STILLWATER — Melvin Gilliam was so cold he tried to get kicked out of the game.
Spencer Tillman was so numb he didn't feel the ball handed off to him on his touchdown.
Gene Burrus was so, um, frozen to the bleachers he heard ice crackle and break when he stood.
On a Bedlam Saturday when the weather will be as big a deal as the football, the most important prediction for this game is the forecast. Possible snowfall isn't expected until later in the day, but it's supposed to be a brisk 15 degrees with a wind chill of 4 degrees at kickoff.
But as bad as it will be Saturday in Stillwater — layers, people; layers — there is no way it will be the worst weather in Bedlam history.
Hard to be worse than Bedlam 1985.
The Ice Bowl.
“I can't believe we played the game,” said Gilliam, then a Cowboy defensive back. “I just knew they were going to cancel it.”
Tillman said, “I just remember being so numb.”
Now the lead studio analyst for CBS's College Football Today, Tillman was a junior captain and star tailback for the Sooners in 1985. He was one of Jamelle Holieway's favorite pitchmen out of the wishbone.
But that day in Stillwater was unlike any other any player experienced before or after.
A cold rain turned to sleet and ice as the evening kickoff approached. By the time the teams took the field to warm up — a term we use loosely — the turf was caked in sleet and ice.
Kickoff temperature: 27 degrees.
Wind chill: 10 degrees.
And with sleet coming down so hard that you could hear it pinging off players' helmets and temperatures dropping even further — the wind chill was minus-4 by halftime — Tillman remembers his hands growing more and more numb as the game went on. Quite a challenge in the option when the quarterback is holding the ball in the tailback's gut and trying to decide what to do while looking at oncoming defenders.
“Man, I can't feel you, so you just have to make sure you hold onto the ball,” Holieway told Tillman. “I can't feel the ball.”
“Hey,” Tillman said, “I can't feel it either.”
Gilliam wasn't feeling any part of his body as the game went on. Then an OSU freshman, he was so miserable that he stayed in the locker room when the rest of the team went back on the field for the second half. When the defense took the field, he was nowhere to be found.
A team manager found him sitting at his locker watching the game on TV.
“I'm not going back out there,” he said.
The manager insisted.
“Well, I'll just get kicked out,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam made life miserable for OU receiver Derrick Shepard.
“I was doin' all kind of terrible stuff to (him), and they would not kick me out,” Gilliam said, laughing. “When the wide receiver came out there, what I did, I just hit ‘em because they couldn't stand up. Once I hit him, he'd fall down and couldn't catch the pass.”
Players tried to scratch out a bit of traction, pawing at the frozen ground like bulls preparing to charge, but as soon as they moved off that clear-off spot, their balance was gone.
As bad as players were having it, conditions might've actually been worse for fans.
Burrus was a senior at OU in 1985, and he drove with three friends in his Ford Fiesta from Norman for the game.
They were young, they were not as smart as they are now, and they didn't have near enough clothes. They crowded into the bathroom at halftime, and like the hundreds of people in there, they tried to get their hands over a lone heater.
Now a lawyer for Microsoft in Seattle but still an OU season ticket holder, Burrus remembers standing up from the bleachers and hearing the crackle of ice.
Yes, his pants had frozen to the metal.
“But ... we drank schnapps and thought we were warm,” he said.
That game, by the way, ended with a Sooner victory, 13-0. Tillman scored the game's lone touchdown, and Tim Lashar somehow kicked two field goals.
Who knows what stories will come out of Bedlam 2013. Maybe in another three decades we'll still be talking about this game because of the wild weather. Maybe we'll call it Ice Bowl II.
But the original will always be better.
Or worse, if you were there.
* Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
FROZEN IN TIME
Memories from fans who attended the 1985 Bedlam game, which became known as the Ice Bowl:
Paul Anthony, who has bachelor's and master's degrees from OSU on what he thinks of first when remembering the Ice Bowl:
“Wondering if in dry conditions the game would have played differently. And remembering Thurman (Thomas) break free and look like he would go for a touchdown but because of the crown on the field at the time, he couldn't get traction to stop from going out of bounds.”
Dave Kroeger, OSU alum now living in Tempe, Ariz.:
“I stayed the entire game, and my 1981 Honda Civic was encased in ice. The ice on the driver's side was particularly thick, so I had to work my way into my car through the passenger's side. I remember having to wait a long time for the ice to thaw from the windshield. Ice scraper was useless for quite awhile.”
Mark Grober, who along with wife, Valerie, graduated from OSU in 1978 and now live in Muskogee:
“I guess we were young enough that it seemed like something we had to go to ... as this was going to be one of those events you just had to be able to say you were there for. We remember people freezing to their seats, thunder snow — before The Weather Channel invented it — and how funny it was to see that the players really couldn't any traction or cut. Valerie and I have been at all Bedlam games in Stillwater since 1974 and don't plan on missing Saturday's game. Besides, how many fans are going to be able to say they attended the Ice Bowl and whatever they are going to call Saturday's game?”
Mark Sparkman, who has a master's degree from OU but was attending OSU in 1985:
“My brother's friend wore jeans, penny loafers, a sweater and a Members Only jacket. Needless to say, they had to go to my dorm room at halftime and watch the second half on TV. Craziest thing was near the end of the game, men were getting hot chocolate and pouring it around women's bottoms to get them loose from the bleachers. They had sat the entire game, and the sleet had frozen them to the seats.”