In NFL lore, the Freezer Bowl (January 10, 1982) was the 1981 AFC Championship Game between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The game, won by the Bengals, 27–7, was played in the coldest temperature in NFL history in terms of wind chill. (The coldest in terms of air temperature was the Ice Bowl.) Air temperature was −9 °F (−23 °C), but the wind chill, factoring in a sustained wind of 27 miles per hour (43 km/h), was −37 °F or −38 °C (calculated as −59 °F or −51 °C using the now outdated wind chill formula in place at the time). The game was played at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, and televised by NBC with announcers Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen.
Despite the Bengals' dominating 40–17 win over the Chargers during the season, their meeting in the championship was expected to be a very thrilling and hard fought game. The Chargers' offense featured three future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: quarterback Dan Fouts, receiver Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow. San Diego also had two superb running backs, Chuck Muncie, who led the NFL with 19 touchdowns, and multi-talented rookie James Brooks, who finished the season with 2,093 all-purpose yards. Cincinnati also had several stars on offense. Quarterback Ken Anderson was the top rated passer in the NFL, and had won both the NFL Most Valuable Player Award and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Tight end Dan Ross, running back Pete Johnson, and rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth were widely considered to be among the best players in the NFL at their positions. The Bengals offensive line featured future Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Muñoz, who was selected by NFL coaches as the NFL Lineman of the Year Award winner during the season. 
Both teams were coming off extremely narrow wins in the divisional playoffs. A week earlier, the Bengals won their first ever playoff game by defeating the Buffalo Bills 28-21 after forcing Buffalo to turn the ball over on downs during their final drive. Meanwhile the Chargers narrowly defeated the Miami Dolphins in overtime 41-38, in a game that set playoff records for most points scored in a playoff game (79), the most total yards by both teams (1,036), and most passing yards by both teams (809). That game, which became known as "The Epic In Miami", was played in the heat and humidity of Miami, and the Chargers found themselves dealing with nearly the exact opposite conditions in the AFC title game. Before the Chargers took the field, Running back/Special teamer Hank Bauer tested the field conditions. Bauer recalled: "when I came out of that tunnel... man, it (the wind) just hit you-like somebody threw 100 knives at you." When he returned to the locker room, he told his teammates: "Whatever you got on, take it off. Number one-you won't be able to move (with all the layers) and number two-it ain't gonna help."
The Bengals offensive line played the entire game with bare arms. A number of them played with bare hands as well. They placed hot water bottles inside their cups (athletic supporters) and between plays they walked around with their hands in their pants which many people found amusing. It was so cold icicles started to form on Fouts' beard early in the game.
Within one week, the Chargers went from playing an overtime game in Miami in 88 degree, high humidity weather to playing in the -37 wind chill in Cincinnati, an effective difference of 125 degrees.
The game was one of the few in NFL history in which the same team kicked off to begin both halves. Cincinnati won the toss and instead of receiving, elected to have the brutally cold wind at their backs to start the game, believing it would neutralize San Diego's passing game and help the Bengals to build an early lead. The strategy paid off as Cincinnati built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. San Diego would score their only touchdown in the second, but gave up another score to the Bengals and trailed 17-7 at halftime. Accordingly, San Diego used its option at the beginning of the second half to receive the kickoff, resulting in Cincinnati kicking off to begin both halves—and in the same direction both times, using their second half option to again begin the half with the wind at their backs.
Cincinnati scored first with a 31-yard field goal from kicker Jim Breech. Then James Brooks lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and the Bengals scored a touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Anderson to tight end M. L. Harris, increasing their lead to 10-0. In the second quarter, the Chargers cut their deficit to 10-7 with Fouts' 33-yard touchdown pass to Winslow. But on the Chargers next drive, Fouts was intercepted by Bengals defensive back Louis Breeden. Breeden's interception set up another Bengals touchdown on Johnson's one-yard run, giving them a 17-7 lead. The Bengals completely took over the game from that point on. Breech kicked another field goal in the third quarter to increase the lead to 20-7. Then in final period, Anderson put the game away with a three-yard touchdown pass to receiver Don Bass. The Bengals won the game 27-7 and advanced to the first Super Bowl in franchise history (Super Bowl XVI).
Fouts completed 15 of 28 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. Muncie was the top rusher of the game with 94 yards. Anderson completed 14 of 22 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, and rushed for 39 yards. Johnson rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown, while also catching a pass for 14 yards.
As a sidenote, Cincinnati head coach Forrest Gregg had already participated in one of the coldest games in NFL history prior to this one. When he was a player for the Green Bay Packers in 1967, Gregg played in the famous NFL championship game against the Dallas Cowboys that became known as the Ice Bowl. Another sidenote is that Brooks, whose fumble helped the Bengals win the game, would later go on to help the Bengals get to Super Bowl XXIII in the 1988 season, this time not as an opponent, but as a player for the team. After spending two more seasons with the Chargers, Brooks was traded to the Bengals in exchange for Pete Johnson, and remained on the team until 1991. Brooks made the Pro Bowl four times with the Bengals (1986, 1988–1990) and left Cincinnati as the team's all time leading rusher (Jim).
Scoring summary 
- CIN - FG Breech 31
- CIN - Harris 8 pass from Anderson (Breech kick)
- SD - Winslow 33 pass from Fouts (Benirschke kick)
- CIN - Johnson 1 run (Breech kick)
- CIN - FG Breech 38
- CIN - Bass 3 pass from Anderson (Breech kick)
See also