Ice Bowl memories strong for families, too

Bart Starr convinced Vince Lombardi that a keeper was the way to go on the Ice Bowl's winning play. AP Photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The game -- the play, really -- became synonymous with Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and the rest of the Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers.

For most of their post-playing lives, everywhere they went, the first thing people brought up was the Ice Bowl. Starr's 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the final seconds, Kramer's goal-line block and, of course, the bitter-cold weather.

Forty-seven years after 1967 NFL Championship victory over the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 at Lambeau Field, it remains an indelible moment in team and league history and in the participants' lives.

Some of those stories and pictures will be regurgitated this week given that the Packers and Cowboys will play their first playoff game in Green Bay since that New Year's Eve 1967 game.

But what about the families?

This is their story, and their connection to the Ice Bowl.

Bart Starr Jr. had just turned 10 years old. He was in the stands sitting with the two sons of backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski on that minus-13 degree day.

"Unfortunately we were sitting in the wrong part of the stadium to watch my dad's quarterback sneak,” Bart Jr. said in a phone interview this week. "That was in the South end zone, and we were way up in the North end.

"There was 16 seconds to go, and we knew it was doubtful that they could get off another play if that one wasn't successful. Today, would a team throw it, knowing they would get at least two shots at it? Back then teams ran the ball inside the 10-yard line. The way they lined up, it looked as though we would probably run the ball. Our visibility was terrible. We were watching the action, but we were also watching the fans' reaction down there because we figured that might give us a clue to whether we scored or not."

That Bart Jr. was still in the stands for the game's end was unusual.

"A lot of us took our children home at halftime," said Barbara Knippel, who was married to Jerry Kramer at the time. "Most of us had another one at home. That was Dan for me. He was only 3, so he was at home with a babysitter, and we all took the older ones home because of the cold. My oldest son, Tony, did have frostbite on the cheeks, and then all of us, the wives, went back."

At the time, none of them had any idea what this game would become in football lore.

"I think [the players] were just caught up in the moment," said Bart Jr., who after the game made his way to the locker room, where he recalled seeing little jubilation. "They were going for their third consecutive NFL championship, and that delivered it, and then their second consecutive Super Bowl. Playing for three NFL championships in a row would have carried enough significance that they wouldn't be thinking about how this game would be looked at years from now."

And after the game, it was like any other postgame evening.

"We didn't go home ever after games,” said Kramer's ex-wife, Barbara. "We always went out with each other, a group of us. It was Fuzzy Thurston, Jimmy Taylor, Henry Jordan, Bob Skoronski, Forrest Gregg and the wives. I don't remember where we went that night, but it was nothing different. All we were doing was celebrating that we had won."

For Daniel Kramer, that 3-year-old kid at the time, his indoctrination into the Ice Bowl came years later.

"I had no clue about this," he recalled. "In fourth grade, my teacher at Kennedy Elementary [in Green Bay], Mr. Gross, made me aware of it by singling me out and making me one of his favorite students, and I just rolled with it."

Alicia Kramer, Jerry's daughter from his second marriage, wouldn't be born until 5 years after the Ice Bowl. She never saw her father play in the NFL, yet the Ice Bowl is part of her life, too.

"I hear a lot of men tell me they wore No. 64 in college or high school or pee-wee football because, 'I wanted to be like Jerry Kramer in the Ice Bowl,'" she said. "That's really what I hear most about. And if I'm talking to Cowboys fans, it's about how dad started off early on his block."

Of this group, only Bart Jr. will attend Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. He wishes his dad could make it, but he says the recovery has been slow from the multiple strokes and heart attack Bart Sr., who turns 81 on Friday, sustained last fall.

Barbara, 78, still lives in Green Bay and has remarried. She has six season tickets but usually gives them away. She's been to hundreds of games, but one, the Ice Bowl, always seems to come up in conversation.

"It's just shocking sometimes that it's still so popular around town," she said. "There's pictures of it everywhere. I go into a restaurant, and I see a picture of it on the wall. Somebody once said, it must be odd that everywhere you go, you see your ex-husband's picture."

Said Daniel Kramer: "The Ice Bowl, it's always there."