Paul Stewart, Buccaneers Review , published 2008|
Whenever the Buccaneer schedule is announced, the first thing any player, coach, official or fan does, it check the road games and the timing of any potential cold weather games. Like in 2006 when the Bucs found themselves playing consecutive road games in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cleveland as December rolled around.
And it was the same back in 1985 when the NFL schedule makers sent the Bucs into Green Bay on December 1st. The Leeman Bennett-led team knew the weather was likely to be cold and difficult, but no-one expected the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to be buried under a snowstorm more familiar at the North Pole.
The 1985 Buccaneers were not a good team by any stretch of the imagination. Future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon had played his last game, although he was on Injured Reserve at the time and still hopeful of a return. And finding themselves at 0-10 and then 1-11, coach Bennett made the switch from veteran Steve DeBerg to newcomer Steve Young at quarterback.
Young had joined the Bucs in September when the USFL folded and in Week 12, became the first Buccaneer quarterback ever to win his first start for the franchise, when he led Tampa Bay to a 19-16 overtime win over the Detroit Lions.
The weather conditions
Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before the game, a foot was expected on the day and two more feet of snow anticipated over the following 36 hours. Channel 7 WSAW-TV Wisconsin issued severe weather warnings during the game – “Travel should only be attempted if absolutely necessary”.
The field was totally white with only a token attempt to keep some of the lines visible between plays. The official attendance at Lambeau was 19,856 with no less than 36,586 no-shows, most of whom were totally unable to get to the stadium on the day of the game.
An NFL game sideline is normally full of photographers and extras. This one just had a few guys with shovels and brooms and two tractors with plough fittings behind the Buccaneer bench. The Packer cheerleaders were out there in the beginning doing their best to perform but even they soon gave up and retired inside.
The Packers were of course more used to the conditions than most. A year before, they had played a memorable Monday Night game in Denver in which QB Lynn Dickey threw for 370 yards and WR James Lofton had 11 receptions for 206 yards in the snow. But that was without the 25mph wind blowing down the field that Lambeau was experiencing.
The Packers were in their traditional green jerseys so the Bucs had their road colours, all white. “The Bucs are blending into the white background like camouflage” was one suitable comment from the CBS team calling the game.
The Bucs had been full of the usual pre-game confidence before taking the field. “We know all about the weather but we are not going to be intimidated,” said former DT David Logan. “The Packers are expecting us to be a warm weather team coming in to the ice box and not being ready to play. But that’s going to work to our benefit – we ARE going to be ready to play.”
The tone for the action was set from the start when the Bucs won the toss and elected to stay in the locker room. There were two huddles going on before each play. One on the field, and the other on the sideline as Tampa Bay players fought to be closest to the heater.
The Buccaneer offense that day was a series of screen and flare passes from Young to star RB James Wilder, none of which really worked. And when they did try and go downfield, the elements conspired against them.
Young threw one out pass that sailed on the wind and flew over the receiver's head. He tried again on the next play and the wind knocked it down to fall incomplete five yards from Kevin House's feet. Backs and linemen were slipping all over the place unless they had a Packer helmet on, in which case they seemed to be playing on perfect grass.
Dickey was playing like it was 70 degrees and perfect sunshine. He threw for 299 yards and James Lofton was over 100 yards by the second quarter. His arm was every bit as good as Brett Favre who would follow him behind center in Wisconsin a decade later, and this was one of the games in which he proved it.
The Packers scored three times in all on the ground and racked up over 500 yards in total offense. The Bucs had just 65 and only threatened to score once when they forced a turnover deep in Green Bay territory.
But even that came to nothing as time expired in the third quarter whilst K Donald Igwebuike and QB Alan Risher were trying to clear the snow to attempt the kick. After changing ends, the kick was now straight into the teeth of the wind and never came close to making it from as little as 33 yards.
This was a day for the CBS team to really go to town on their analysis of the game. It began when Frank Garcia’s first punt went straight over the head of Packers’ WR Philip Epps who never saw it. “Downed at either the 20 or 25-yard line” was the description.
And it went on from there. The Bucs were penalised for lining up in the neutral zone just before the first Packer touchdown. “How would the officials even know?”
When they switched to the traditional endzone shot for an extra point or fieldgoal attempt, you had absolutely no idea watching if it was good or not. “The radar tells us it’s good.”
And then came the immortal one of the day. “The receiver was well covered.” “Yes, in snow.”
The Bucs did get out of Wisconsin on a flight that evening but several of the players had staged a protest convinced it was not safe to fly. Eventually the pilot had to come out of the cockpit to convince them that he had a wife and family and wouldn't put them at risk by taking off in dangerous conditions. "Show us the pictures" LB Scot Brantley remembers calling out. "You could hear a pin drop when we rolled down the runway" he added.
The 1985 Buccaneers went on to lose their final three games that season and finished the year at 2-14, the worst record in the NFL. They probably would have lost if conditions had been perfect but at least this way, everyone got to remember a trip to Green Bay for something very special.