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Top 50 Moments: Forrest Gregg Leads Bengals to First Super Bowl


On Jan. 10, 1982, owner Paul Brown walked through the minus-59 wind chill to the home locker room to congratulate the first Bengals team to ever go to the Super Bowl.

"I remember how elated he was," said coach Forrest Gregg. "He had a big smile and said, 'We're going to the Super Bowl.'"

Brown and Gregg helped sow the roots of the Bengals victory in the Freezer Bowl on a muddy field in Philadelphia 20 years before that. It always seems to be like that in the NFL, where small quirks of history end up blocking for championships.

In 1960, Gregg was the right tackle for Vince Lombardi's Packers. Lombardi decided to prepare for his first NFL championship game indoors in Green Bay. But in a tossup 17-13 loss to the Eagles that ended with the Pack on the Philly 10-yard line, Lombardi and his players wondered if the great outdoors gave the Eagles the edge. Temperatures were in the high 40s, but Franklin Field was muddy with icy patches in the shadows.

Gregg never remembered Lombardi going indoors to practice again on the way to five NFL titles. The last one was secured in the 13-below lore of the Ice Bowl on Dec. 31, 1967 in Green Bay, the only NFL game played in colder conditions than Cincinnati's AFC championship game 14 years later.

The Ice Bowl turned out to be the next-to-last game Lombardi coached the Packers and became the ultimate moment of his "Winning Is The Only Thing" legend. One of the reasons Lombardi was there for a fifth title is because he listened to the advice of the only man to win more professional championships than he. When Lombardi's hometown Giants came courting during that 1960 season, Paul Brown, then coaching Cleveland, urged him not to leave for New York because Green Bay had been struggling so much before he arrived that the Packers franchise might die if he left.

There were other factors, such as Lombardi having more power in Green Bay than he would have in New York. But Lombardi heard Brown's argument, which was also used by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

It all came in full, frigid circle 14 years and 10 days later in Cincinnati at nine-below zero and at the top of the world.

"If there's one thing I learned from Lombardi," Gregg said, "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.

"The difference in the two games was that the equipment was better (in 1982). In Green Bay, the field was ice. You couldn't plant to pull or cut. Except for a few patches, there was no ice in Cincinnati. And the shoes were better."

It had been bitterly cold in Cincinnati all week and the weather forecast for the Bengals' first-ever title game appearance was ominous.

In fact, Chargers owner Gene Klein tried to get the Bengals not to play the game. He met with Bengals assistant general manager Mike Brown Sunday morning and urged him that they call Rozelle together and ask him to postpone the game. Brown, now the Bengals president, could see the Bengals had the Chargers' stat-popping passing game led by quarterback Dan Fouts right where they wanted it and told Klein no.

"It was so cold," Mike Brown said, "that you were hot. Maybe because you had so many clothes on, but it was odd. The one thing I remember is that every time Fouts tried to throw a long pass, it would just die. Like it would hit a glass partition."

The Bengals ended up playing the most efficient game in their history. Anderson, the NFL MVP, remembers quarterbacking the Bengals into two scoring drives straight into the wind chill factor. He was known for his efficiency and this was his signature game. It showed he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with Fouts.

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