We’ve all been there. Whether it was two-a-days in 90-degree heat, a game when the field was under an inch of water, or a freezing practice when you couldn’t feel your extremities, every athlete has had to deal with extreme weather conditions.
Using the weather as an excuse for poor performance is usually a big no-no (at least in front of the coach). But there are instances when Mother Nature’s forces are too strong to ignore, when the contest should be postponed or cancelled, yet both teams foolishly press on. Whether it’s whipping winds, a frozen field, devilish heat or driving rain, the elements can affect a game in a wide variety of ways.
We looked back in time to find games where the victor had to vanquish Mother Nature as well as their opponent. Here are the six worst weather games in sports history.
The Fog Bowl
December 31, 1988. Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois.
On New Year’s Eve 1988, the Philadelphia Eagles traveled to Chicago for a divisional playoff game against the Bears. Initial forecasts called for single-digit temperatures, but when game day rolled around, conditions were surprisingly mild. The game started at 12:30 p.m. under clear skies.
The Eagles offense was on the move early and often, with QB Randall Cunningham racking up 253 passing yards in the first half. However, two called-back touchdowns and a costly drop limited them on the scoreboard. As the second quarter was winding down, the Bears held a 17-9 advantage. That’s when Mother Nature showed up in the form of a thick haze that slowly began to envelop Soldier Field.
Former Eagles receiver Brian Quick told NFL Films, “Initially, I thought it was just some smoke coming over from fireworks. I didn’t really know what it was.”
When the teams came out for the second half, the entire field was shrouded in extremely dense fog. Players, coaches, fans, officials, commentators and TV crews suddenly couldn’t see a thing. There was talk of suspending the game, but the teams played on, and it made for a bizarre sight (or lack thereof). The fans couldn’t see the action, so the stadium was unnervingly quiet. Both offenses ground to a halt. Throwing the ball proved near impossible. The coaches couldn’t see how the plays they called were turning out, so they had to rely on their players for feedback. Only six points were scored in the second half, surely due to the limited visibility. The Bears won 20-12. Although it’s a painful memory for Eagles fans who believe their air attack could have bested the Bears on a brighter day, the “Fog Bowl” was an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.
Former Bears LB Mike Singletary told NFL Films, “The Fog Bowl was the coolest game I’ve ever played in in my life.”
The Air Conditioner Game
June 5, 2014. AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas.
Basketball is usually safe from the elements (unless you’re playing NBA Street, of course). Pro basketball is played in climate-controlled arenas, so the last thing players have to worry about is the weather. But when the air conditioning broke in the AT&T Center prior to halftime of Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the weather suddenly became a factor. It was only a matter of time before Texas summer heat crept onto the court. At the end of the third quarter, the Miami Heat held a 78-74 advantage over the Spurs.
The arena slowly grew hotter, and by the middle of the fourth quarter, the temperature on the court had topped 90 degrees. The sauna-like conditions proved too much for one of the best athletes in the world—LeBron James. Due to severe fluid loss, James cramped up during crunch time and couldn’t play the final minutes. With an assist from Mother Nature, the Spurs won the game and went on to win the series.
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The Ice Bowl
December 31, 1967. Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The 1967 NFL Championship Game (the precursor to the Super Bowl) pitted the Dallas Cowboys against the Green Bay Packers in a New Year ’s Eve battle. The game was set to be played at Lambeau Field, so players expected cold conditions. But nothing could prepare them for the weather that arrived on game day. The temperature was -16 degrees and the wind chill was -48. The electric wiring system beneath the field, which was intended to keep it from freezing over, had malfunctioned due to the extreme temperature. The field was an ice rink. Postponing the game was considered, but league officials decided to let it proceed as planned. Thus the “Ice Bowl” was born.
After the first play of the game, a ref blew his whistle to signal a stoppage. The metal whistle stuck to his lips, and he had to rip off a layer of skin to pry it free. From that play on, no whistles were blown in the Ice Bowl.
Former Packers RB Chuck Mercein told NFL Films, “the feeling of the air, it was like being in a meat locker.”
Former Cowboys FB Walt Garrison told ESPN that the playing surface “was like asphalt. It was harder than Chinese arithmetic.”
The poor footing and arctic air caused big problems. Both teams fell short of 200 yards of total offense, averaged well under 3 yards per carry and combined for six fumbles.
The Packers won the game on the most basic of plays, taking a 21-17 lead on a QB sneak by Bart Starr with 16 seconds remaining.
The Windiest All-Star Game Ever
July 11, 1961. Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California.
Candlestick Park is situated directly on San Francisco Bay, and it’s well known for swirling winds regularly affecting games. Such was the case in the 1961 MLB All-Star Game, a mid-summer classic that pitted two legendary rosters against each other—including Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax.
The wind at Candlestick arrived in punishing gusts and wreaked havoc throughout the contest. Simple pop-ups turned into wild goose chases while the players’ hats were blown clean off their heads. The most memorable moment came in the bottom of the 9th with the National League All-Stars clinging to a 3-2 lead. With runners on first and second and one out, as NL pitcher Stu Miller went into his delivery, an incredibly strong gust hit him in mid-motion, nearly knocking him off balance. A balk was called, allowing the runners to advance.
Don Zimmer, an infielder on the NL squad, told ESPN, “I remember him [Miller] going backward to throw a pitch and he just kept going. With the wind, Candlestick could do that to you.”
The AL took advantage of the balk and tied the game, but the NL won in extra innings.
The Bug Game
October 5, 2007. Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio.
The New York Yankees were battling the Cleveland Indians in the second game of the 2007 ALDS on a crisp, clear 84-degree night. It was a low-scoring affair. Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Bronx Bombers held a 1-0 advantage over the Tribe. Joba Chamberlain, a rookie reliever for the Yankees, was on the mound. Chamberlain had been absolutely electric in the regular season, compiling a minuscule ERA of 0.38 over 24 innings pitched.
The way the Indians were swinging their bats, things looked grim. Then something straight out of a horror movie happened. Swarms of bugs from nearby Lake Erie suddenly descended on Jacobs Field, covering everything in sight. Known as “midges,” they are usually only active during the summer, but the unseasonably warm late fall weather gave them another life cycle.
Chamberlain was soon coated with the tiny, winged insects, which made for a bizarre visual. Undoubtedly distracted, he walked three batters and threw two wild pitches to let the Indians tie the game. Of the pestering midges, Chamberlain later told ESPN, “They bugged me.”
Cleveland went on to win the game and eventually the series, thanks in part to a swarming assist of Biblical proportions.
The Monsoon Game
December 16, 1979. Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida.
With a playoff berth on the line, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to take care of business at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. This proved to be a very tough task. Not only were the Chiefs a scrappy bunch, but the game was played in monsoon conditions. The rain never stopped and the field was an absolute mud pit.
Former Bucs QB Doug Williams told NFL Films, “I’ve never seen so much rain in my life.”
In the stands, the water continuously rushed down the concrete steps like a waterfall. It’s difficult to imagine that those in attendance had a good time. Not only were they subject to a non-stop torrential downpour, but they witnessed one of the lowest scoring games in NFL history.
Neither offense could move the ball. Every step a player took was accompanied by a hearty splash. The Chiefs managed only 80 yards of total offense, and the two teams combined for a shocking seven fumbles. It was a hideous game.
At one point, Buccaneers rookie RB Jerry Eckwood broke into the open field and looked destined for the end zone. But he couldn’t manage to hold onto the slick, wet ball and dropped it to the ground—despite not being touched by an opposing player.
In the closing seconds, the Bucs were able to kick a 19-yard field goal to win this muddy mess of a game 3-0.