Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, right, was honored along with Ken Anderson and the 1982 Freezer Bowl team before the NFL playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium.
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Unlike some of his more robust teammates at Sunday’s ‘Freezer Bowl’ reunion, James Brooks appears smaller than in his playing days. Ever the epitome of sartorial splendor, J.B. wasn’t the only one who appeared too diminutive to have been a force on the field. Archie and Ray Griffin for instance and Robert Jackson are not large men in the context of today’s NFL players, but they, and James always played with a ferocity that belied their size. Which made Brooks’ observation most telling in the aftermath of the Bengals season ending loss to the Chargers. Brooks was among the survivors of the 1982 AFC Championship game that propelled Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl appearance, though he did so in a San Diego uniform. And was as usual, one of the least voluble among those assembled in a luxury suite. “This team talked all year about having a lot of heart. I didn’t see much of that today”, he observed ruefully. With a final “I just don’t know” shrug of the shoulders”, he trudged off to another off season of what if. What had begun as an uplifting revalidation of their good old days, morphed into an All Pro roster of long faces. But not before one collective on field grin in recognition of their achievement 32 years ago. The aforementioned four were joined by Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson, Cris Collinsworth, Glen Bujnoch, Dave Lapham, Pete Johnson, David Verser, M.L. Harris and Jim Breech. Representing the defense, Mike St. Clair, Tom Dinkel, Lou Breeden, John Simmons and Rick Razzano, all who still reside in the Cincinnati area. And all eager to recount their version of the game that forged their legend. Mark Twain said it: “The older I get, the farther I could swim as a boy”. But there was nothing contrived about what these guys accomplished, embodying a Forrest Gregg infused intensity, sorely lacking from their stripe helmeted descendants when it mattered most. Unlike January 10th of 1982, their collective mood withered with the weather over the last 30 minutes of the playoff rematch. Kenny Anderson, fighting the onset of a cold observed “how many moving parts have to function perfectly at the precise moment” for a team to get to the playoffs. And how that many more have to mesh to move on. As the tide turned irrevocably, and they faced a 10 hour drive to their home in Hilton Head; he and his wife peeled off, somewhat downcast but clearly buoyed by the experience of seeing guys he’d shared so much with so long ago. An exercise in will that is the biggest reason the Boys of the Winter of 1981 will always occupy a particularly warm spot in the memories of thousands of Bengals fans everywhere.