as he stepped out of his downtown apartment on Washington Street, he knew this was serious. "You can tell when it's cold by the sound of your foot in the snow. I could tell by the first stride that this was damn cold. The sound has got a different crunch to it." By his second stride he could feel something else -- "the fuzz in your nose froze up."
Dick Schaap led a foursome of New Yorkers out to Green Bay for the big game, which he hoped would provide a narrative climax for the book he was writing with Jerry Kramer. As he and his editor, Bob Gutwillig, and their wives were driving downtown for breakfast, Schaap noticed the temperature reading on the side of a bank. It was -13. "Look, it's broken," he said. He had never before seen a negative temperature and assumed that the bank got it wrong. Dave Robinson was in his kitchen, eating his traditional pregame meal: scrambled eggs, the filet of a twenty-ounce T-bone steak, toast, tea with honey. His little twin boys hovered in the next room, waiting for their dad to leave so they could eat the rest of the steak. His wife came in and gave him a kiss. "It's twenty below out there," she said. "Twenty above, you mean," Robinson said. "Can't be twenty below."
Copyright © 1999 by David Maraniss. Published with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
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