Wind chills reportedly dropped to 37 degrees below zero -- once labeled as 59 degrees below zero using an older wind chill formula. It's nicknamed the Freezer Bowl. In regards to the wind chill, it's was the coldest known NFL game in history. It was the 1981 AFC Championship Game (Jan. 10, 1982) against the San Diego Chargers, with the winner earning a right to play in the Super Bowl.
The Chargers comprised of a mighty offense, with future Hall of Famers such as quarterback Dan Fouts, tight endand former Bengals wide receiver Charlie Joiner. Though with only one future Hall of Famer on the roster (Anthony Munoz), the Cincinnati Bengals starting lineup had a who's who in Bengals history. Names like Ken Anderson, Dave Lapham, Anthony Munoz and Cris Collinsworth are widely known to most folks. Others might not be, even to the younger generation of Bengals fans.
Defensive end Eddie Edwards (83.5),(62.5) and Ross Browner (59.0) remain as the best three pass rushers in franchise history. Ken Riley (65) and Louis Breeden (33) hold the top two franchise records for most interceptions in a career. Prior to Vontaze Burfict in 2014, linebacker Jim LeClair was the last Bengals linebacker to make the Pro Bowl (1976). Max Montoya is arguably the best offensive guard in Bengals' history and Dan Ross holds most of the team records as a tight end. The starting lineup:
|Ken Anderson||QB||Eddie Edwards||LDE|
|Pete Johnson||FB||Ross Browner||RDE|
|Cris Collinsworth||WR||Bo Harris||LOLB|
|Isaac Curtis||WR||Jim LeClair||LILB|
|Dan Ross||TE||Glenn Cameron||RILB|
|Anthony Munoz||LT||Reggie Williams||ROLB|
|Dave Lapham||LG||Louis Breeden||LCB|
|Blair Bush||C||Ken Riley||RCB|
|Max Montoya||RG||Bobby Kemp||SS|
|Mike Wilson||RT||Bryan Hicks||FS|
Roughly 46,000 braved the bone-stabbing wind chills at Riverfront Stadium. Bengals players predictably believed that the cold temperatures gave them a decided advantage over a team based out of sunny San Diego. Cincinnati controlled the game mentally and physically. By all accounts, before the game's first play, the Chargers defense stood wide-eyed in a state of frozen shock as they watched the Bengals sleeveless offensive line approach like the smoke monster from Lost. They couldn't shake the cold, and the Bengals capitalized, jumping out to a quick 17-0 lead and eventually winning 27-7.
Cincinnati's defense held San Diego to 301 yards from scrimmage with quarterback Dan Fouts completing 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards passing and only one score. Hall of Famers Kellen Winslow (three catches, 47 yards) and Charlie Joiner (three catches, 41 yards) were limited while Cincinnati's rushing offense pounded San Diego 36 times for 143 yards.
"We knew we had a feeling for the ball in the cold," Dan Ross told the Associated Press. "We dressed differently than they did. They just had sweat shirts on." Ross posted a team-high five receptions for 69 yards receiving.
"I'm still freezing. And I had on thermal socks, thermal underwear, everything," said Pete Johnson. "I even wore two pairs of gloves. One of them was rubber so I could grip the ball better." Johnson, who scored one of Cincinnati's three touchdowns, led the Bengals with 80 yards rushing on 21 carries.
In the end the weather didn't matter. From the Associated Press:
The sight of the Bengals carrying Coach Forrest Gregg from the field on their shoulders overwhelmed Paul Brown, the franchise's founder, current general manager and former coach.
Gazing down from his box in Riverfront Stadium, Brown said, "I'm choked up, but it's a good feeling. This is a great day for the team and the city."
Jim Rohrer of Cincinnati.com remembered the game during the 30th anniversary. He wrote how head coach Forrest Gregg prepared his team for the painful game, and lineman Dave Lapham's account of the Chargers' shocked faces as the Bengals offensive line took the field without sleeves. But what carries the game's memory most is the comments section filled with accounts of fans who were there.
My father and I were there. We had seasons from day 1 and kept those seats for the playoffs. Great seats 35 yard line 29 nine rows up - field level. As soon as we got out of the car, we parked on 5th street, the wind hit us and my father commented that this might not be such a good idea.
But we went in and like some others I had to go into the bathrooms about every 1/2 hour to get warm. There wasn't much you could do to even stay slightly not freezing! But I will never forget the look on the faces of the Chargers - even the ones in face masks - when the Bengals linemen came out in short sleeves.
I was there. I had 4 season tickets in section 232. My wife and friends would not go with me. I had wool socks, shoes, stuffed into golashes wraped in Saran. 2 pairs of jean, many layers of shirts and sweaters, ski jacket and ski mittens. My feet were on 2 Sunday Enguirers. . .I remember the applause...woof..woof...the sound of gloves clapping. I wasn't that cold. I think I could have taken -60. I loved every minute of it.
I was eleven years old with my dad and it is still the best football memory of my life. That is what its all about. Cold, dirty, nasty dudes fighting for their lives on every play...awesome. I would do it again tomorrow.
Before the Bengals and Chargers played during the 2013 wildcard weekend, many of the players that played in the Freezer Bowl had a semi-reunion:
So many Bengals legends in one room. Bengals alumni gathering before ceremony: pic.twitter.com/ilba31rcUe— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) January 5, 2014
Ken Anderson sharing Freezer Bowl memories: pic.twitter.com/II6MZ70rIH— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) January 5, 2014
Freezer Bowl alumni gathering: pic.twitter.com/GHCndaw8ru— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) January 5, 2014
James Brooks (who played for San Diego) on Freezer Bowl: "Deep down us west coast guys knew we were in trouble."— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) January 5, 2014
More James Brooks on Freezer Bowl: "Every hit felt like getting hit by a truck."— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) January 5, 2014