The 1985 Snow Bowl: Packers Bury Bucs in Lambeau Blizzard
It was considered the worst bad-weather game in Lambeau Field history, perhaps the worst in the Green Bay Packers’ long, storied history. Considering how nasty December weather in northeast Wisconsin can be in December, that’s saying something.
On Sunday, Dec. 1, 1985, the Packers were set for an NFC Central Division match-up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Players got up that morning to find snow falling outside their windows. Many believed playing in the snow would make for an interesting experience. However, as blustery conditions overtook Green Bay, the snow kept coming and coming. By game time it was a relentless blizzard. The game was dubbed the Snow Bowl.
The Packers, playing for 19,856 very loyal fans, embraced the winter wonderland. But, for the hapless Bucs, it was a long, cold, frustrating day. Green Bay dominated Tampa Bay 21-0. The warm-weather Bucs, having just left 80 degree weather in sunny Tampa, wanting nothing to do with the frozen tundra.
SNOW, SNOW, & MORE SNOW
Profootballreference.com notes the weather for the Dec. 1, 1985 Packers-Bucs game as 28 degrees with 21 mile-per-hour winds and a 15 degree wind chill. That description does not do this game justice.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported 13.6 inches of snow fell, while the Wisconsin State Journal had 15 inches pounding Lambeau Field, all during the course of the game. Both newspapers state winds swirled to as high as 40 miles-per-hour. As both teams took the field, it was clear some players accepted the conditions for what they were, while others simply wanted to get the game over with as soon as possible.
The Packers had played in a snowstorm in Denver the previous season, but to most, this was different due to gusty winds. Players said the relentlessly blowing snow made it difficult to see downfield. The Tampa Tribune, reporting from “Curly Lambeau Field,” wrote that grounds crews had a tough time removing the frozen tarp covering the field before kickoff.
The Bucs reportedly cut short their pre-game warm-up, before retreating to the warmth of the locker room. During the game, Buc players were often seen huddled around sideline heaters, trying desperately to stay warm. Green Bay, having practiced outside during the week, was somewhat prepared for the weather, but nobody expected this.
As with most lopsided contests, the numbers tell the story. Green Bay finished with 512 total yards to Tampa Bay’s 65. The Packers had 31 first downs to the Bucs’ 5. Tampa Bay didn’t get its second first down of the game until late in the third quarter.
For the Bucs, it didn’t help that they were limping to the finish line of a forgettable season. At 2-10, Tampa Bay was already planning for 1986 and beyond with head coach Leeman Bennett. Quarterback Steve Young, an NFL rookie fresh off starring for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL, was making his second career start. Bennett and the Bucs’ brass wanted to see what they had in the former BYU star. This would not be a good measuring stick.
Young struggled mightily in the snow, completing just 8 of 17 passes for 53 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked five times – four from Packers defensive end Alphonso Carreker – and was afraid to throw the deep pass. Six of Young’s passes were short throws to running back James Wilder, serving as the QB’s security blanket.
Brian White of the Press-Gazette noted Young appeared “jittery and ice cold.”
After the game, Young said he struggled gripping the ball. He held on to it too long to try to find an open receiver in the blizzard. Fortunately for the Bucs, Young used his scrambling ability to buy a few more seconds on pass attempts, otherwise the Packers could have chalked up more sacks.
Recalling how it felt after Carreker dumped him face-first in the snow on his third sack, Young said, “that’s a new way to suffocate. I couldn’t breathe.”
Young finished with a 29.8% passer rating. There would be better days for the future hall-of-famer.
DESPITE CONDITIONS, DICKEY SHINES
While Young struggled, Lynn Dickey shrugged off the snowy conditions. The veteran Packers quarterback finished 22 of 36 with 299 yards. While he did have two interceptions and no TD passes, the 35-year-old Dickey, not known for his mobility, scored one of the Packers’ three rushing touchdowns.
Green Bay slogged through the snow for 232 yards on 36 carries. Eddie Lee Ivery posted 109 yards on 13 attempts and Gerry Ellis finished with 101 yards on only nine carries and a touchdown. Jessie Clark provided Green Bay’s other TD.
Dickey, along with Carreker, were honored with game balls following the game. There’s no doubt Dickey deserved it. Teammates marveled at the veteran’s performance. Packers coach Forrest Gregg said Dickey played remarkably well considering the conditions. Gregg said the game plan called for more passes to throw the Bucs’ defense off-guard.
“It’s really just mind over matter,” Dickey said about playing in a snowstorm.
Future hall-of-famer James Lofton was Dickey’s favorite target, hauling in six receptions for 106 yards. While some players, like Green Bay safety Mark Murphy, embraced the snowstorm, Lofton was blunt in his displeasure.
“I didn’t like it,” Lofton said.
CARREKER OWNS HELLER, STALKS YOUNG
Carreker, a first-round draft pick in 1984, was developing into an edge-rushing threat in ’85. Against the Bucs, Carreker battled highly-touted offensive tackle Ron Heller. Carreker certainly got the best of Heller and terrorized Young throughout the day.
Carreker produced a career-high nine sacks in ’85, but nearly half came that day. The former Florida State star helped the Pack secure its first shutout in eight seasons.
Did anything go right for the Bucs?
The Snow Bowl – Tampa Bay’s 18th consecutive road loss - was a game most Buc fans would soon forget, but there were a few highlights. As heavy snow fell and winds howled, punter Frank Garcia boomed eight punts for 291 yards. The Bucs also blocked an Al Del Greco field goal attempt and intercepted Dickey twice.
HEADLINES & QUOTES
The headline in the Dec. 2, 1985 Press-Gazette hailed the Packers as “Wizards in the Blizzard.” Conversely, the Tampa Tribune reported, “Packers shovel 21-0 snow job on Bucs.”
Green Bay hosted another Florida team, the Miami Dolphins, the following week. In the aftermath of Snow Bowl ’85, the Tribune oddly posed the question: “Why does the NFL schedule games in Green Bay in December, especially against warm-weather teams?” When asked if he had any advice for the Dolphins, Bennett, the Bucs’ coach, lamented, “have a nice trip.”
Said Murphy: “It was one of the worst games I ever played, but it was one of the most fun. I hope we have 20 inches of snow when Miami comes here next Sunday.”
On Dec. 8, the 10-4 Dolphins sent the Packers to 6-8 with a 34-24 win. QB Dan Marino fired 5 touchdown passes in 18-degree weather. No snow was reported.
With conditions as they were, it’s still somewhat amazing nearly 20,000 fans showed up. Gregg praised the Green Bay faithful as “true Packer backers.” It was the lowest-attended game since Lambeau Field opened in 1957. Of the 56,442 tickets distributed, 36,586 ticket holders didn’t show up. Many of the hearty souls that did, however, donned blaze orange coats and hats. It was still gun-deer hunting season in Wisconsin.
“It was like a deer-hunting convention,” said Packers offensive lineman Ron Hallstrom.
Defensive end Ezra Johnson told the State Journal: “I told the guys, ‘Come on, let’s have some fun.’ The only way to stay warm in this kind of weather is to be active and go around and knock the crap out of people.”
To celebrate the shutout, rookie linebacker Brian Noble, a southern California native, joined a few teammates with a dive into the snow. Of course games like this are always more fun for the victor.
Wide receiver Kevin House, the Bucs’ biggest receiving threat, was limited to one reception.
“The way we played we were awed,” House told the Tribune. “The way (the Packers) played it was like the snow didn’t exist.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Damask is an 80sFootballCards.com contributor as well as the Editor of the Columbus Journal in Columbus, Wisconsin.
You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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