Opinion: The coldest Super Bowl | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: The coldest Super Bowl

Ken Johnson
Free Press Opinion Columnist

It’s probably going to be a bit chilly for the Denver Broncos in New Jersey come Sunday, don’t ya think? It’s real football weather.

The experts all agree it will be the coldest Super Bowl ever played. And that, along with snow, can be a huge game changer.

This entire January and the worry about Feb. 2 harkens me back to a year I spent in Cleveland back in 1981. You don’t hear much about Cleveland, except to get the news that Lake Erie is frozen over.

And if you’re there, and want to, you can go ice fishing and even drive your pickup out onto the lake.

So if it does turn out to be frigid on the windy, humid meadows of East Rutherford, N.J., be glad you let the Broncos go and you stayed home with the TV.

You can bet Peyton Manning is likely to shout “Miami” instead of “Omaha,” just to conjure up some sense of warmth.

On January 4, 1981, the hated Oakland Raiders came to Cleveland to take on the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Championship game. The path to the Super Bowl, sensibly set for New Orleans and the Superdome, nearly ended in Cleveland.

In case you don’t know, Cleveland was a heavy-industry town, with steel mills among the other giant factories along the banks of the narrow Cuyahoga River. So Lakefront Stadium was made of steel, including steel seats, on a hill overlooking Lake Erie. It was open to the winds coming off the lake.

It was sunny, but the temperature was 2 degrees, humidity at 65 percent, wind blowing 21 miles per hour, and a wind chill of 2O below zero.

(Even that paralyzing cold is only the sixth coldest game played; the honors go to Green Bay and the “Ice Bowl” in 1967, where the Packers faced Dallas for the league championship; it was 13 below with a wind chill taking it to 36 below.)

Being a Colorado boy and accustomed to snow and some chilly weather, I didn’t bother to layer up. So I confess that by kickoff I was colder than I had ever imagined anyone could be. My buddy Jerry Merlino at least had gloves. Smart guy!

Both teams were 11-5 for the season, both had great defenses. Brian Sipe was the Cleveland quarterback and a talented passer. Veteran Jim Plunkett had been picked up by the Raiders early in the season, and got better every game.

When it was over, Cleveland led in nearly every offensive statistic; net passing yards, rushing yards, total yards.

But on that cold January day, the turf was frozen. The Browns lost to fumbles, interceptions, dropped passes and turnovers, and two rushing touchdowns by the Raiders — each for an entire yard.

Us shivering folks in those cold metal stands, all 77,000 of us, worried early the Browns, Cleveland’s “Kardiac Kids,” were likely to lose.

Why? Because on the first three plays of the game, three Browns went to the concrete-like turf and were helped off the field, all with concussions. The ball was a rock, an icy one.

Two great passers, Sipe and Plunkett, could only connect on a total of 27 passes out of 70 tries.

The game ended Raiders 14, Browns 12.

Cleveland had missed a kick for one point after a touchdown and two field goals, all due to the cold and freezing wind. They did manage two field goals.

Here in Bronco land, let’s hope it’s not quite that cold in New Jersey, that the field has been kept warmed so it’s not a game-deciding factor, and their remarkable season ends with Peyton Manning and the Broncos “running the board” to the championship. That’s what Plunkett and the Raiders did back in that 1980 season. They beat Houston in the AFC Wild Card game, Cleveland in the Divisional and San Diego for the AFC title. They then dismantled the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl.

Regardless of cold and snow, let’s hope the Bronco defense shows up to show up the Seattle defense and run the board just like the Raiders.

Ken is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.

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