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Top 50 Moments: Offensive Line goes Sleeveless in Freezer Bowl

Posted Sep 15, 2017

Dave Lapham remains a stone cold lock as a footnote to history. In the 59-below wind chill of Riverfront Stadium on January 10, 1982, he convinced the Bengals offensive line to put something up its sleeve before taking the field for a game that began as the AFC title game but ended as “The Freezer Bowl.”

Dave Lapham remains a stone cold lock as a footnote to history. In the 59-below wind chill of Riverfront Stadium on January 10, 1982, he convinced the Bengals offensive line to put something up its sleeve before taking the field for a game that began as the AFC title game but ended as “The Freezer Bowl.”

By going with short sleeves, the only thing up their sleeves was history.

Bengals 27, Chargers 7, Sweat 0.

“It wasn’t so much psychological as it was practical to keep the defensive line from grabbing us,” says Anthony Muñoz, the Hall of Fame left tackle that played next to Lapham that day. “We all agreed with that. The funny thing is, the backups didn’t want to go out there for pregame. They were saying, ‘We don‘t have to go out there, do we?' ”

Lapham grew up on the outskirts of Boston frolicking in the snow as a kid wearing T-shirts, but even on a springish day he has to put on a layer now.

“Ever since that game,” he says, “I get colder faster. The thermostat went down a little bit.”

There were a few brisk Thanksgiving mornings when Lapham and Wakefield High played Melrose, but nothing like that.

“There was nothing comparable before and nothing comparable afterward,” he says.

Lapham is in his 32nd season as the legendary Bengals radio analyst. He played two years for Donald Trump in the USFL. He was a Hall of Famer’s sidekick in a Super Bowl, the last captain for a Hall of Fame college coach in Syracuse’s Ben Schwartzwalder and one of Paul Brown’s pallbearers.

But Dave Lapham is forever the man that thought the Bengals O-line should go sleeveless even as the mercury hovered at 9 below.

“Honestly, I was playing a grabber,” Lapham says. “Big Hands Johnson. I was thinking I didn’t want him grabbing any cloth. I put Vaseline all over my arms. Covered everything exposed. Arms, hands, face. Then it kind of became psychological. It wasn’t like they were deflated. It was more like, ‘Where are we? Is this Siberia?’” 

Muñoz says Lapham had to lobby the Californian Pro Bowlers a little bit, himself and right guard Max Montoya, but it didn’t take much.

“Yeah,” Lapham says. “Anthony and Max were into it. They said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

Muñoz knew where Lapham was coming from.

This is back in an age when the uniforms were tailored and it took two or three guys to help a guy into his shoulder pads. The year before, when Muñoz was a rookie, Big Hands, a four-time Pro Bowler, worked a stunt with the end and he glanced off Muñoz’s shoulder pads. But that split second was time enough for Johnson to split open Muñoz’s sleeve with his sleight of hands.

“You knew this was something historically significant,” Lapham says. “You knew that not many football games were played in that kind of cold.” 

There had only been one colder and the Bengals head coach, Forrest Gregg, had played in it on the last day of 1967 in Green Bay when the Packers dug in deeper on the Dallas goal line in the last seconds as Bart Starr took it himself to win the NFL championship amid the surreal haze of 13-below at Lambeau.

It’s the only time in NFL history an offensive lineman has been recognized for a big postseason play, and Packers guard Jerry Kramer had to write a book to get it. 

“I was thinking of that game; I had seen the video,” Lapham says. “John Facenda and the quarterback sneak and Jethro Pugh standing up and getting knocked back. I was thinking this game could be like that.”

“But that was on natural grass,” Muñoz says. “We were on that Astroturf and frozen Astroturf is like concrete. It was like playing on concrete.”

Years later, the images are still frozen in the mind’s eye for both men. Lapham says “I was married to the heated bench. I didn’t want to leave it,” but he had to when the defense suddenly turned over the Chargers. He never went back to the bench. 

“The contrast was too great,” he says.

Muñoz has said his most memorable moment was Bengals rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth squeezing into pantyhose in order to get an extra layer.

“Not much worked,” Muñoz says. “For a while we put plastic bags between our toes, but that didn’t help very much.”

“Forrest said it was going to be like going to the dentist,” Lapham says. “You weren’t going to like it, but you had to do it, so let’s just concentrate on getting through it.”

If Muñoz remembers Collinsworth’s pantyhose, he also remembers Ken Anderson’s hose. As in his right arm.

“The one thing I remember is how well Kenny Anderson threw the ball,” he says of the Bengals NFL MVP quarterback that season. “I mean tight. Spirals. No gloves. Nothing. He would just put his hands in a warmer between plays. It was amazing.”

Anderson’s lasers cut the Arctic for two touchdowns and no picks on 14-of-22 pasing for 161 yards. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts, who is in the Hall while Anderson has been inexplicably frozen out, floated 15-of-28 for 185 yards, a TD and two picks.

“That was the difference,” Muñoz says.

That and short sleeves on a day history didn’t turn up short.

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