Freeze frame: When Dougherty band played at NFL title game

The 1962-63 Cardinal Dougherty High School marching band performed at the frigid 1962 NFL championship gamebetween the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium. The school closed in 2010.
The 1962-63 Cardinal Dougherty High School marching band performed at the frigid 1962 NFL championship gamebetween the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium. The school closed in 2010.
Posted: January 27, 2014

Like hot-dog wrappers on the windy New York Sunday they swear they'll never forget, they have scattered.

But no matter their current locale, members of Cardinal Dougherty High School's 1962-63 marching band will be watching closely next Sunday when Super Bowl XLVIII takes place in New Jersey's Meadowlands.

The last time an NFL championship was played in the wintry Northeast, the Philadelphia high school band was present, its members freezing their saxes off in the glow of Yankee Stadium bonfires.

Bands, bad weather, and what little charm the Super Bowl once possessed were sacrificed long ago in the NFL's mania for conformity and cash.

Why these marching musical ensembles yielded to acts like Bruno Mars is a matter of dispute. But there's no mystery about the bad-weather ban. The tanned hand behind that decision belonged to Pete Rozelle.

In engineering the historic 1966 NFL-AFL merger, Rozelle, a Southern California native who never warmed to New York's winters, insisted future championships be played at neutral, fair-weather sites.

That resolve was born four years earlier, when the commissioner sat through the 1962 NFL championship game, or, as those Dougherty band members have come to recall the event, the Day the Wind Tore a Door Off Our Bus.

On Sunday, Dec. 30, with temperatures in the low teens and a raw, 40-m.p.h. wind blowing steadily, Yankee Stadium was transformed into an icy hell.

Some of the 64,892 fans who, through ski masks and raised scarves, saw Green Bay beat the host Giants, 16-7, tore up wooden benches in the bleachers and set fire to them.

"I remember looking into the crowd. You couldn't see any faces," recalled Katherine Gallagher, a Dougherty drill-team member that day. "Every face was hidden behind some kind of clothing."

Down at field level, the employees of a new business venture soon to be called NFL Films were struggling to fulfill their first league contract by recording the championship game.

Ed Sabol and his crew were constantly frustrated by the bitter cold, which froze some camera mechanisms and left the film so brittle that it frequently snapped.

During breaks, they retreated to the stadium's baseball dugouts, lit fires of their own, and prayed that something of this debut effort could be salvaged.

"We knew we might get something good," Sabol recalled in 2012, "if only we could keep the lenses from freezing."

But none were as vulnerable to the cold as the 150 members of Dougherty's band, color guard, and drill team.

"Our uniforms were so tight, you couldn't even get a slip on under them," said Gallagher, 68, a retired federal court employee. "We didn't have any thermal underwear. We were so cold that when we finished our pregame performance we were all crying."

The icy chill rendered Frank Perrone's baritone euphonium and most of the other horns mute. Only a steady drumbeat kept Dougherty's marchers stepping in unison.

"All these years later I still tell people that I've never again been so cold," recalled Perrone, 67, now a Philadelphia physician. "I'm a hunter, and I've hunted in northern Minnesota in winter. Nothing was as cold as that day."

Big-time sporting events were nothing new for Dougherty's band, which had traveled to the Bronx that morning on five buses.

Led by the Rev. James Mortimer, the group would gain such a reputation that in 1966 it toured Europe, playing for Pope Paul VI and Princess Grace and winning an international competition in Austria.

Its all-boy band and color guard and all-girl drill team were regular attractions at Eagles games and Phillies home-openers. Only two years earlier, the band had appeared at Franklin Field for 1960's NFL title game, won by the Eagles.

"People used to say that we were a band with a school attached," said Mortimer, now a retired monsignor in Philadelphia.

In addition to the pregame performance at Yankee Stadium that day, Dougherty's band was scheduled for a halftime show. In the interim, its members were supposed to sit in folding chairs set up behind an end zone.

"The wind was so strong it blew them all down," recalled Gallagher, "so they took us back to the buses."

One bus provided scant comfort since a particularly potent gust had ripped a front door from its hinges. Someone from the Giants brought the frozen musicians a transistor radio to follow the game and blue blankets that they eagerly wrapped around themselves.

"Our uniforms were very military but not warm at all," Perrone said. "We put what we could underneath them but, believe me, it made very little difference."

Whatever relief the brief respite on the buses provided was quickly negated when they reentered the stadium for a halftime show that Gallagher termed "a disaster."

"Our hats were blowing off," Gallagher said. "The horns weren't making a sound. Since I couldn't twirl with them on, I wasn't wearing gloves and my hands froze to the baton. We were all either crying or numb."

Bravely, the band proceeded through its paces and scurried off the field, not fast enough apparently for Giants coach Allie Sherman, who yelled at the retreating musicians to hurry.

"I screamed something right back at him," said Perrone, "but I'd prefer not to repeat it."

When the game ended in the icy twilight, the band buses made their way back to Philadelphia.

Cardinal Dougherty, located in Olney and once the largest Catholic high school in the United States, closed in 2010. For its band, the music had died years before.

"But none of us," Gallagher said, "will ever forget that day."

Marching bands no longer perform at Super Bowls, entertainment spectacles that would have been unimaginable on that frigid afternoon in the Bronx 52 years ago.

Rozelle died at 70 in 1996. Much to his delight, all of the Super Bowls in his lifetime were played either in sunny climes or domed stadiums.

One suspects the decision to play this one in February in New Jersey had him spinning in his El Camino Cemetery grave.

That burial location is telling. Though he spent virtually all of his professional life in New York, Rozelle was interred in San Diego.

There, next Sunday and for all eternity, he will rest peacefully beneath the warm California sun.


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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