Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 15, 1967: 50 Years Since Super Bowl I

January 15, 1967, 50 years ago today: The 1st AFL-NFL World Championship Game is held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, between the Champions of the American Football League, their founding franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs; and the Champions of the National Football League, their most successful franchise with 10 Championships, the Green Bay Packers. It is the beginning of the competitive phase of the merger between the 2 leagues, which had battled since 1960.

Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL and founding owner of the Chiefs, claimed he'd seen his children playing with a little rubber ball, marketed as a "Super Ball." So he suggested that the Game be called "the Super Bowl." The name stuck, and in 1969, it was made official. It wasn't until 1971 that the Roman numerals came into effect: Super Bowl V. The 1st 4 were retroactively renamed Super Bowl I, Super Bowl II, Super Bowl III and Super Bowl IV.

Super Bowl 50 -- presumably given the actual number because the Roman numeral for 50 is "L," and, in football, "L" means "loss" -- was played last February 7, at Levi's Stadium in the San Francisco suburb of Santa Clara. The Denver Broncos won it.

The L.A. Coliseum should've hosted Super Bowl 50, or at least Super Bowl LI (to be played this coming February 6, at NRG Stadium in Houston), to celebrate the anniversary. But the NFL wants that skybox revenue, which the Coliseum just doesn't have. And so the Super Bowl, last played in the L.A. area in 1993 (Super Bowl XXVII), at the Rose Bowl in suburban Pasadena, won't return until February 7, 2021 (Super Bowl LV, at the new Los Angeles Rams stadium, currently under construction and named City of Champions Stadium, in suburban Inglewood).


The University of Arizona Marching Band created a physical outline of the United States at midfield, and the drill team from nearby Anaheim High School placed banners of each NFL and AFL team at their corresponding location on the map. The University of Michigan band played the National Anthem. And the Bell Rocket Air Men, wearing early jetpacks, demonstrated before the game as well.

The band from Grambling State University, the famous black college of northern Louisiana, played at halftime, as did another Louisiana legend, jazz trumpeter Al Hirt. There were no cheerleaders, but the Los Angeles Ramettes, an all-ladies drumline, played before the game and after every quarter.

Referee Norm Schachter carried out the ceremonial pregame coin toss, without assistance from a celebrity, as has been done since Super Bowl XII. The heavily favored Packers won the toss, and Mike Mercer of the Chiefs kicked off at 1:15 PM Pacific Time -- 4:15 in the East. It was, typically for Los Angeles, even in Winter, 72 degrees and sunny.

The Packers did not score on their opening possession. They did, however, produce the 1st score, as Bart Starr threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee with 6:04 left in the 1st quarter. Don Chandler kicked the extra point, and it was Packers 7, Chiefs 0.
Starr, barking signals. Yes, that's a single-bar facemask.

The Chiefs tied the game early in the 2nd quarter, as Len Dawson threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Curts McClinton, followed by an extra point by Mercer. Each team would score again before the half was out: Jim Taylor on a 14-yard run for Green Bay, Mercer on a 31-yard field goal. The score at the half: Packers 14, Chiefs 10. The AFL Champions were very much still in the game.

The AFL Champions did not score again. So much has been made of the Green Bay offense (with Hall-of-Famers Starr, Taylor and Forrest Gregg, with Hall-of-Famer Paul Hornung injured and unable to play) that their defense (with Hall-of-Famers Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley and Willie Wood) often gets overlooked. But the Chiefs (whose Hall-of-Famers included Len Dawson on offense and Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier on defense) would not score again until the 1967 AFL season dawned.

The Packers added touchdowns at each end of the 3rd quarter, with Elijah Pitts (father of Fox NFL sideline reporter Ron Pitts) scoring on a 5-yard run, and McGee catching a 13-yard pass from Starr. With 6:35 left in the game, Pitts scored again, a 1-yard run. Chandler made all 3 PATs. Final score: Packers 35, Chiefs 10.

Pat Summerall of CBS (which had the NFL's television contract) and George Ratterman of NBC (which had the AFL's), both former players, handled the postgame trophy celebration, forced to share a microphone. Packer coach and general manager (not a part-owner, but effectively controlling the team as if he were the owner) Vince Lombardi received the silver trophy made by Tiffany that would, just 4 years later, following his early death from cancer, bear his name. Starr was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Rozelle presents Lombardi with the Trophy

Despite both networks having aired the game live, neither CBS nor NBC has a complete videotape copy of the game. Videotape was expensive, and the game was simply taped over. Some pieces of videotape of the game have been found, and have been combined with surviving radio broadcasts and the footage that NFL Films (which, smartly, also got the AFL's permission to record their games) has of the game, to produce a full play-by-play.

This was also the only Super Bowl that was not a sellout: Although the Coliseum seated over 93,000 people (an exact figure is hard to pin down), only 61,946 people paid to see it. They paid $12 for any seat, about $87 in today's money. Even by today's regular-season NFL standards, that's cheap. (You want to see Super Bowl LI next month? Be prepared to pay over $1,000, no matter which source you go to.)


The Chiefs did recover, and after the Packers also won Super Bowl II over the Oakland Raiders, and the New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in the most stunning upset in pro football history, the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970. Clearly, Super Bowl III was an upset not because the NFL was so much better than the AFL, but because the Packers were so good.
Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and head coach Hank Stram,
and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, at Super Bowl IV,
at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans

From the Kansas City Chiefs' starting lineup in Super Bowl I:

* Deceased: Offensive tackle Jim Tyrer, depressed over a business failure, shot his wife and then killed himself in 1980; defensive tackle Buck Buchanan died in 1992; defensive end Jerry Mays died in 1994; head coach Hank Stram and punter Jerrel Wilson died in 2005; owner Lamar Hunt died in 2006; linebacker Sherrill Headrick died in 2008; center Wayne Frazier died in 2012; and general manager Jack Steadman and defensive end Chuck Hurston died in 2015.

* Still alive: Quarterback Len Dawson and kicker Mike Mercer are 81; linebacker E.J. Holub is 79; split end Chris Burford is about to turn 79; guard Curt Merz, tight end Fred Arbanas, safety Johnny Robinson and cornerback-turned-actor Fred "the Hammer" Williamson are 78; running back Curtis McLinton is 77; guard Ed Budde, defensive tackle Andy Rice, linebacker Bobby Bell, cornerback Willie Mitchell and safety Bobby Hunt are 76; offensive tackle Dave Hill is about to turn 76; flanker Otis Taylor is 74; and running back Mike Garrett (the 1965 Heisman Trophy winner at USC) is 72.

From the Green Bay Packers' starting lineup (plus Hornung and McGee):

* Deceased: Head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi died of cancer in 1970; defensive tackle Henry Jordan died of a heart attack while jogging in 1977; defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik died in 1993; linebacker Lee Roy Caffey died in 1994; running back Elijah Pitts, defensive end Lionel Aldridge and linebacker Ray Nitschke died in 1998; Max McGee, who entered the game early when Boyd Dowler was hurt, died in 2007; cornerback Bob Jeter died in 2008; placekicker and punter Don Chandler died in 2011; and guard Fred "Fuzzy" Thurston died in 2014.

* Still alive: Quarterback Bart Starr and offensive tackle Forrest Gregg are 83; offensive tackle Bob Skoronski and defensive end Willie Davis are 82; running backs Paul Hornung (who was injured and didn't play) and Jim Taylor are 81; guard Jerry Kramer is about to turn 81; safety Willie Wood is 80; flanker Boyd Dowler is 79 tight end Carroll Dale is 78; cornerback Herb Adderley is 77; safety Tom Brown is 76; tight end Marv Fleming and linebacker Dave Robinson are 75; and center Bill Curry is 74.

* Also still alive from the 1966-67 Packers are backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski, 85; tight end Bill Anderson, 80; receiver William "Red" Mack, 79; cornerback Doug Hart, 77; center Ken Bowman, offensive tackle Steve Wright, receiver Bob Long, and defensive tackle Jim Weatherwax, all 74; running back and punter Donny Anderson, tight end Allen Brown, linebacker Phil Vandersea, and cornerback Dave Hathcock, all 73; and running back Jim Grabowski, 72. So that's 28 surviving members of the 1st team to win the Super Bowl.


* NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and AFL Commissioner Milt Woodard both died in 1996.

* Paul Christman, quarterback of the 1947 NFL Champion Chicago Cardinals, and color commentator for NBC, died of a heart attack in 1970, before any of the other major participants. Ray Scott, the voice of the Packers, who provided the 1st half play-by-play for CBS, died in 1998. Curt Gowdy, who did play-by-play for NBC, died in 2006. CBS color commentator Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame running back for the New York Giants, died in 2015. Jack Whitaker, who provided their 2nd half play-by-play, is still alive, age 92.
Jack Whitaker, the last surviving broadcaster from Super Bowl I

* Halftime entertainer Al Hirt died in 1999.

* Referee Norm Schachter, who joined the NFL's officiating corps in 1954, would survive the 1967 NFL Championship Game in Green Bay, a.k.a. the Ice Bowl, and would also work at Super Bowls V and X, before retiring in 1975, died in 2004.
A referee with his own card?
Yes, Norm was that much of a legend.

* George Toma, groundskeeper for Kansas City's Athletics and Chiefs, whom Lamar Hunt lobbied Pete Rozelle to have run the groundskeeping for the game, continued to work for the Chiefs, and for MLB's Royals when they replaced the A's in 1969, until his retirement in 1999. The NFL has kept "The Sod God" on, and, barring a medical calamity, will, a few days after his 88th birthday, oversee the groundskeeping for Super Bowl LI.
Toma at Super Bowl 50

* Other people who have been to each of the 1st 50 Super Bowls: Norma Hunt, widow of Lamar and mother of current Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, and the only woman among the 16 who have seen all 50; sportswriters Dave Klein, Jerry Green and Jerry Izenberg; photographers John Biever, Walter Iooss Jr. and Mickey Palmer; and 8 fans: Don Crisman, Tom Henschel, Larry Jacobson, Larry McDonald, Lew Rapoport, Harvey Rothenberg, Alvin Schragis and Sylvan Schefler.
Crisman, of Maine, a New England Patriots fan;
Henschel, of Winfield, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan;
and Jacobson of San Francisco, a 49ers fan.

As far as I can tell, all 16 people who've been to the 1st 50 Super Bowls will be able to attend Super Bowl LI. I believe Iooss, 73, the great photographer for Sports Illustrated, is the youngest, making him the likeliest person to end up as the last survivor of the group.

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