We begin with Super Bowl I, or more correctly, the First AFL-NFL World Championship Game. That’s what its official name was. The logo for Super Bowl I you see in various places which says “First World Championship Game AFL vs. NFL” – that’s an anachronism.
The only logo used in the actual Super Bowl was a crown on top of a football with the year 1967 with NFL in blue and AFL in red. The game was played on January 15, 1967, to put a cherry on top of the 1966 season.
Read the whole story or listen to the podcast episodes below.
Prelude to the First Super Bowl
The stories of the first Super Bowl have been told so many times, I have them memorized, and maybe so have you. For example, how did the Super Bowl get its name? It came because Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL, saw his children playing with a toy known as a Super Ball. To most of us, you’d probably refer to it as a “bouncy ball,” but the trademarked name was “Super Ball.”
So, he was at a planning meeting for the Super Bowl, and he accidentally blurted out the name “Super Bowl” because he was thinking about his kids’ toy. He thought it was a corny name and that they could come up with something better. In hindsight, there’s probably no better name for a sporting event ever. Did you know that the FIFA World Cup Trophy isn’t even a cup? The World Series is in North America only. The NBA Finals… boring.
But the Super Bowl is the perfect name for a championship. And it’s all because of those bouncy balls you can buy for a quarter at your local Pizza Hut. The Super Bowl was held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I attended an NFL game there and also got a tour of the Coliseum, and it is an amazing place. If you were going to start a historical sporting event, there couldn’t be any better place to play such a game. Now, that didn’t mean there weren’t some hiccups with the first Super Bowl being held here. Tickets for the game were $12, an exorbitant price on that day. Fans didn’t want to pay it. As a result, the stadium for the first Super Bowl was half empty, and the game was blacked out in Los Angeles. By the way, the NFL continued to blackout Super Bowls in the host city for quite some time, even though future Super Bowls sold out.
It was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, and that’s because we had two rival leagues pitting their champions against each other. The National Football League had been around since 1920, and it was the old and established league with a great reputation. Think of them like the Big Ten Conference in college football. Its champion – the Green Bay Packers – had won three NFL titles in the last five years, and they won a fourth in 1966 with a 34-27 victory in the Cotton Bowl over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Packers had won six titles before the sixties, and another three NFL championships since 1961. Think of the Packers as the Ohio State Buckeyes. The team that wins the conference nearly every year, and even in the years they didn’t, they still were one of the top teams.
Now we come to the American Football League. It was started up in 1960, with Lamar Hunt one of the founders. It had a wide-open style of play, lots of passing, and rule changes such as the two-point conversion. But the AFL had a bad reputation when it came to how good the teams in it were. No one from the NFL world believed in the AFL. They thought of the AFL the same way we think of the Sun Belt Conference in college football.
Yes, they play fun, exciting football, but they have no chance at knocking off the #1 team of the #1 league. So, you can imagine, not too many people thought this game meant anything. It would sort of be like Ohio State playing the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette a week after going down to the wire in a shootout with Michigan.
So, the Packers were big favorites, but with a lot of pressure on them. Head coach Vince Lombardi felt the weight of the NFL world on his shoulders. Should the Packers lose, the NFL would immediately be discredited, and it would be nothing less than a public relations disaster. The NFL guys were glad it was the Packers in the Super Bowl and not another team. They felt that they could trust Lombardi to win this game for them.
Meanwhile, the AFL champions had nothing to lose. Kansas City beat Buffalo 31-7 in the AFL title game, to advance to the Super Bowl. No one gave head coach Hank Stram and company a chance to win; if they could at least keep the score competitive, it would be a win for the AFL. In order for the NFL people to be satisfied, the Packers would have to completely blow out the Chiefs.
This was the only Super Bowl to be televised by two networks; CBS, the NFL network, and NBC, the AFL network, each televised the game. After this Super Bowl, CBS and NBC went into a rotation, with CBS covering Super Bowl II and NBC covering Super Bowl III.
Super Bowl 1: First Quarter
The Packers won the coin toss and elected to receive. Defensive back Herb Adderley returned the opening kickoff to the 25. Veteran running back Jim Taylor gained about three yards on the first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. Running back Elijah Pitts took the next handoff, getting within a yard of a first down, which Taylor picked up on his third-down carry.
In one of the most famous stories in Super Bowl history, starting receiver Boyd Dowler went down with a shoulder injury, and backup Max McGee came in to replace him. McGee had been out on the town all night long, breaking curfew, hanging out with women, and staying up until 6 am. He had a horrible hangover and his hope was that he wouldn’t be needed in the game. Moreover, he didn’t even bring his own helmet out to the field. When Dowler went down, McGee had to borrow a teammate’s helmet and step up as quarterback Bart Starr’s primary receiver. The rest, as they say, is history.
McGee couldn’t catch the first pass thrown his way. The Chiefs then brought the pressure on Starr. Defensive tackle Buck Buchanan sacked him for an eleven-yard loss. On third down, linebacker Bobby Bell sacked him again for another four yards of lost yardage. Punter and kicker Don Chandler came on and booted it away to the Kansas City 37.
Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson’s first pass of the Super Bowl was caught by receiver Chris Burford, but he was out of bounds, and it was correctly ruled incomplete. Running back Mike Garrett bounced off a tackler and gained four yards, then Dawson fired to Burford for a first down into Green Bay territory at the 47. Packers defensive tackle Henry Jordan wrapped up Garrett for no gain, then the Chiefs got a delay of game call. Burford made his second out-of-bounds catch of the drive, this too was ruled incomplete. Dawson then couldn’t find receiver Otis Taylor, overthrowing him, and the Chiefs were forced to punt. Punter Jerrel Wilson kicked it down to the 5, where Packers running back Donny Anderson returned it to the 21. Chiefs linebacker Chuck Hurston was injured on the play.
Pitts took the first-down carry for three yards. Starr then threw to tight end Marv Fleming, who bobbled the ball but caught it for a first down at the 34. Starr avoided a sack and threw to Pitts, and he picked up a first down at the Kansas City 43. Taylor got tackled for a big loss, but Starr got all the yards back and more with a pass to receiver Carroll Dale at the 37. Starr then threw over the middle to McGee, who made a spectacular one-handed catch and took it to the house for a 37-yard touchdown, the first in Super Bowl history. Chandler made the extra point, and the Packers took the early 7-0 lead.
Garrett returned the kickoff to the 24, but a clipping call set the Chiefs back big-time. On first down, Dawson scrambled to the 21, with linebacker Ray Nitschke making the tackle. Dawson then threw a quick pass to Garrett, and he got the first down on a measurement. Dawson’s next pass for Burford fell incomplete, but defensive back Bob Jeter got called for pass interference. Fullback Curtis McClinton carried the ball for four yards, then Dawson rolled to his left and found tight end, Fred Arbanas, for a first down at the 49. Garrett pounded up the middle to the Green Bay 42, then Dawson ran for the first down at the 39. Packers linebacker Dave Robinson wrapped up Garrett for a loss on first down, and that proved to derail the Chiefs drive.
Dawson overthrew Taylor, then he found tight end Reg Carolan short of the first down at the 33. Since the goalposts were on the goal line at the time and not on the end line, that made it just a 40-yard field goal attempt for kicker Mike Mercer. He missed wide to the left, just missing the upright, and the first quarter came to an end with Green Bay up 7-0.
Super Bowl 1: Second Quarter
The Packers went three-and-out, and the Chiefs got the ball back at their own 34. On first down, Dawson rolled to his right under pressure and hit Garrett, who evaded several tackles and made it to the Packers 49 for a first down. He must have avoided six tackles on the play. Running back Bert Coan took it for a few yards, and McClinton got it within a yard of a first down, which Coan picked up on the next play. Dawson then went long for Taylor, and he hauled it in for a big gain down to the 7.
On first-and-goal, Dawson fired to his left to McClinton, and he made the catch for the seven-yard touchdown. Mercer’s extra point tied the game at seven apiece.
The Packers got the ball back at their own 27. Pitts ran off left tackle for five yards, and Taylor gained another two yards. Starr then fired to Dale, and he went all the way for a touchdown, but hold the phone! The Packers were called for illegal procedure on the play. That wiped out the score.
Starr converted the third down anyway on the next play with a pass to McGee to the 41. Facing third-and-ten a few plays later, Starr hit Dale for a first down at the Kansas City 43. Taylor ran for four yards, but Starr faced another third down. This time, he fired high to tight end Marv Fleming, who made a great catch for a first down inside the 30. On the next third down, Starr converted it yet again.
This time he found Pitts for a first down on the left side of the field at the 14. Lombardi then called for the famous “Packer Sweep.” Guard Jerry Kramer led the way as Taylor took the ball fourteen yards off the left side for a touchdown, and the Packers went up 14-7.
Dawson was sacked by Henry Jordan and Lionel Aldridge to start the next drive. He recovered, though, throwing to Arbanas for twelve yards, then hitting Taylor for a first down at the 41. The Packers committed pass interference on the next play, but Burford caught it anyway for a first down at the 32. After the two-minute warning, Dawson faced a third down, and he came close to converting it on a pass to Garrett.
He came up a yard short. With a minute to go in the half, Stram called for the field goal. Mercer made the 31-yard kick, and the teams went to the half with Green Bay leading 14-10.
Super Bowl 1: Third Quarter
Everyone in NFL country was worried now. The Packers only had a slight lead, and Kansas City was getting the ball to start the second half. Could the upset really be about to happen? After a performance by the Grambling marching band at halftime, the Packers kicked off before NBC was ready for it.
They had to kick it again, and this kick was shorter. Lombardi was furious. He was playing the rest of the game under protest. Meanwhile, Dawson ran for a first down at the 43, and McClinton picked up five more to the 48. It was third-and-four a couple of plays later, and Lombardi brought the blitz. It was his big halftime adjustment; he started sending five or six men on every play. Jordan got heavy pressure on Dawson, who just threw it up, and defensive back Willie Wood intercepted it. He returned the pick all the way to the 5. Pitts ran it off left tackle for a touchdown, and in only one play, the Packers extended their lead to 21-10.
Kansas City came right back, though. Dawson threw to Taylor for twelve yards, and after a McClinton run, he found Coan at midfield. Facing third-and-one, the Chiefs gave the ball to Coan, but he was tackled in the backfield by Jeter, Nitschke, and Lee Roy Caffey. Remember that play. The Chiefs now had to punt, and the ball bounced down to the 25.
The Packers got one first down on a run by Pitts, but Jim Taylor came up short on a third-down run, and the Packers had to punt. Chandler punted it down to the 27. The Chiefs didn’t have a chance, though, against the blitzing Packers. Caffey sacked Dawson back at his own 14, then Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, and Ron Kostelnik all combined for another sack back at the 2. On fourth-and-35, the Chiefs were forced to punt it away.
Starr threw to McGee to get into Kansas City territory at the 48, and Taylor picked up the first down on a run off left tackle. A few plays later, facing third-and-eleven, Starr somehow found McGee in between three Kansas City defenders, and McGee got a first down at the 28. Taylor ran the ball three times in a row from there, and he got a first down at the 12. Starr then threw over the middle to McGee, who juggled the ball before bringing it in for a touchdown. The Packers took a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
Super Bowl 1: Fourth Quarter
Dawson was still under heavy pressure, as Lombardi was bringing the blitz constantly. He threw two passes that were nearly picked off, and the Chiefs went three-and-out and punted. Starr then made his only mistake of the game, throwing long for McGee but being picked off by defensive back Willie Mitchell.
Dawson fired to McClinton for a first down at the 38, and he then found Burford for a first down at the 48. However, then the Chiefs started going backward. First, an illegal motion penalty, then a sack by Willie Davis for a loss of eleven. The Packers knocked down the next two passes, and the Chiefs were forced to punt.
Starting at their own 20 after a touchback, the Packers put the finishing touches on this victory. Starr found Dale for a first down at the 45, then he fired to McGee for another big gain all the way down to the 17. Dale hauled in another pass at the 12, then Pitts got a first down at the 5. Taylor ran it twice to get down to the 1, and from there Pitts pounded it in off the left side for a touchdown. The Packers went up 35-10, and their victory was now assured.
The rest of the game was simply garbage time. Both teams emptied their benches, with Chiefs backup quarterback Pete Beathard and Packers backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski getting playing time. Only one player did not see any game time. He was given the option by Lombardi to get into the game, but he chose not to because of injury concerns.
This is the answer to today’s pop quiz, who was that one player? The answer is Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung. After the season, the Packers left Hornung exposed in the expansion draft for the New Orleans Saints. They selected him, but he never played a down in New Orleans. As a side note, Jim Taylor also ended up going to New Orleans after the season, but he played only one year for the Saints before calling it quits. Hornung and Taylor, of course, were the Hall of Fame duo that helped win those three championships earlier in the sixties.
Super Bowl 1 Awards
Now it’s time to hand out some awards. Bart Starr was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. But who was the next-most valuable player? I’ve got to give it to Max McGee. He caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, replacing Boyd Dowler off the bench, and all this while suffering a hangover.
The stories about McGee have turned into a tall tale; someday we’ll be reading about how McGee tackled a blue ox at 2 a.m. in Los Angeles before the Super Bowl. McGee sadly died in 2007, right in the middle of a magical Packers season; he founded the restaurant Chi-Chi’s and worked as a Packers radio announcer. Starr, the actual Most Valuable Player, threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
This came after he was named NFL MVP for the regular season, making him the first player to win regular-season MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same season. Starr sadly died in 2019, but not before leaving a legacy as one of the kindest men to ever play football.
Who was the Least Valuable Player of this game? A player who caused his team to lose. You know there’s one in every game, you can’t get around it. In this case, it was Chiefs defensive back Fred Williamson, nicknamed “The Hammer.”
Williamson gave the Packers bulletin board material when he said he was going to lay the “Hammer” to the Packers receivers and knock them out. In a cruel ironic twist, Williamson himself got taken out on a fourth-quarter run by Donny Anderson. It’s not like Williamson was the only reason the Chiefs lost, but boy did he ever fire up the Packers!
Who was the most valuable player on the losing team? That award goes to Len Dawson, their quarterback. Dawson played a fine game, he just had no help from his offensive line. He was beaten up, bruised, and blitzed all through the second half, as the Packers brought everyone at him. Dawson had his team in position to compete after the first half, he just needed more help. In three years, he’d get that help.
The play of the game was that third-down play early in the second half. Henry Jordan got to Dawson, and Willie Wood picked it off and returned it to the 5. The Chiefs were near midfield at the time, trailing only by four. After that play, the Packers scored in one down and suddenly it was an eleven-point game. That play completely changed the whole game.
But what was the best play of the game that no one remembers? That would be the third-and-one play on the Chiefs’ next drive. Bert Coan tried running for the first down, but he was tackled by a gang of Packers, including Caffey, Nitschke, and Jeter. If the Chiefs convert that third down near midfield, they may go down and score and get back in the game. By stopping them, the Packers ended KC’s chances.
Who was the best player in this game that you’ve never heard of? This has to be a player who most people have never heard of or read about. My pick is Packers defensive tackle, Ron Kostelnik. He combined on a third-quarter sack with Jordan and Davis back at the 2-yard line, forcing a punt from the Chiefs’ own end zone. You’ve probably never heard of Kostelnik, but he was providing constant pressure up the middle.
Finally, I’m giving you some homework. Your job is to read books on this famous Super Bowl to increase your knowledge of the game. The #1 book I recommend is by author Harvey Frommer. It’s called “When It Was Just A Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl.”
This is the definitive work on Super Bowl I, with tons of interviews from players and coaches, providing an oral history of the game and everything about it. I doubt there will ever be another book this good about the Super Bowl. But that’s not the only one!
Also check out “The 1966 Green Bay Packers: Profiles of Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl I Champions,” edited by George Bozeka. It goes into detail on each and every player of the 1966 Packers, and it also gives a deep in-detail look at the Packers’ 1966 season. It’s a very good book, and you should also pick this one up.
Thank you for joining me for Lombardi Memories. Next time, we’ll have Super Bowl II, where the Green Bay Packers will try for a third world championship in a row against the Oakland Raiders in the Orange Bowl in Miami. I’ll see you in two weeks!
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Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why. Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey. He’s an author of multiple NFL books. You can purchase below.
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