Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford brought the NFL into the American living room with ABC’s Monday Night Football.
Don Meredith was a Monday Night Football original — Howard Cosell’s foil, full of homespun humor with his game-ending signature call: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
But Dandy Don was also a proven quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in the 60s, one who came agonizingly close to representing the National Football League in the first two Super Bowls.
If not for some simple twists of fate, the Cowboys — and not the Green Bay Packers — might have been remembered as the original Super Bowl winners. Think about it — instead of the Vince Lombardi Trophy Super Bowl winners might instead cherish the Tom Landry Trophy. And Don Meredith, not Bart Starr, could have been a Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
In 1967, the Packers and Cowboys squared off in two nail-biting NFL Championship games played almost exactly a year apart — January 1 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and New Year’s Eve in the frigid cold of Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The 1966 NFL title game went right down to the wire before the Packers defeated the Cowboys, 34-27. Trailing 34-20, Meredith hit Frank Clarke on a 68-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left to bring Dallas close.
The Cowboys then stopped Green Bay and drove as far as the Packers two-yard line late in the game before Meredith, under heavy pressure and looking for Bob Hayes, was intercepted in the end zone by Packer defensive back Tom Brown.
The Packers advanced to the very first Super Bowl, where they defeated the American Football League representative, the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.
The Ice Bowl
Some 364 days later, the Cowboys and Packers met once again for the NFL Championship ion the coldest New Year’s Eve in the history of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The official game-time temperature at the Ice Bowl in Green Bay was −13°F, with a wind chill around −48°F.
It was so cold that the officials were unable to use their whistles after the opening kick-off. As the referee blew his metal whistle to signal the start of play, it froze to his lips. For the rest of the game, the officials used voice commands and calls to end plays and officiate the game.
At one point during the game, announcer Frank Gifford, who years later would hook up with Meredith and Cosell in the ABC booth, said, “I’m going to take a bite of my coffee.”
That day the Packers jumped out to a 14-0 advantage, but the Cowboys rallied to take a 17-14 lead on a 50-yard option pass from halfback Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel on the first play of the fourth quarter.
With less than five minutes remaining, Green Bay embarked on a 68-yard drive that ended when Starr sneaked into the end zone from a yard out with just 16 seconds remaining for a 21-17 win the gave the Packers their third straight NFL championship.
Super Bowl II was all Green Bay as the Packers smothered the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. For the Cowboys, defeat was devastating.
Meredith, drafted out of Southern Methodist University by the Chicago Bears and then traded to expansionist Dallas Cowboys for future draft picks in 1960. A three-time Pro Bowler, Dandy Don finished with 135 touchdown passes in this career, and retired following the 1968 season, never having made it to the Super Bowl.