Documentary examines Ice Bowl's impact from both sides
GREEN BAY – There was a losing team in the Ice Bowl, too.
A new NFL Films documentary, "The Timeline: The Ice Bowl," by Michael Meredith, looks at the 1967 NFL Championship game from a more Dallas-centric view than usual, though it does not shortchange the Packers.
The hour-long documentary will premiere Thursday at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Ashwaubenon, during a Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame 50th anniversary celebration of the Ice Bowl. Its first broadcast will be Friday at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.
Meredith, the son of late Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, counts many of the surviving Packers, whom he had not met until doing the film, as new friends; but the film also looks at how the game affected his family and the Cowboys.
The game elevated the already-successful Packers into legends and, Meredith argues, focused the Cowboys, who dominated their conference and went to Super Bowls after the 1970 and '71 seasons. But they did it without Don Meredith, who played more one year after the Ice Bowl, leading the Cowboys to a 12-2 record before retiring at the age of 31.
The documentary reveals that losing back-to-back championship games to the Packers weighed heavily on Meredith, who was more serious about football than his folksy image sometimes made it appear.
"I hope people can empathize a bit and understand what he went through and how hard he tried," Michael Meredith said. "I also hope it puts a spotlight on Jerry Kramer. I don't want to jinx anything, but that would be a perfect end to this journey."
After many years of being overlooked, the former Packers guard is a senior finalist for induction in February into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The film opens with Meredith's mother, Cheryl King, and Starr's wife, Cherry, talking about how the Ice Bowl changed their lives, but with very different meanings.
"It just changed our lives and provided us with a great life," Cherry Starr said.
Meanwhile, King believes, "My whole life would have been different. Your dad's life would have been different. Not only did it break my heart, it wounded my soul. You don't ever get over something like that."
Michael Meredith was fortunate enough to meet and interview Starr before the Hall of Fame quarterback suffered a series of strokes. He hopes to go to Starr's home in Birmingham, Alabama, next week to show him the finished film in person.
"I started this in July 2013 by calling up Mr. Bart Starr out of the blue," Meredith said. "Of course he was incredibly gracious."
The long list of interviewees includes Packers players Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Donny Anderson and Boyd Dowler; Cowboys players Mel Renfro, Rayfield Wright, Walt Garrison and Lance Rentzel, actor Willem Dafoe, and many others.
Meredith found himself working against time.
"Over a dozen folks passed away since I started this," he said.
Don Meredith never talked much about the Ice Bowl. He had a successful post-football career as a color commentator on "Monday Night Football," and as an actor.
Michael Meredith related two instances, beyond winning the Ice Bowl, where history could have been much different.
"One of the big shockers to me was how much respect Vince (Lombardi) and my dad had for each other. Vince made an offer to the Cowboys to trade for my dad in the early 1960s," he said. "I think it was a pretty sweet offer. I would have been born in Green Bay."
Later, when Don Meredith was an actor, he told his agent he wanted no roles that cast him as a football player and stuck to that when he was offered a TV role as a former football player who owned a bar. Instead, they changed the character to a former baseball player and cast Ted Danson in the role of "Cheers" owner Sam Malone.
Michael Meredith directed Danson in the movie "The Open Road" in 2009.
"Ted told me every lunch was on him," Meredith said.
Michael Meredith is a director and screenwriter. He has directed two full-length movies, a couple of shorts and some documentaries. His movies have included actors Peter Falk, Jeff Bridges, Justin Timberlake, Kate Mara and Harry Dean Stanton. He's working on a documentary on the founding of the Cowboys.
It is often forgotten that the team was only 7 years old when it lost its first championship game to the Packers on Jan. 1, 1967, at the Cotton Bowl. Meredith was arguably its first player, having been signed to a personal service contract by the Cowboys owner before the franchise had been awarded, even though he had been drafted by the Chicago Bears.
The Ice Bowl wasn't all bad for Meredith. His son said his "Monday Night Football" role, for which Michael said he was well suited, evolved from his postgame interview with Frank Gifford.
"He had an improvisational style. He was a much more intelligent guy than his image," he said.