Most of us NFL types are watching Pittsburgh-San Francisco on Monday Night Football, and so far we've sat through two power failures at Candlestick Park. (My friend Laurel Whitsett says these power failures are why it's called "Candlestick.") This is not the first time strange things have happened at stadiums hosting NFL games, and I've been involved in at least a couple of those odd games myself.
First, let's discuss ice, and how you handle it. In the 1932 NFL Championship, the New York Giants hosted the Chicago Bears at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. A freezing rain fell the night before, and the field was a sheet of ice at game time. The Bears jumped out to a first half lead when one of the Giants players told coach Steve Owen they might do better in sneakers than in regular cleats. So Owen sent somebody off to get a batch of sneakers, and the Giants came out with much better second half traction and won the game, 30-13.
In the 1967 NFL Championship, the Green Bay Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys. Packers coach Vince Lombardi was very proud of a system of heating coils under the turf at Lambeau Field which would keep it soft in any weather. When the visiting Cowboys got their wakeup calls on game day, they heard, "Good morning, it's 8 a.m. and 13 degrees below zero." By game time, it had fallen to 16 below. As they took the field for warmups, some of the Cowboys pawed at the frozen turf and cursed Lombardi for turning off his heater. Truth is, though, it froze over. The "Ice Bowl," as it is known in legend, was won by the Pack 21-17. Bill Mercer, who called the game for the Cowboys radio network, said he got a cup of coffee in the press box in the first quarter, took one sip, put it down, and thirty seconds later, it was solid ice.
Not an hour after the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Colts in a 1976 playoff game at Baltimore Memorial Stadium, the few stadium workers and reporters left on the scene saw a small aircraft flying rather dangerously low. It was probably good that the Steelers had routed the colts 40-14 because the fans took off early, long before the pilot lost control of his Piper Cherokee and it crashed into the upper deck of the stadium. Nobody was hurt, and the pilot was arrested.
In 1978, when I was part of the Houston Oilers Radio Network crew, we were playing at Memorial Stadium in Cleveland, known as "The Mistake by the Lake." Late in the game, as I waited on the sideline to do the postgame locker room show, the Oilers scored a controversial touchdown in the close-up, "Dawg Pound" section of the end zone. Fans immediately started pelting the field with whiskey bottles, one of which narrowly missed me, one of which hit Oilers WR Kenny Burrough, who caught the pass. The fans were angry. The officials huddled. Instead of kicking off toward that close in end zone, the refs had the Oilers kick toward the home plate end, where a bigger gap existed. When the Browns took the ball across the 50, the teams switched sides and the game continued away from the Dawg Pound. To my knowledge, the only time something like that has happened in an NFL game.
And last February I returned to the NFL to work for the PR department at Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. During our visits to the stadium site during the week leading up to the game, I noticed workers furiously trying to install temporary seats in the large, atrium-like archways on each side of the field. They were installing the stands on giant pipe sections that looked like huge birds with very unsteady legs.
By the time we got to the stadium the day of the game, I noticed that the temporary seating areas on the side of the field facing the TV cameras were covered with black cloth, and the ones on the other side had "police" tape wrapped around them. The safety officials would not allow the seats to be used during the game, so over 1,000 ticket holders had to be seated elsewhere. Many of them wound up being seated in the section of the auxiliary press box where I was working. To say that they were upset would be putting it loosely. We got almost all of them seated. Of course, I missed most of the game.