I can vouch for it. I can tell you for sure that the coldest I've ever been at football games in which I was with the media happened in Tennessee -- twice. Once with a seat in a tiny press box without heat; once standing outside a press box that wasn't big enough for all the media.
Probably no one else will remember the second time, in a remote outpost (Dunlap, Sequatchie County High School), 20-something miles northwest from Chattanooga. I was probably one of two media people at the game.
How cold was it? I'll tell you more in a moment.
The first time I was that cold? Many of my Louisiana Tech friends will remember, that is if their brains have unfrozen. All I have to do is say Murfreesboro. The Grantland Rice Bowl game -- Saturday, Dec. 14, 1968.
"The most miserable day I have ever spent in my life," the Tech backfield coach that day, Mickey Slaughter, said last week when we talked about it.
|Tommy Spinks: With Terry|
Bradshaw, he burned it up
on a bitterly cold day.
First, Sequatchie County on a very cold Friday night in November, late 1990s. While I remember much of the Tech bowl game material (and looked up some), I cannot recall all that much about this Class AA playoff game I covered for the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Tried to find my story from the game, and I don't have it. Called my buddy Phil Kaplan, the sports editor at the News Sentinel, and he tried to find it on their electronic library. He read me off three dozen story titles from my time there, but couldn't find this one.
I know Dunlap was off into the southwest Tennessee woods, about two hours from Knoxville. Sequatchie County was a small school, with a tiny, antiquated stadium -- rickety bleachers -- and not much of a football tradition. And its team was not very competitive that night.
I think -- but I'm not sure -- I was covering Alcoa High (Alcoa is located near the Knoville regional airport). Alcoa easily won the game, something like 42-6.
I know it was a damn long game; it went on and on, and I wish they'd kept the clock running. Because I was freezing. It was about 20 degrees, it sleeted and snowed and the wind blew hard ... and the press box was one of those tiny ones, maybe four seats. No heat.
At least I had a seat, and the wind wasn't quite as bad up there. But I've never been able to write well wearing a glove. So to take notes, keep a play-by-play, my left (writing) hand was bare a lot of the time.
When the game mercifully ended, and I went to the field and then dressing rooms to get quotes, I couldn't help but think back to Murfreesboro 30 years earlier.
Wound up in the Sequatchie County coaches' office to write my story and use the one phone at the premises (this was before cellphones were everywhere). But I was so cold that it was 15-20 minutes before I could even start typing.
The players and coaches, their season done, were soon gone. It was just me and a school janitor in the place. As I was writing my story, he said to me, "I'm leaving. When you're done, just flip off this light and lock the door."
True story. I had the place to myself. I could have taken anything I wanted out of the Sequatchie County football facility (what there was of it).
Story done, I sent it to the office and got the heck out of the cold town of Dunlap. Haven't been back.
The 1968 Grantland Rice Bowl was a great reward for the Louisiana Tech football team -- and for me personally. By the time the regular season ended, we had an outstanding Division II team, which won its last six games and finished 8-2. There were no national playoffs in that division then, but the NCAA did have four regional bowl games for D-II. This was the Mideast regional.
I think we had one of the nation's best teams at our level. We had the nation's best quarterback at that level; that I know.
The second half of that season was when Bradshaw consistently showed more than just potential.
So Tech was selected for a nationally televised (ABC) game against the University of Akron -- Bulldogs (8-2) vs. Zips (7-2-1), first bowl game in each school's history.
Why Murfreesboro? Grantland Rice, the nation's best-known sportswriter for decades, was born in Murfreesboro and graduated from Vanderbilt University, 33 miles north, worked for the Nashville Tennessean before going to the big time. This bowl was a way to honor the great Mr. Rice.
This was the fifth year in a row the game had been played at Middle Tennessee State University's stadium -- which reminded me a lot of Louisiana Tech's old stadium (we had moved into the new stadium that season).
This was my last football game as Tech's statistician/student assistant in sports information. I didn't make all the road trips, but Paul Manasseh was the SID that year (he would move on to LSU in a few months) and got me a place on the traveling party and a seat on the plane.
So I have the late Mr. Manasseh to thank for freezing my butt off. No, I really was grateful.
On that Friday, we got off the plane in Nashville (took buses to Murfreesboro) and we knew it would be colder than Louisiana. But the weather talk was ominous -- very cold and possible sleet/snow. Heck, we got it all the next day.
Got to the stadium and it was about 20 degrees, with a strong wind -- so the wind-chill factor left it feeling like about 0 degrees. It was already sleeting, then we got snow flurries. For a bunch of Louisiana kids, this was awful.
My job that day was to be a spotter for the ABC-TV crew. No room for them in the main press box (which seated about 10 people). So there we were outside to the left of the press box -- in the elements. I can't remember what I was wearing, but I know I wore a ski cap because they showed the TV crew a few times (we saw the TV broadcast at Tech several times the next few weeks).
I was cold when the game started. It didn't get any better.
We weren't the only ones outside the press box; the Tech coaches working upstairs -- Slaughter calling plays, Pat Collins calling the defense -- sat in desk chairs. Slaughter remembered that not only was it cold, near the end of the game, a huge fight broke out among the (few) Akron fans there, right below where they were sitting.
The game was one-sided -- for three quarters. By halftime, we (Tech) had a 21-0 lead. But Akron was there for a reason, and it showed in the third quarter, when it cut the lead to 21-13.
Bradshaw had been really good in the first half. In the fourth quarter, he was great. The colder it got, the better he got. He finished off Akron, and we won 33-13.
He wound up 19-of-33 for 261 yards and ran for two touchdowns (16 and 8 yards). People forget that as great a passer as he was, he also was a strong, fearless runner.
But part of his success was because Spinks could not be covered. He caught 12 passes for 167 yards, with a 36-yarder a touchdown. Knowing Tommy, he probably could have described each of those catches years and years later.
One Bradshaw play, early in the fourth quarter, was a play for the ages. Anyone who saw it can still revel in it. He rolled out to his left, got hit by at least six Akron players and with three of them literally hanging on him -- I'm not kidding -- somehow got off a pass to Larry Brewer, our tight end, for a 6-yard touchdown.
"That play, that game is what sold NFL scouts on him," Slaughter said the other day.
The game was, pardon the pun, a warmup for Terry's pro career in Pittsburgh, where he played cold-weather games for 12 years and won most of them. (But Pittsburgh was a resort compared to where our other Woodlawn/NFL QB hero, Joe Ferguson, played -- 12 seasons in Buffalo.)
"How cold was it?" one of our offensive linemen, Jesse Carrigan wrote to me this week. "The band couldn't march at halftime because their wind instruments were frozen. And there must have been 50 people in the stadium watching the game."
Jesse also wanted me to put in here how well the offensive line -- Butch Williams, Eric Moss, John Harper, Glenn Murphy and Carrigan -- played that day. It did.
The attendance probably was around 3,000. That's a guess; there's no record of it that I could find. I can't imagine many people from the Murfreesboro attending. The NCAA noticed. The next few years, the Grantland Rice Bowl was played in Baton Rouge's Memorial Stadium.
But a few of the people in the stands that day were special to me. The Tucker family took the 3 1/2-hour drive from their home in Atlanta to come to the game. They had lived in Sunset Acres, just around the corner from us, until the year before, and I spent a great deal of time at their house -- a lot of it playing wiffle ball in their backyard. Terry, the middle of three sons, had been a freshman at La. Tech the year before and worked in sports information.
So I suggested that they come to Murfreesboro for the game and to see the half-dozen Woodlawn players that were familiar to them.
When I visited with them before the game that Saturday morning, we laughed -- sort of -- at how the weather had turned out. I apologized for the suggestion.
"Coldest I've ever been," Terry said this week. "I don't know how we made it home after that game that day."
It was a tough day, but also a great day for Louisiana Tech and its fans. And, sure as heck, a memorable day. I hope I'm never that cold at a football game -- or anywhere -- again.