Editor’s note: The following story was made possible by Wayne Bisek, who organizes Buckets for Hunger, a fundraiser to help fight hunger. At the end of this story are details on how to buy tickets for this month’s “The Ice Bowl Cometh,” an event featuring about a dozen players who were part of the legendary Ice Bowl.
The championships and the glory are part of Ken Bowman’s life. But they don’t define him.
Bowman was an eighth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1964. In 1965, 1966 and 1967, Bowman was the starting center for the Packers’ famed championship three-peat. Largely ignored by history was Bowman’s role in Bart Starr’s famed quarterback sneak that beat the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl.
Bowman, who played for the Packers through the 1973 season, got his law degree from Wisconsin in 1971. He was a partner in a major Green Bay law firm before moving to Arizona, where he served as a public defender until he retired in 2004. Even in retirement, he serves as a reserve judge.
During his free time, Bowman, 66, runs, plays golf and tried to stay in shape.
“You can do just about anything you want to down here,” he said on Friday, two days before a snowstorm hit parts of Wisconsin. “It isn’t quite like it is up there in Wisconsin. Winter is pretty nice here.”
Here is the rest of my conversation with the 1981 Packers Hall of Fame inductee.
Do you get asked about the Ice Bowl much?
I used to, but not as much any longer.
I remember reading a year or so ago that you were irritated that you didn’t get the credit you felt you deserved for the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl.
I wasn’t irritated. It was a double team. ‘31 Wedge’ is a double team. It was 41 years ago, so it’s really not that important to me. However, (laughs), if somebody comes along and claims that I had nothing to do with it or very little to do with it, it was a double team. Jethro Pugh will even admit that I got into his ribcage and pushed him into the end zone.
I thought Jerry (Kramer) had hit him and stood him up. I talked to him years later, and he said, ‘No, they were pass rushing.’ I think they had figured we were going to try one short pass, and if it was not open, Bart was going to throw it high and we would kick a field goal and we would play on into the overtime. So, I talked to Jethro about 10 years ago, and he said he was pass rushing and that’s why he was so high. I got into his rib cage and pushed him into the end zone.
My good friend Jerry Kramer in several of his books has indicated that it was his block. The play was over once he hit Pugh. I don’t know how he justifies it. He’s had this ‘I’ problem since he’s left. You know, ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’. There’s no ‘I’ in team and there’s no ‘I’ in double team. It was a double team.
Am I upset about it? No.
You played for much of your career with a shoulder injury, right?
Yes. It was chained to my side so I couldn’t raise my shoulder up over my head or anything like that.
How did you do it? I can’t imagine playing football that way.
Well, it was my left shoulder and I’m right-handed, so I did an awful lot with my right hand. Back then, you couldn’t get your hands out in front of you or anything, but if you were quick enough, you could get out and pop the other guy and hit him pretty good and try to engage him again. Make him come to you. But you had to stop him the first time. I ended up doing an awful lot with my right hand.
In 1968, when Phil Bengtson was coach, I broke my right thumb and I had to play more with my left hand. There was a photo by Vern Biever that shows my left hand just eaten to bits. The knuckles are almost all bare. It shows the cast on my thumb, between that bone from your wrist on up to the first digit. That’s where it busted. I couldn’t really hit anybody with it. I tried, but my hand would get all swelled up. But, you know, you adapt. That’s what playing football is all about, especially at that level.
After winning three championships in your first four seasons, how did you handle the lack of success that followed?
It was a little disheartening. It’s hard when you lose that much. The only bit of honor that you can grab onto is at the end of the game, if you walked off the field and you just felt you didn’t have any more. You gave it everything you had. I guess I didn’t get down or anything like that because I always felt like I spent it all out there on the field. I didn’t have a whole lot left when I walked up that tunnel at the end of the game. The tank was on empty. As long as the tank’s on empty, you can’t do much more. If that wasn’t good enough, I guess you’re going to have to fight again another day.
Do you think about your career much, or is that just a small part of a successful and wide-ranging life?
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think about it, especially during football season and you’re sitting there watching. Every once in a while, we’re fortunate enough to get the Packers down here on television.
A lot of your former teammates speak of the influence that Coach Lombardi had on their lives. Can you talk about that?
It’s funny. Somebody brought up, and it’s true, that you have never heard of anybody that Coach Lombardi coached being a problem, either getting in trouble with the law or being a problem. He instilled in his players some degree of self-discipline. He always used to say that good men strive for discipline, they want discipline, they want to be basically whipped into shape and whipped into a well-oiled machine. He had his upbringing at Army under Red Blaik, and I think that’s where he got a lot of his coaching ideas. Those cadets at Army, there, if you make a mistake, you could be dead. I think he took to heart a lot of that and brought it to his coaching in the pros. There’s a reason why the Super Bowl trophy is named the way it is.
I think he instilled into all of his players that it’s the striving to excel, to be the best that you can be, that is the important thing. He had a speech one time that he said, ‘Gentlemen, if you’ve ever thought about it, the quality of a man’s life is directly proportionate to his commitment to excellence.’ Think about that. That has got nothing to do with football. Those lessons carry on, and they stay with you, no matter what your field of endeavor.
The Ice Bowl Cometh
Buckets for Hunger Inc. is offering Green Bay Packers fans a chance of a lifetime. On Thursday, April 16, at the Marriott West in Middleton, Wis., the Madison-based hunger relief organization — which has raised $1.1 million since 1995 — is bringing in five Packers who starred in the famous Ice Bowl, the NFL championship game played at Lambeau Field on Dec. 31, 1967. Four of the Dallas Cowboys stars from that game also will be there.
Tickets for “The Ice Bowl Cometh” are $150 per seat or a table of eight for $1,000. They are available at BucketsForHunger.com or by calling 1-888-351-9154. The Packers scheduled to attend are Donny Anderson, Dave Robinson, Ken Bowman, Jerry Kramer and Boyd Dowler. The Cowboys are Mel Renfro, Don Perkins, Cornell Green and Jethro Pugh. Packers legend, NFL Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung will be the master of ceremonies. The event, which will include silent and live auction items, raffles and plenty of great conversation, promises to be extremely entertaining. All proceeds will go to fight hunger.
For more information, send an e-mail to Wayne Bisek at email@example.com or call the number above.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport