November 21, 2012The game of football is nearly as synonymous with Thanksgiving Day as turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Indeed, watching the annual Thanksgiving Day football game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers was once a tradition for families gathering for the holiday.
The most memorable of those Thanksgiving games came on November 22, 1962, when Coach Vince Lombardi brought his undefeated (10-0) Packers into the old Tiger Stadium for a battle royale.
Featuring stars like Bart Starr, Paul Horning, Jim Taylor and Jerry Kramer, the much-feared Packers had been NFL champions in 1961, and were looking to repeat.
But the '62 Lions had other plans, and that was to knock the Packers off their lofty pedestal at the top of league standings.
Led by a strong defense, AKA the "Fearsome Foursome," Lion greats Roger Brown, Joe Schmidt, Alex Karras, Darris McCord, Sam Williams and Dick 'Night Train' Lane put a stranglehold on the Packers' vaunted offense that day, resulting in a startling 26-14 upset of the reigning NFL champs.
As a U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate, Ernie Mrozek earned his chance to pose at the South Pole.
And another game
While the Motor City was celebrating the big win, there was another football game being played on Thanksgiving Day of 1962.
Thousands of miles away at the South Pole, a hardy group of scientists and U.S. Navy Seabees braved blustery winds and temperatures of 33 degrees below zero to play football in the first-ever "Pole Bowl" game.
The weather-shortened contest was won 6-0 by the Seabees, when one of their players managed to cross the goal line late in the fourth quarter.
There to record the historic event on film was Ernie Mrozek, a native Detroiter who currently resides in Attica.
Now 70, Mrozek was a Photographer's Mate 2nd Class with the Navy from 1961-1965.
Having had some experience with a camera, Mrozek recalls raising his hand when a superior asked for a volunteer to take photos at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
McMurdo is a U.S. research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island, operated by the United States through the U.S. Antarctic Research Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation.
"I had been an electrician with the MCB8 (mobile construction battalion 8) and we got orders that we were going to Antarctica," Mrozek recalls. "They needed someone to take pictures and I was the only one to raise my hand.
"My dad had bought me an old 8-millimeter motion picture camera, which is how I got interested in film. So in October 1962, I was assigned to the photo lab at McMurdo to take pictures of the scientists and write stories."
His first impression of Antarctica was from the air, a sight Mrozek describes as unforgettable.
"Flying over Antarctica was beautiful," he says. "It's desolate and blue. When you get nearer the pole, you come to the plateau, which is nothing but ice.
"Down there, we were standing on ice that was two miles deep," he says. "Unlike the Arctic, which is a giant floating iceberg, Antarctica is a land mass the size of the U.S. and half of Europe. It's a continent."
Though he and his fellow Seabees had been issued clothing and gear sufficient to protect themselves from temperatures of minus-100 degrees in the winter, Mrozek remembers being only minimally prepared for Antarctica's brutal climate and its isolation from the rest of the world.
"We were issued the necessities while in New Zealand," says Mrozek, "but the only training we had in terms of acclimating to the environment was a pamphlet with very basic instructions."
Because of his autumn arrival time, Mrozek and his fellow Seabees would be part of an 18-20 member team to "winter over" at the remote outpost at the bottom of the world.
"The South Pole is dark 24 hours a day dring the winter months," Mrozek points out. "It can go down to 100 below, so you don't go outside for long periods of time.
"When I was there, our quarters were beneath the snow for protection and warmth," he recalls. "We would work 12-hour shifts on and off.
"When going up topside, we'd put on extra clothes with our boots. I also had to winterize my camera. The key was to get all the moisture out so it wouldn't freeze up on me when going outside."
Despite the bitter cold, there was some notable upside to duty on the frozen continent, he notes.
"We ate like kings down there," says Mrozek. "On Thanksgiving Day we had turkey with all the trimmings. And it was the only U.S. Navy base where you could have a case of beer stashed under your rack."
Back to the game
Mrozek credits fellow Seabee, Victor "Moose" Marino, with coming up with the idea to play football on that memorable Thanksgiving Day.
A rugged 200-pounder from Pittsburgh, Marino had talked football since his arrival at the base, and it was he who made the challenge to the USARP scientists, whose team members accepted without hesitation.
But first, there was the matter of finding a football. In the absence of the real thing, someone discovered a basketball in the station's lower recesses, which was pressed into action.
By game time, temperatures had dipped to minus-30 degrees and heavy winds and an icy surface made conditions difficult for passing, running or kicking. Regardless, the combatants were prepared to play.
Mrozek recalls there was a traditional coin toss at the beginning of the game, won by the USARP team; and each team had its own mascot on the sidelines.
Because of their seniority, the scientists got the pick of mascots; a well-dressed, female-shaped dummy. The Seabees countered with a miniature toy kangaroo.
Kickoff time was at 4 p.m. Pole time, with Seabee Jerry Dudley of Fayetteville, Arkansas doing the honors. An hour-and-a-half later, the Seabees had sealed their hard-fought 6-0 victory over the scientists.
Given the fact that their respective duties called, neither team had time to gloat or mope after the game. Instead, they collectively relished the experience.
Though Mrozek got in for just one play, devoting his time instead to snapping pictures, thus permanently documenting the 1962 Pole Bowl game in the annals of history.
Many of Mrozek's photos appeared in newspapers, armed forces publications and scientific journals across the U.S. and around the world.
After leaving the Navy in 1965, Mrozek returned to the Detroit area, where he attended South Macomb Community College and studied plastic technology.
He worked for many years in the field of plastic injection tool making and retired from Metamora Products in 2006. He and his wife, Margaret. have been married 49 years.
Today, 50 years after that unforgettable Thanksgiving Day in Antarctica, Mrozek is proud and appreciative of having had the opportunity to be there. Furthermore, he is extraordinarily thankful to have been among those to stand at the South Pole.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same way," says Mrozek. "I'd do it again at the drop of a hat."
Referencing his experiences at the bottom of the Earth, Mrozek notes that regardless of which direction one looks while standing at the South Pole, "you are always looking north."
And like many of his cohorts, Mrozek took the opportunity to do a hand-stand at the Pole.
"For a brief moment, I was holding up the whole world," he quips.
While maintaining a good humor about his life's experiences, Mrozek sometimes sentimentalizes about his time in Antarctica and at the South Pole.
"I used to take walks by myself—with just my camera," he recalls. "The silence was absolutely deafening.
"I would stand there listening, trying to hear something, but there was nothing; other than the sound within myself. It was an experience I'll never forget."
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.