Walter’s Ice Bowl book focuses on stories from the stands
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – Like the 50,000 other brave fans who endured unthinkable conditions at Lambeau Field during the 1967 NFL Championship game, otherwise known as the “Ice Bowl,” local author Tony Walter has a story.
“I was a 22-year-old college student at St. Norbert College,” Walter said. “My job that day was to work with an AP (Associated Press) cameraman and run the film to a different location in Lambeau Field. Before the game, he was already packing up because his equipment was frozen. He was going to the hotel, so I asked him, ‘What should I do?’ He didn’t care what I did. After that, I just hung out on the field – nobody cared what people did because most were in survival mode.”
We all know how that game turned out against the Dallas Cowboys on New Year’s Eve – a 21-17 Packers victory on Bart Starr’s legendary quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line with 13 seconds remaining.
Focus on the fans
What most people don’t know are the stories of the people who attended the iconic game – held in temperatures as low as 16 degrees below zero with wind chill factors as low as 56 degrees below.
Walter, a De Pere native, said he didn’t want to focus much on the game itself in his latest book, Ice Bowl: The Game That Will Never Die.
Recently, Walter held a book signing at Bosse’s News & Tobacco in downtown Green Bay to promote his latest work.
“What fascinated me was the longevity of the stories and how people were still talking about it more than 50 years later.”
Walter said once he began his research, it snowballed.
“As word got out, one person led to another person and then to the next,” he said. “It was like turning the tap on, and (the stories) kept coming. At one point, I said to myself, ‘When do I stop?’”
His latest collection is his third book on Packers’ history, following 2017’s Baptism by Football and 2020’s The Packers, My Dad, and Me.
Walter was the sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette on two separate occasions – from 1977-84 and again from 1992-95.
“I’ve used what I have for my writing – the Packers,” he said. “I’m not into writing fiction books about the team, so I’ve stuck to non-fiction.”
Walter said many of the stories in his latest book stick out to him.
“One of my favorites is about Steve Seidl and his father (Len) who brought in a coffee can full of charcoal and burned a guy’s jacket in front of him,” he laughed.
Seidl waited until halftime to light the charcoal, but apparently, he put too much lighter fluid in the can and the flames shot straight up.
His father worked out a deal with the man sitting in front of them to replace the burned jacket.
Rocky Bleier connection
“I also love the Rocky Bleier story,” Walter said. “There he was in a position to see one of the most iconic plays (Starr’s sneak) in NFL history, and he didn’t see it.”
Bleier, who graduated from Xavier High School in Appleton and went on to become a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, attended the game with his dad.
They left with a few minutes remaining because he was on crutches and knew he’d have difficulty maneuvering through the crowd after the game ended.
As they reached their car, they heard the roar of the crowd that signaled Starr’s winning touchdown.
He would see the play later on the TV highlights.
Many of the stories were funny, but some were more emotional.
“I like the one about the woman who bought the tickets for her dad while she was in high school,” Walter said. “They’d celebrate every New Year’s Eve, and when her dad died, she buried part of the goal post (from the Ice Bowl) with him.”
The frigid temperatures undoubtedly led to more lax security that day, but Walter said 55 years ago, things were much different at Lambeau Field than they are today.
“Joe Bowers, one of Rocky Bleier’s friends, walked onto the sideline at halftime and was snapping pictures of (head coach Vince) Lombardi and players using an Instamatic,” he said. “Nobody tried stopping anybody from storming the field and tearing down the goalposts. The orders came from the police, but nobody listened. Can you imagine this happening today?”
The book begins with a forward from Ice Bowl hero and former Packers halfback Chuck Mercein, who accounted for 34 of the 68 yards on the final drive of the game.
You can find Walter’s books at Bosse’s, on Amazon, at the Packers Pro Shop at Lambeau Field and at other retailers.