There are few occurrences more unique than watching a pro football game where the field gets hit with snow flurries, then driving snow, then a full-scale blizzard. Such a snowy game was held on November 27, 1977, when the Minnesota Vikings visited the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
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NFC Central Dvision Records
The Vikings were involved in another season of robust contention for the NFC Central Division title. They owned a 6-4 record going into their meeting with the Packers, and they could ill-afford to lose this game. They were only one game ahead of the division-rival Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at this point of the 1977 season.
Both the Bears and the Lions were holding a 5-5 record at this stage of the year, and both of them were poised to take over the lead in the old Black and Blue Division, as the NFC Central was then known.
In contrast, the 2-8 Packers, also a member of the NFC Central Division, were floundering, as had been their recent custom since 1973. Head coach Bart Starr was getting strong efforts from all his players, many of whom were youngsters and naturally lacking in overall experience. But they continually gave it their best shot, regardless of the abilities of their competition. They would go into this meeting with Minnesota with a feeling of being a spoiler.
Heading For Snow
They knew that the Vikings were used to winning division titles. What could be more enjoyable than upsetting them and hurting their chances of winning another one?
Remember when you were a kid? You used to love to go out in the winter and frolic in the snow. At least until you had to shovel the stuff or drive in the stuff. Well, both the Vikings and the Packers on this day would get a chance to relive their childhoods, as they were participants in one of the most snow-filled games of the decade in the NFL.
It was an all-day blizzard. It started well before the opening kickoff. It continued well after the Vikings team plane left to go home to Minnesota. It was relentless. And it was that wet kind of snow that just piled up in layers upon layers. Footing? Being able to make cuts while running? Forget it. I recently re-watched a DVD of that game, and one common scene was that of both teams’ equipment personnel working feverishly all game long to chisel snow off of the players’ cleats.
Those equipment folks were not above trying new methods towards aiding the players’ traction. A particular sticky substance, which name escapes me, was sprayed on the soles of the players’ shoes all game long. This measure helped very little if at all.
The scene was a winter wonderland. The sky above Lambeau Field was as white as the field. Visibility was not good. And many players could not stop, hence more than a few late hits were prevalent in this contest.
The Snow Game
Despite the disparity in the teams’ records, both the Vikings and the Packers were evenly matched. That was due primarily because Minnesota’s starting quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, had been injured early in the year, and would be out for the rest of the season.
Bob Lee would take the snaps in his place. Green Bay’s starting quarterback on this day would be David Whitehurst, a young rookie signal-caller who was certainly not used to throwing the ball in the snow, and who was certainly not used to going up against the Purple Gang. Whitehurst would get a dose of needed experience in this game, however.
The most important factor for both teams in this game was to hold on to the ball. The wet snow would certainly keep the ball slippery and grasping in in the cold weather was difficult. The Vikings fumbled the ball four times but were fortunate to reclaim two of those fumbles.
The Packers fumbled three times but could only reclaim one of those fumbles. A Minnesota fumble in the first quarter led to the game’s first score, a 3-yard bootleg scamper by David Whitehurst. Green Bay had drawn first blood, but it was not complete. Their conversion attempt failed, and in this game, one point might decide things. The Vikings countered with a lot of off-tackle runs by both Chuck Foreman and Brent McClanahan. The point of attack on those runs was the left side of the Green Bay defense.
Quite surprisingly, these runs, particularly from the second quarter to the end of the game, were successful. So much so, in fact, that Foreman lugged the slippery ball for 101 yards in the game on 26 carries. McClanahan contributed 43 more ground yards.
Despite all of these runs, it was a 2nd quarter pass which tied the game. Minnesota’s Bob Lee threw long for Sammy White, who somehow sped past the Green Bay coverage. White caught Lee’s 40-yard pass for a score. Fred Cox booted the extra point, and the Vikings had a lead that they would never lose. Two field goals by Cox in the second quarter increased the Vikings’ lead to 13-6. No more scoring would occur in the second half for either team, and the game ended in favor of the Vikes, 13-6.
In the end, the snow never relented. It seemed as if Minnesota’s overall team experience prepared them better for this snow game. Their defensive secondary was rarely fooled by Green Bay’s receivers. Even when a big Green Bay pass play occurred against them, the Minnesota defense regrouped quickly enough to take the ball back. Whitehurst would throw two telling interceptions in the second half, while his counterpart, Bob Lee, was not intercepted at all in the game.
Snow games in pro football are fun to watch and fun to play in, regardless of the year in question. The big snow game in 1977 between the Vikings and the Packers was proof of that.