Ice in Their Veins
Marv Fleming and others remember
Editor, Packerland Titletown USA
Bart Starr plunged in from inside the one-yard line to complete the last-second Ice Bowl comeback, just moments after Bart told iconic coach Vince Lombardi the quarterback sneak would be his recommended play call, due to the nearly-complete lack of footing on the treacherous field.
Lombardi responded, “Run it and let’s get the hell out of here!”
“I was excited,” Packers tight end Marv Fleming noted in a recent interview. “It was the end of the game, live or die.
“It was one of those things. We came all the way down the field and we ran it in.
“Today, other teams pass it and they don’t make it. Nine times out of 10, the pass won’t work unless somebody falls down or something. When you get down to the goal line, the field’s not that deep and it’s a shorter and smaller court that you’re playing on – the end zone – so to throw that ball, it’s susceptible to being intercepted.
“It was a regular game played under stress conditions, and that stress was the coldness. But I still had to stay focused every game and I still had to do my job as a teammate. We faced obstacles all the time and those, whatever they are, we had to get over them. But it was really cold and we beared with it.
“Thank God we won.”
That’s how Fleming remembered it, and attendee Virgil Nau, of Merrill, Wis., took a similar angle.
“It was a battle,” Nau said. “Everything was going pretty good, then all of a sudden Dallas scored a long touchdown that put them ahead. The Packers got the ball back and moved right down the field. Chuck Mercein, I’ll never forget that name. He was just a sub, you might say. He got them down the field and of, course, Starr snuck it in. They didn’t know he was going to do it. Chuck had his arms out. Some people thought he was saying ‘Touchdown,’ but he had to be careful because you couldn’t push people in those days.”
The story goes that Bart had called for a handoff to Mercein, but kept it himself because he was worried the lack of footing might muck up the play. Guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman were able to team up on stout tackle Jethro Pugh, creating the sliver of space that Bart slipped through by the barest of margins.
Steve Brickner, Sr., had an interesting tidbit to add to Mercein’s gesture.
“Have you ever seen the photo with the guy with his arms up?” he asked. “Marv’s on the bottom of that pile.”
Don Seubert shows the famous photo of Starr’s winning sneak taken by Vernon Biever.
Wausau’s Don Seubert was at the game, too, with a perfect view of the critical series.
“It was right down to the final seconds of the game,” he said, remembering the contest as a 27-year-old fan. “It was at the point of do-or-die. We were sitting in the south end zone. Normally, that isn’t that good of a spot to have tickets, but that particular day, it was the spot to be. We were about half way up the stands.
“It was still an old grind-it-out kind of game, not so much pass-oriented as it is today. It was a great game, but I don’t know if I was happier they won or if I was happier it was over so I could get out of the cold.”
Fleming was an 11th-round pick out of Utah in 1963, but he appeared in 95 games in 1963-69 before he left for Miami when his contract expired in the post-Lombardi days. He ended up with 109 catches for 1,300 yards and 12 TDs for the Packers.
He was a critical player during the three consecutive championships of 1965-67, known for his blocking to go with picking up key first downs. Marv had good size for the tight end position in the 1960s, measuring 6’, 4” and weighing 232 pounds. He also came straight out of Compton, in south central Los Angeles, along with his cousin, Washington Redskins’ Roy Jefferson.
It was only third down with 16 seconds remaining at the time of the fateful call, a gutsy choice since the game would have most likely ended with a failed rush. Dallas coach Tom Landry and the TV crew all expected one last pass attempt, giving Green Bay one final rushing shot on fourth down.
But Bart had expressed doubt in the pass blocking, knowing he had been sacked eight times already and one more sack would have ended the game as surely as a run that came up short.
He also asked Kramer if he felt he could make the block for the wedge play before hitting the sidelines to confer with Lombardi. Kramer never met a block he didn’t like, and said he could pull it off.
Seubert still has his Ice Bowl program, along with programs with Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Vince Lombardi, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, as well as many others.
Here’s another twist. The Packers could have kicked a chip-shot field goal to send this one into overtime, since they trailed 17-14 at the time, after taking an early 14-0 lead in the game on a pair of TD passes from Starr to Bowd Dowler. It could have been the safe(r) call, if you believe the kicker wouldn’t fall flat on his back attempting to boot a rock of a ball, and considering the snap and hold came off without a hitch. But who would have wanted to play even one more minute of this game in these conditions?
Now, going back to that day, Fleming wanted to hear what it was like from the other side of the railing.
“I wanted their take on it,” he said. “I wanted to know how it was for them. I know how it was for me. I had to be there; they didn’t have to be there. Why were they there? They could have heard it on the radio or watched it on TV.
“I guess when you’re a diehard Packer fan, you’d be there if it was a hundred degrees below zero. There would be somebody there, too, you know. They would want to claim it. ‘We were there.’ Everybody wants to claim something. ‘We were there when it was 100 degrees below.’”
It wasn’t 100 below, but the temp bottomed out at -18 degrees (after a balmy -13 start), and the blustery wind gave it an average wind chill of -48, the coldest recorded game in NFL history.
“Naturally we were wearing long johns, then a snowmobile suit, then another jacket, a stocking cap, a hood over that, gloves, boots,” Nau said. “But I don’t think anything was going to keep you warm that day, not at the game, nope.
“You couldn’t hardly move with so much clothes on, everybody had so much clothes on. It was exciting, so you cheered to stay warm.
“Well the whole place really was excited. There was no time left (when Bart scored) and just like that everybody was on the field tearing the goal posts down. We wanted to get somewhere warm so we didn’t, but others did. We were only a couple of blocks away and we got there as fast as we could. We had too much clothes on to run. Lots of layers, that’s for sure.
“Four of us went to the game, three from Bonduel. We got dressed at a friend’s house and walked over about an hour before the game. When it was over, we stood by the furnace in her basement. We let the car run so much, we worried we were going to run out of gas. We had to find a bar with a gas pump in Angelica. There were no gas stations like there are now.”
Nau didn’t have any alcoholic fortification, although many members of the audience likely did. Virgil did try a different route.
“I had a cup of coffee,” he said. “I got talking and it had frozen in the cup. That’s cold.”
Virgil couldn’t fathom playing in those conditions, especially for those who eschew their best protection.
“To think there are people that play now sleeveless when it’s zero or below. How can they not freeze?” he wondered.
“When they sit on the bench, you can see the steam come off their heads.”
For Seubert, it was clear how he dressed.
“Not well enough,” he said. “When I looked at the weather the night before they said it was supposed to be 13 above.
The warmest it got was 13 below, so that’s quite a difference. I didn’t have good enough footwear, and got some frostbit toes. I had boots six inches high, like chukka boots. I would warm up my hands in my armpits, then take my boot off and warm up my toes with my hands. I kept alternating. At halftime, I was able to find a piece of cardboard to keep my feet off the cold concrete. That helped quite a bit.
“I froze my feet when I was a paper boy when I was 12. It made my feet easier to get cold the next time.
“The gal I ended up marrying, we took her car (from Wausau). The defroster couldn’t take care of it and we kept having to scrape the inside of the windshield.”
The Ice Bowl cold had a lasting effect on some, like Nau.
“There isn’t much you can remember about the Ice Bowl game because it was too cold,” Virgil expounded. “It’s all you could think about. I was never so cold. For weeks after that I could feel it. Actually, my teeth hurt for a week after that.”
But for Fleming, who had many fewer layers between him and the brutal temperatures, the effects didn’t hang around long.
“Me, living in southern California, not that long,” he said. “I was the first man off the field. I remember going into the locker room and I was the first one to come out. I was taking a plane right after that and I had hired a guy who drove a cab. All my clothes and my suitcase were in the car. I took a bird bath – a bird shower – ran across the parking lot, jumped in the car and we drove to the airport. The plane waited for me. When I got on the plane, the captain said, ‘We can take off now, our winner is here.’ Everybody started clapping.
“I made the plane and four-five hours later, I was in Los Angeles Everyone was saying, ‘Didn’t we just see you on TV in Green Bay?’ ’Yes, I was.’
“I did have a little bit of my fingers frost-bitten.”
The End of an Era
This would be Vince Lombardi’s last season as Green Bay’s head coach. In the locker room after the game, Jerry Kramer gave his famous quote, “Many things have been said about Coach (Lombardi). And he is not always understood by those who quote him. The players understand. This is one beautiful man.”
Brickner found another facet of Fleming’s NFL experience of interest.
“When you know Marv like I do, he will tell you things, like how much prejudice there was against blacks,” he said.
“Some of the people he would tell me about, and how locker rooms would be split up between blacks and whites. I never would have expected that. Mr. Lombardi did not allow any of that in his locker room.”
Other than the weather, Nau couldn’t get enough of the game.
“It was kind of interesting, they televised it but they couldn’t show it the day of the game (in the Green Bay blackout area),” he said. “After the game I went to a New Year’s Eve party and one minute after midnight – the next day they could show it – they showed it and I watched it. They showed it again at noon and I watched it. So I watched that game three times in two days.”
Does Marv wonder about how he is the first NFL player to rack up five Super Bowl appearances?
“No, it’s another step in my wonderful life,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed to earn a lot of honors and accolades. But I know it’s all not about what you did yesterday, but what you can do today.”
Marv became a Packer in 1963, and his first two Super Bowl appearances came with the Packers in the final two years of their run of three consecutive championships in 1965-1967. Marv left for the Miami Dolphins in 1970 when his contract with Green Bay expired and the writing was on the wall about the fate of Packers teams in the near future. After losing 24-3 to the Dallas Cowboys, the ‘Phins pulled out the next two titles in 1972 and ’73.
“It wasn’t great, we made it great,” Fleming said. “All they needed was a wide out and we got the best ever in the world – Paul Warfield – and they got a tight end for the outside game, sweeps and off-tackle. We were getting, off-tackle, 12-13 yards average and for sweeps we were getting something like 15-20 yards every time we ran a sweep. Because I could hook or block the guy over me.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the picture of the running back, maybe Paul Hornung, and Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston running that Green Bay sweep. It all starts because the tight end made his block. If the tight end doesn’t make his block, it’s all a bottle-neck. There’s no guards running out, they get tripped up and run into each other.
“When I think about all the NFL tight ends yesterday and today, they don’t compare with us, because when they line up nobody touches them. When I lined up, the linebacker would be on top of me, and if I had an inside release, they’d hit me. As soon as I got past him, I had a safety on my back – literally on my back – and I would still make my 2-3-4 catches a game. Now, a guy splits out a bit, he runs down, turns around, catches the ball, ‘He’s going to break the record!’ But meanwhile he can’t block hisself out of a paper bag.
“I mean 20 years later, (players say) ’I have a bum knee, I hurt my shoulder, I can’t walk.’ This sport, it hurts you, but you can’t hurt it. That’s been going on for years and years and years.
“You don’t see those big blows where guys get taken down really hard. The game has gotten soft now. They don’t even tackle anymore, they just try to rip the ball out.
“I have seen some games where it looks like a rugby match. The guy is standing up and one team is pushing him forward, there’ll be about 5-6 guys, and the other team is trying to stop him, and they’re grabbing at the ball. The other team’s not tackling, they’re trying to grab the ball. In the meantime, they’ve got the first down already, 15 yards.
“For tight ends today versus yesterday, they’re bigger and faster, but they’re not complete. You can write that.”
Fleming not only was able to block, it was one of his specialties.
“In goal line and short yardage plays I would ask Shula, ‘Coach, why is it every time we come up third and short, goal line, why do we go to the strong side?’ That’s the side where I would be. And he turns around, ’Because we got you, Marv, you can block.’ ’Yeah, but coach, they’re reading our tendencies, they know what we like to do.’ Shula says,
’Well, good, because 10 out of 10 times is not bad, is it?’”
“I’m glad I got out of it without major, major, major head injuries.”
The 1972 Miami team is still remembered as the only undefeated team (14-0) in the Super Bowl era, handling the Washington Redskins 17-0 in Super Bowl VII to wrap it up. There’s a legend out there the teams reassembles to pop corks on champagne bottles each year when the final undefeated NFL squad drops, but Fleming insists it’s been overblown.
“We only did the champagne once,” he said. “I organized that. I’m the president of the LLC (1972 Miami Dolphins Perfect Season team). We only did that once and it caught on. Everybody thinks we do it every year. I told them on the memo, ‘If a team gets beat, please do not break out a bottle of champagne. If we’re going to do it, go into a closet and scream.’ We celebrate our victory, not their defeat.”
What the LLC group does, according to Fleming’s website, is “take care of our team members and spouses who had fallen upon hard times.”
Fleming recently celebrated his 75th birthday, and he looks like he’s in the condition of a much younger man.
“I’m trying to,” Fleming said. “It’s a work in progress because there’s so many distortions now, sugar and all that stuff. So I have to get out and do some athletics.”
Brickner was able to attend the party.
“It was a surprise party put on by his fiance, out in California” he said.
Brickner’s relationship with Fleming developed out of pure fortune. About fifteen years ago, Brickner had entered a golf tournament for Circle of Friends and the Wunsch Family Foundation, an event put on by Wausau native Jerry Wunsch, who played offensive tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers and later Tampa Bay and Seattle in the NFL.
“I won him and I had no idea who he was so I had my wife (Linda) google him,” Brickner said. “We had a great time and now he’ll do anything for me and vice versa.
“I went to the Super Bowl (XLV) with Dave Robinson and Marv and I don’t want to go again. You can’t top that one.”
Brickner’s connection to Fleming worked out great for everybody.
“All this took place because of Steve Brickner,” Nau said. “I give him all the credit (for meeting Fleming). They’ve been good buddies for a long time.
“I’ve been a customer out there, and we spend a lot of time talking about interesting angles into the Packers’ situation. Marv asked for someone he could talk to that was really at the Ice Bowl game, not someone who just said they were at the Ice Bowl game. I don’t know if I’ll appear in his book, but he’s just a friendly-type person that likes to meet people.
“(Marv)’s a very interesting person. In his book he’s trying to show you don’t have to be bad to be good. We’ve talked a number of times on the phone (in addition to meeting at Brickner’s of Little Chicago).”
Seubert seconds the motion on Fleming’s character.
“I was sitting in Steve’s office one day, waiting for an oil change,” he said. “He had picture of Marv Fleming on his wall and he said, ‘(Marv)’s writing a book. You weren’t at the Ice Bowl by any chance, were you?’ I told him I was. He picked up the phone, called Marv and said, ‘I’ve got a guy you want to talk to.’ He hands me the phone and just like that I’m talking to Marv Fleming.”
Brickner explained the set-up.
“Marv called me one day and asked if I knew anyone that had been at the Ice Bowl,” Steve, Sr. said. “I said, ‘No, but I do know a couple of people who love the Packers and are in that age group.’ A couple of million people say they were there, but he wanted someone that was actually there.”
Seubert was still impressed after meeting Fleming face-to-face.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But it didn’t take long and he made us feel very comfortable. He’s a great guy, a down-to-earth guy. There’s no arrogance. He’d talk to anybody and he’s a religious man, not a drinker, just a very nice human being. Just a genuine person.
“When you see his picture, he doesn’t look that big but when you sit next to him, he’s big. I’m six feet. I don’t know how tall he is. When we shook hands, I felt like I was shaking a baseball glove. No wonder he could handle the ball.”
Mingling with the stars
The two Ice Bowl attendees have radically different experiences with meeting Packers. While Fleming is the only Packers player Seubert has met, it isn’t close to the first time Nau has had interactions with famous Packers.
“Way back, just out of high school, I went to barber school and got a job in the Northern building,” he explained. “A guy who worked there worked the chain gang for games. Emil Fischer, the president of the Packers, came in for a haircut and a shave every five days. Joe Grabowski was the barber and he brought all the Packers people in to that barber shop.
“I used to have dinner at the YWCA with a Packers wide receiver in the early ’50s. I can’t remember his name, but he was one of the better ones.”
Looking at a roster a short time later, the name Billy Howton – one of the brighter spots of the 1950s-era Packers – seemed to strike a memory, but Nau wasn’t positive.
“He was a very common, everyday person,” Nau said. “Could you imagine going out to dinner at the YMCA with a player today?
“We would go where (Packers players) went. They were very easy to meet. When Fuzzy (Thurston) was playing, (former Merrill mayor) Fata Voigt brought him to St. Johns’ Church. My son, Todd, was just a little shaver at the time, maybe 5-6-7 years old. He won a football, and Fuzzy announced it, ’Now here’s the winner, Big Todd.’ You could see him grow when Fuzzy said, ‘Big Todd.’
“He played with that football and the signature was coming off. Fuzzy was signing books somewhere, years and years later. He was charging $10 for his autograph. I gave him the football and asked if he would re-sign it. He did, and I gave him $10, but he wouldn’t take it.
“We used to have fun with Max McGee. Max was at his daughter’s place in Cave Creek, Ariz., just north of Scottsdale, for his retirement party and the guy (Jim Irwin) he used to announce with. We were there for that and we took all kinds of pictures. We were going to have the pictures developed, but there was no film in the camera. A little while later we were at a golf outing and saw Max signing autographs. I said, ‘Hey, I took all those pictures and they didn’t work, can we take one now?’
”He dropped everything and we took a picture.”
Brickner likewise has had many interactions with former Packers, many due to Marv and others who have appeared at the St. Mary’s Tailgate party.
“When Marv was inducted into the (Packers) Hall of Fame (in 2010), Marv took my wife and I there,” he noted.
“Herb Adderly and Dave Robinson were there at the induction, too. The next day we have breakfast and when we walk in, who’s sitting with us – Bart Starr! How flipping cool is that!”
Bleeding Green & Gold
Nau thinks it was simply inevitable that he would become a fan of the team.
“If you lived anywhere near Green Bay, you automatically became a Packer fan,” he said. “I guess I started going to games back when I was 12 years old. They had a student section and you could get in for a dollar, old City Stadium, that was. An interesting thing was the old stadium only had one bathroom and could seat 24,000. Lots of kids didn’t have a dollar, but the security guys would let them in.
“As (City Stadium) got older, the East River got thick. You could smell it a long way away. We used to joke that when a boat went through (the river) didn’t even come back together. We had lots of fun there.
“I lived in Luxemburg, just outside Green Bay a ways. I went with friends; my parents never went. We used to go to a Green Bay radio station because some fella there had a polka show. We would sit there and listen to the show, then go to the game.”
After early day walk-up sales virtually ended with ticket demand, the three fans all took different routes to gain access into the games.
“My wife’s brother lived in Green Bay and worked with Milwaukee Road railroad,” Seubert said. “He was in charge of a block of 40 tickets and could dole them out to whoever he wanted. We had tickets to a lot of games. There weren’t too many home games we missed other than the Milwaukee games. Those tickets went to others.
“When I was younger, we used to get tickets from Zillman’s (Meat Market in Wausau) from time to time, and we used to go over with a group from Trails End, when George Schoeder owned it. That goes back to my drinking days before I got married. We got on a bus bright and early and headed over to Green Bay or into Viking Country. If you were a Packer fan over there they were not very nice and they didn’t hesitate to let you know they didn’t like it.”
“I never had season tickets,” Nau recalled. “I always depended on friends for tickets. When I got older, tickets were four dollars. The next year a friend got tickets and I gave him his four bucks and he said, ‘Sorry, they raised them to $11.’ That was in the late ’50s.
Steve hooked into regular tickets a while back.
“Myself, Andy Krautkramer and Joe Jansen, when we were 15ish, applied for season tickets,” the 57-year-old Brickner said. “We just got them recently, but they’re the Gold Package (Milwaukee tickets). I also share season tickets with someone else. I usually go 1-2 times a year; the others I give to employees and family members.
“I was born in ’63, so, no, I wasn’t at the Ice Bowl. I grew up watching the Packers when they sucked.”
Seubert still is a huge fan.
“It’s what I do Sunday afternoons in fall and winter,” he said. “I’ve always followed the Packers, from my late high school days.
“I think if their defensive backfield shows up, they should have a good shot at the playoffs. I don’t always agree with some of the play-calling by the coach.
“That’s just me, the Monday morning quarterback who always does a better job of play-calling,” he added with a laugh. “There was a period when they were not good at all, but they have a good solid team at least in recent years.
The St. Mary’s Parish Family Tailgate Party XXI will be staged during the bye week this year, from noon to 4 p.m. on Sun., Oct. 29, in Marathon, Wis. They’ve tried to work around noon games in the past, but last year the game was flexed and conflicted with the fundraiser.
“It’s a really cool event,” Steve Brickner said. “We raise in excess of $50,000 each year.
“A huge committee gets involved. The Langs from Marathon are a huge, huge part of this. They are the backbone of the operation, because without them it couldn’t happen.
“A local girl, Paula Martin, was working with the Packers back then and helped us get this off the ground with the Packers. Originally it was a dinner at the end of the season and Coach Bob Valesente spoke, but it changed to a tailgate party the second year and expanded. It’s definitely a community fundraiser.”
The event has drawn numerous players over the years, including Fleming, LeRoy Butler, John Brockington, Lynn Dickey, Chester Marcol, Boyd Dowler, George Koontz, Chris Jacke, Gilbert Brown, Dave Robinson and others. William Henderson will be there this year.
More about marv From marvfleming.com/biography/
“What are the odds of me living such a life? Slim to nil.”
“It’s been a life of contradictions- hardships and easy times; I’ve seen deprivation and excess, prejudice and human decency, success and disappointments, good people and not so good people, celebrities and gangsters.
“Yet this is the extraordinary life that I have been fortunate enough to lead. I am incredibly humbled by it.”
Fleming’s diverse life includes: becoming a Golden Gloves boxer; being one of the first black football players to attend the Mormon university of Utah and graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree; bouncing back from a broken neck suffered as a passenger in a car that plunged 150 feet into the Truckee River, a car driven by his roommate, George Seifert, later a Super Bowl winning coach with the 49ers; traveling with Bob Hope on a USO tour; winning $250,000 in a celebrity poker event the first time he played Texas Hold’em; being selected as Ebony magazine’s 1970 Bachelor of the Year; appearing in film, TV shows and talk shows; being impersonated by fan Arthur Lee Trotter for the purposes of bilking people out of their money; being listed as openly gay by University of Wyoming professor Steven R. Heyman, despite it not being true; being actively involved in charity work, including the Herbie Fund (SickKids) and Tom Brown’s Rookie League; and being inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Frozen Tundra
Four of the 10 coldest games in NFL history have been played at Lambeau Field.
#10 Dec. 22, 1990, Lambeau Field, Detroit Lions win 24-17, 2 degrees.
#8 Dec. 26, 1993, Lambeau Field, Packers win 28-0 over L.A. Raiders, 0 degrees.
#5 Jan. 20, 2008, Lambeau Field, NFC Championship Game: New York Giants win 23-20 in overtime over Green Bay Packers, -4 degrees, -24 windchill.
#1 The Ice Bowl, Packers win 21-17 over Dallas, NFL Championship, Dec. 31, 1967, -13 degrees, -48 windchill.