January 10, 1982
Ken Anderson’s moustache. Dave Lapham’s biceps. Ken Riley’s sideburns. The smoke steaming off Eddie Edwards’ ears when he catches on fire on the heated bench. The Riverfront Stadium scoreboard, locked at Bengals 27, Chargers 7. All frozen together in a historic tableau known as “The Freezer Bowl.” Bengals founder Paul Brown floats through the minus-59 wind chill to the locker room to congratulate the first Bengals team to ever go to the Super Bowl. “I remember how elated he was,” says their coach that day, Forrest Gregg, recalling it all on the 20th anniversary. “He had a big smile and said, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl.’” It is the second coldest game in NFL history. Gregg, Vince Lombardi’s Hall-of-Fame right tackle, plays in the coldest game ever 14 years before in the iconic Ice Bowl in Green Bay when he digs in with the rest of the Packers offensive line with 13 seconds left on Bart Starr’s fourth-down-do-or-die QB sneak that gives them the title. But the cold front for the Freezer Bowl moves in during Lombardi’s first NFL championship game in 1960 on an icy mud patch in Philadelphia, ending with the Packers on the Eagles 10 down, 17-13. Gregg remembers Lombardi never again practicing indoors on the way to five NFL titles.
“If there’s one thing I learned from Lombardi,” Gregg says all those years later, “it was if you’re going to play outdoors, you have to practice outdoors. I think that helped us more than anything because we got more reps, more plays in that week outside.” Gregg passes the torch of toughness to his Bengals in the bitterly cold weather embedding Cincinnati the week of the game with ominous game day weather forecasts. Cornerback Louis Breeden remembers it being so cold in practice that it hurt. “Forrest didn’t keep us out there very long,” Breeden says. “But I remember thinking, ‘what are we doing out here?’” While Lombardi would only let offensive linemen wear gloves, Gregg lets his receivers wear what he calls the new “golf gloves.” Except tight end M.L. Harris. “M.L. had these big leather gloves,” Gregg says. “I mean regular gloves, just like you would wear around driving your car or something. I asked him, ‘Can you catch in those things?’ and I saw that he could so I let him wear them. If you’ve got the equipment, use it. I’m not interested in seeing how tough of a man you are.” Naturally, Harris gloves the first touchdown of the day on eight-yard pass from quarterback Ken Anderson for a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter and Bengaldom begins to feel the thaw.
Images from the 1981 AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers, a game affectionately known as the "Freezer Bowl."The Freezer Bowl is recalled as the coldest game in NFL history.
Gregg allows gloves but left guard Dave Lapham famously thinks his Bengals O-line should go sleeveless even as the mercury hovers at 9 below. “Honestly, I was playing a grabber,” Lapham says when he also reminisces on the 20th anniversary. “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?’” It turns out they are in Title town. Future Hall-of-Fame left tackle Anthony Muñoz has said his most memorable moment of the day is Bengals rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth squeezing into pantyhose in order to get an extra layer. “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.”
Munoz knows what gets them to the Big Game and why Anderson should join him in the Hall. In Canton. “The one thing I remember is how well Kenny Anderson threw the ball,” he says of the Bengals NFL MVP 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 passing for 161 yards. Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts, who is in the Hall while Anderson has been inexplicably frozen out, floats 15 of 28 for 185 yards, a TD and two picks. “That was the difference,” Muñoz says. Mark it down. Anderson is the only NFL QB with wins on two different planets.