GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ playoff game Sunday against San Francisco could be one of the coldest in NFL history, rivaling the subzero temperatures of the 1967 Ice Bowl, so fans are taking plenty of precautions.
Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be a frigid minus 2 degrees when the Packers and 49ers kick off at 3:40 p.m.
By the fourth quarter it’ll be a bone-chilling minus 7, with wind chills approaching minus 30, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures at the so-called Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the 1967 championship game in which the Packers beat Dallas to advance to Super Bowl II, got as cold as minus 13 degrees with a wind chill of minus 46.
At temperatures like the ones expected Sunday, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can set in. Players will be moving around or huddling around giant heaters on the sidelines, but fans will have to take extra safety measures, such as dressing in layers and sipping warm drinks.
The Packers plan to pass out 70,000 hand warmers, packets that fit inside gloves or boots and stay warm for hours. The team also will provide free coffee and hot chocolate.
Kellie Kunz, a Packers fan and homemaker from Naperville, will be attending her first Green Bay game Sunday. She said the opportunity to see her team in a critical playoff game was just too good to pass up.
“We’ll dress warm – down jacket, long underwear, fleece-lined tights,” said Kunz, who grew up in Wisconsin. “I’m just hoping the game is going to be so exciting we won’t even notice the freezing cold.”
Lambeau Field has a heating system buried beneath the turf to keep the field from freezing, but it failed during the Ice Bowl, leaving the sod hard as cement. The system was upgraded in 1997 to include 30 miles of heating pipes, so players on Sunday can expect softer landings.
The field should be relatively clear Sunday, with no snow in the forecast. The stands had been filled with snow during the week, but the team, continuing a popular tradition, invited members of the public to help shovel it for $10 per hour.
The 1967 game took a major toll on players, said Ed Gruver, the author of a book called “The Ice Bowl: The Cold Truth About Football’s Most Unforgettable Game.”
Packers coach Vince Lombardi didn’t let most of his players wear gloves, so several, including quarterback Bart Starr, suffered varying degrees of frostbite, Gruver said. One Cowboys player had respiratory problems attributed to breathing in so much frigid air, he added, and Dallas quarterback Don Meredith’s calls were inarticulate because his lips were frozen.
“Now players wear Under Armour. They have gloves; they have these giant heaters. They’ll be OK,” Gruver said. “Back then, most of them just wore long johns.”
Improved clothing should help the fans, too. Modern down jackets fight the cold, and waterproof boots and gloves keep hands and feet dry.
That’s what 49ers fan Leon Perkins of Stockton, Calif., is counting on. The 30-year-old truck driver goes to every 49ers home game, and a visit to legendary Lambeau was on his bucket list. So the minute he found out the 49ers were playing in Green Bay he jumped online and bought tickets.
Packers tickets can be notoriously hard to come by, so Perkins was pleasantly surprised to pay only $147 apiece for two. Ticket sales were uncharacteristically slow because of the forecast, and the game didn’t sell out until midday Friday.
When Perkins found out he might be attending Ice Bowl II, his enthusiasm was dampened only briefly.
“I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids I was part of that game,” said Perkins, who bought a hunting coat and thick gloves in preparation. “I’m just hoping my 49ers are gonna give me the opportunity to keep jumping up and down and screaming and keeping the adrenaline pumping.”