Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson had never played in a colder game in his life.
The temperature for the 1981 AFC championship game was a minus-9 at kickoff with wind chills at a minus-37. The cold-weather Bengals were home against the warm-weather San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati would prevail, 27-7, to advance to its first Super Bowl.
Anderson recalled that game, dubbed the “Freezer Bowl,” as part of the Talk of Fame Network’s “5 Games” podcast. The 1981 AFC title game is the third installment of the five significant games of Anderson's career. But he remembers an even more formidable foe that day than either the weather and the Chargers.
“They brought in the heated benches, which we’d never had before, with slots for your feet,” Anderson said. “Luckily I’ve got my helmet on because I’m sitting on my hands trying to warm up. All of a sudden there’s a big roar from the crowd and as I stand up, my feet didn’t come out of the slots. I start to fall and I can’t get my hands in front of me. The first thing that hits is my facemask. So I’m seeing stars and I’m calling for the trainer for some smelling salts. I’m thinking I can’t get knocked out of the AFC championship game falling off the bench. So I‘m glad there was no ESPN in those days.”
The Bengals had another edge that day – their head coach Forrest Gregg. A Hall of Fame offensive tackle with the Green Bay Packers, Gregg played in the only game colder in NFL history – the 1967 “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay. That one pitted the cold-weather Packers against the warm-weather Dallas Cowboys in the NFL championship game. Green Bay prevailed, 21-17.
“We had been in conditions before that were cold,” Anderson said. “That’s one of the things that Forrest Gregg brought to us. Not only a physical toughness, but a mental toughness. He said he had played in a cold game once before in his life and he kind of prepared as mentally.
“He did not have a long pep talk before the game. But what he said to us was, `Men, today is going to be a lot like going to the dentist. You know it’s going to hurt but you’ve got to go anyway.’ I think we were mentally tough enough to handle it that day.”
Anderson completed 14 of 22 passes that day for 161 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers, outdueling Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts who completed 15 of 28 passes fo 185 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Bengals got up 10-0 in the first quarter and never looked back.
Anderson also talked about the pre-game scramble in the Cincinnati lockerroom before the game to find queen-sized panty hose and the wind being more of a factor than the cold. He also talked about the advantage of having Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz at left tackle and how the weather conditions that day have impacted those who played that game decades later.
You can listen to this podcast – as well as “5 Games” podcasts with Hall of Famers Jerry Kramer, as Charles Haley, Jam Ham, Mike Haynes, Willie Lanier and more – at VokalNow.com or by subscribing to our podcasts at iTunes. Click the links below.