Drama was happening around him as Tony Walter stood on the sidelines during the Ice Bowl. On the field, of course, where the Green Bay Packers played the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL Championship, but also at Lambeau Field’s Frigid Metal Bleachers, where 50,000 individual stories were getting new, unforgettable chapters.
Walter’s new book, “The Ice Bowl: The Game That Will Never Die,” features a number of experiences compiled by celebrities such as Chuck Mersin and Rocky Blair, including Ed Wonderloop, Joe Bowers and Joan Hannave. You may never have heard, but whose stories are at the heart of the book.
This is Walter’s third book on the history of the Packers after 2017’s “Football Baptism” and 2020’s “The Packers, My Dad and Me”.
Apparently, things will end one day for Walter to write about the inclusion of Green Bay Packers, but don’t believe it. His family history is inextricably linked with the Packers.
Walter’s character is a book in itself. It belongs to several major families in the history of Green Bay, including the Hagemesters, Minahans and Torinus. Family members helped run the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Appleton Post-Crescent. His mother was an editorial writer for the Green Bay Paper. His father was a sports editor for the Press-Gazette and a friend of Packers veterans such as Don Hutson, Verne Levelen and Clark Hinkel. At one point in his long career as a journalist, he was also a sports editor.
And he was one of those people who was actually in the Ice Bowl. A 22-year-old St. Norbert College student, his job was filming everything from an annoying AP photographer on the field to a photo room in the stadium. Needless to say, the camera and cameraman were frozen by the time the game started, he was out of work quickly. Like many others who had less business on the field than Walter because of the cold, he leaned to the side and watched the game.
Like his other books, Walter weaves a detailed history around the personal stories of Green Bay and its subjects. He always finds facts that are equally informative, contextual and interesting. Green Bay, for example, had 35 parks and 62 churches in 1967, less than its 193 establishments with liquor licenses.
Walter spends most of his time playing. Other books – like many others – do, and for this volume, former Packers halfback Chuck Mersin’s first-person account in Forward does an efficient job.
The context is important for the veteran reporter in Walter.
“My starting theme was the day that established the identity of Green Bay. I wasn’t interested in finding people to tell me I was cold. I knew it. Or the Packers won. I knew it.
“That was when the game happened. What was going on in the world? A lot was changing, be it civil rights, be it music, it was a very, very divisive war,” Walter said. From the cultural upheaval “came this ridiculously cold game. It became a distraction”.
And indeed, Walter did not confine his gameplay stories to Lambeau Field. He spoke with U.S. military veterans who watched the game while on guard duty on a bridge in Vietnam, a Peace Corps volunteer in Argentina, and a de Pere resident who thought it would be a good day to go skiing in northern Michigan. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
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Writing a book about an event 55 years ago was a challenge. Even Walter questioned some of his memories of the game. I don’t remember how cold it must have been that day.
“I drove my brain crazy. Do I remember anything else? I remember how irritated the Associated Press photographer was,” Walter said. “I don’t really remember people pulling down the goalposts. I was ready to get out of there. I went straight to the car. It’s kind of unrealistic.”
For the point of view, 1912 was 55 years before 1967. The Titanic sank that year, World War I had not yet taken place, and the Packers were seven years away from their first game.
An important part of the Ice Bowl story is the conversion and transformation of the Lambeau Field Goal Posts into memorabilia. Kane and Ed Wonderloop, brothers selling beer at Lambeau, got a large piece of round post with their names written on it, then lost it. One of the few small-world events that Packers fans are well aware of, 40 years later, Ed Wonderloop got a valuable piece in the hands of a fan in another football game away from Green Bay.
One thing the reader will notice throughout the book is the lax security at Lambou Field in 1967. Anyone who has been to the modern Lambeau field knows that safety is nothing but procrastination. In the Ice Bowl, however, there are plenty of stories where people peek into the game, fans stand side by side or with players and no one is challenged, and many fans bring liquor and sterno cans (real and homemade). Stadium for warmth.
Often, one thing leads to another. Walter’s college friend Chuck McKee suggested he contact Joe Bowers, who bluntly stepped aside and take photos of the player’s most obvious ice bowl with coach Vince Lombardy and his instagram. Bowers was a longtime friend of Rocky Blair, chasing the former Pittsburgh Steelers who grew up in Appleton and was one of Walter’s happiest interviews.
“The clearest part of it was how one thing or one person would connect me to another,” he said.
Walter consulted with about 70 people to compile his book, and he credits De Pere’s PJ Vidani for contributing to the research. Vidani himself is a dedicated collector of Ice Bowl stories.
Among them, he believes that he was able to distinguish poses from those in the game.
The book is available on Amazon and will soon be available at Packers Pro Shop in Lambeau Field and Boss News & Tobacco and Lions Mouth Bookstore, both Downtown Green Bay and other retailers.
One of Walter’s favorite stories of the day was Steve Siddle and his father, Lane, accidentally melting another fan coat while trying to warm himself with a can of charcoal coffee and a mild liquid. Another was Blair, who was in the game with two of the most iconic plays in NFL history: Bart Star’s Round Line Sneak and Steelers Immaculate Reception. There are no spoilers. You have to read the book.
Contact Richard Rayman at (920) 431-8342 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter here RichRymanPG, @rrymanPG on Instagram or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/.