By Rock Westfall
The first Super Bowl game program said it best; “There will never be another day like this.” No, there would not.
On Sunday, January 15, 1967, the National Football League Champion Green Bay Packers faced the American Football League Champion Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, then known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
In the weeks leading up to the game was a series of unknowns that will never again be replicated. First among those unknowns was the greatest mystery of all. No team from the NFL had ever played a team for the AFL. 1966 was the seventh season of separate leagues in pro football. But this time, the champions of the two leagues would meet to determine an undisputed champion.
Super Bowl Futures – The Perceptions and Betting Favorite
Of course, the NFL was considered to be the superior league. And the Packers were its marquee franchise and proven 5-time champion under Vince Lombardi. But even those that derided the AFL admitted that the Chiefs had talent and speed. Thus, nobody knew for sure what to expect. Green Bay opened as a 14-point favorite based on public perception and branding.
Both teams were considered to be equal on offense. Kansas City may have even had more skill and speed. But the Chiefs’ defense was outclassed by the Packer defenders.
Super Bowl Predictions – What Do We Call This Game?
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was obsessed with his league overtaking baseball as the national pastime. Thus, the name of this first championship game was proposed to be the “World Series of Football.” But it took three seconds to realize that was a terrible idea. Among the other names considered was “Pro Bowl,” but that was already used for the All-Star Game.
Sportswriters began using the term “Super Bowl” based on a flippant remark from Chiefs owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. But the wordsmith Rozelle hated it as uncouth. Yet the name quickly caught on organically.
Hunt himself stumbled into the name after watching his kids play with the famous Wham-O Superball, which was a fad in the 1960s. The Superball was capable of bouncing over a house.
For January 1967, the official game title was quite a mouthful; “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game” was the name. Of course, the NFL hated the name because the AFL came first. But despite the formal official title, fans, media, and most players and coaches referred to the game as the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Lines - Where Do We Play This Game?
These days the location of the Super Bowl is determined several years in advance with great planning and blue-ribbon committees. However, the first Super Bowl location was still unknown just a few weeks before the historic matchup. Yes, in mid-November 1966, the game's site for January 1967 was undetermined.
In the end, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle’s connections to Southern California and the Los Angeles Rams helped make the decision. The former Rams general manager determined that the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would be a spectacular venue with guaranteed perfect weather. Thus, the LA Coliseum was chosen to host the first Super Bowl.
Looking back, the late designation of the game’s venue is likely why it did not sell out. It is the only Super Bowl not to sell out.
“Spend All of It!”
Pete Rozelle’s obsession with surpassing Major League Baseball as America’s game meant impressing the sports media. Rozelle began his career climb as the PR man for the University of California Golden Bears basketball program under legendary head coach Pete Newell. While in that role, Rozelle was as much of a Maître d’ as a PR man. He became the undisputed GOAT of taking care of sportswriters.
Those lessons at Cal were put to good use for the first Super Bowl. Rozelle gave his staff a lavish expense account to feed the press, along with providing an open bar. Rozelle demanded that his charges spend every penny of the budget. The press ate and drank like kings for a week and wrote favorably about pro football in return.
Super Bowl Bets – The Picasso of Football Fields
In November of 1966, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle visited Kansas City Municipal Stadium in a peace and goodwill gesture as the new post-merger pro football commissioner. As he sat in a special box overlooking the field, he was blown away at its artistic beauty. Groundskeeper George Toma painted a field like nobody else in the sport. It was a work of art. Rozelle was so impressed that he hired Toma on the spot as the Super Bowl groundskeeper. Subsequently, Toma was in charge of every Super Bowl field and was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Fighting for League and Network Pride
To keep the peace for the first Super Bowl, both NBC (the AFL network) and CBS (the NFL network) would televise the game.
In the days leading up to the game, the crews of the two networks would get into altercations in the parking lot. League and network pride were getting the best of everyone. Thus, a fence had to be built between the CBS and NBC production trucks to prevent an all-out network nuclear war.
Odds to win the Super Bowl – Mickey Mouse League
Kansas City head coach Hank Stram and his team bristled at the perpetual insults of being from a “Mickey Mouse League.” Stram came up with an idea to send the equipment staff to Disneyland to purchase Mickey Mouse hats for his players to ease the tension. Instead, it infuriated the Chiefs even more.
Online betting Super Bowl -Shaking Like a Leaf
Former New York Football Giants matinee idol Frank Gifford was the sideline reporter for CBS. Before the game, he snagged quite a get; Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, who was The Giffer's offensive coordinator with the Giants. As Gifford put his arm around the coach during the interview, he felt Lombardi sweating profusely and shaking like a leaf. At that moment, there was no NFL arrogance from Lombardi or the Packers. The pressure to beat the AFL and Chiefs was over the top.
The Breakfast of Hangovers
After being told by a screaming Lombardi that any player who broke curfew would be banned from the NFL for life, Max McGee naturally went out on the town. McGee partied with several airline stewardesses that he met in the past. He arrived back at the hotel on game day morning ten sheets to the wind with bags under his eyes. But he wasn’t expected to play, so nobody thought anything of it.
Earlier that week, McGee told Gifford that he would eat the Chiefs secondary for breakfast if he got into the game. His boast proved prophetic.
Hall of Fame Tears of Hate
Future NFL Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell of the Chiefs stood in the famous LA Coliseum tunnel, waiting to take the field. They clasped hands and confessed their hatred of the NFL and the skeptics that ripped the Chiefs and the AFL. They wanted to win so badly that they were in tears.
Equality for a Half
Kansas City outgained Green Bay 181-164 in total yards in the first half and trailed by just 14-10. The Chiefs were thinking upset. They were encouraged as they compared notes at halftime. Kansas City expected to win.
Lombardi Goes Pragmatic
Head coach Vince Lombardi knew he had to improvise in the Green Bay locker room at halftime. Despite calling the blitz an act of cowardice, Lombardi was fed up with the Packer defense hesitating at the Chiefs' play-action passes. He ordered the defense to start putting heat on Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson, who had all the time he needed to pick apart the Packers.
Also, Lombardi continued to encourage his quarterback, Bart Starr, to keep throwing the ball all over the yard. Green Bay was famous for its powerful Packer Sweep. But against Kansas City, Lombardi and Starr saw a pass defense ripe for picking.
The Play of the Game
Kansas City got the ball to open the second half and advanced to mid-field, driving to take the lead. But on a third-down call, Dawson was blitzed by Green Bay and threw a wobbler intercepted by Willie Wood, who returned it to the Kansas City 5-yard line. Green Bay scored on the next play, and the rout was on. The Packers' defense could focus on the pass for the rest of the game without honoring the run or play-action fakes. Green Bay won 35-10.
“What a Day, Maxie!”
Indeed, hungover Max McGee had the Chiefs secondary for breakfast. After Boyd Dowler left the game early with an injury, McGee came on the field and stole the show. He scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history on a spectacular behind-the-back one-hand grab good for 37 yards. Later he scored another 13-yard touchdown on a juggling circus catch. McGee ended up with seven receptions, 138 yards, and two touchdowns.
At the end of the game, NFL Films captured Lombardi yelling with admiration and affection, “What a day, Maxie!”
A key difference in the game was Packers quarterback Bart Starr, who threw for 16/23, 250 yards, and two touchdowns with a 116.2 rating. Starr was uncanny on third downs, picking the Chiefs apart. Green Bay was a lethal 11/15 on 3rd-down conversions.
After the game, the Chiefs were panned by much of the media and a few Packers, including Lombardi, who said they didn’t compare with the NFL’s top teams. But history shows that there have been far worse Super Bowl blowouts and previous NFL championship game mismatches, for that matter.
In later years, Packers such as Bart Starr said the Chiefs were the most talented team they ever faced. But Green Bay was a seasoned champion while the Chiefs were still in their developmental stages.
In fact, the 1966 Chiefs were later vindicated as a Top-100 all-time team in the NFL’s 100th anniversary season.
To become the best defense in football, Kansas City would add key defensive pieces like Willie Lanier, Curley Culp, Jim Kearney, and Jim Marsalis. Three years later, the Chiefs earned redemption with a 23-7 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.
An Imperial Ending
And for a happy ending, we turn to loaner cars.
The Ford Motor Company loaned out its luxurious Lincolns for the Rose Bowl a couple of weeks before the Super Bowl. As a prime NFL sponsor of CBS telecasts, Ford was given the first crack at providing cars to the Super Bowl media and VIPs. But Ford said there was no way to collect the Rose Bowl rentals and properly prepare them for the Super Bowl.
Instead, Chrysler Corporation, NBC’s top AFL sponsor, filled the void with its own luxury brand Imperial. In those days, before GPS technology, there was no way to track cars. Many of the writers and executives loved the opulent Imperials so much that they “forgot” to turn them back in. They were in good company. Chiefs coach Hank Stram, who loved the finer things in life, was an Imperial owner!
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