Super Bowl I: The start of an era or 51 years to the day.

Super Bowl I: The start of an era or 51 years to the day.

On the 15th of January 1967, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. On their way to becoming the first dynasty in the Super Bowl era under the guidance of legendary Head Coach Vince Lombardi. This was a game that featured 3 for the Chiefs and 9 for the Packers, so 12 players in total that ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a historic day in the history of the league as it became the first concrete representation of a merger between the two leagues, with the Chiefs representing the AFL and the Packers representing the NFL. It was called the AFL-NFL Championship, it would be called the Super Bowl one year later and the name has stuck till this day. With this game starting a snowball to which now every other sporting event bar the Olympics tries to compete with.

The Packers had just come away from one of the coldest and most memorable games of all time defeating the Dallas Cowboys in what would be known as the “Ice Bowl” to reach Super Bowl 1. Whilst the Chiefs had defeated the Bills 31-7.The Packers had been around since 1919 whereas the Chiefs had just been created. The Packers were under intense pressure to win the game and win it by a large margin in order to prove the superiority of the NFL over the AFL. So much so that when Hall of Fame player and then commentator Frank Gifford interviewed Vince Lombardi he said that “Lombardi was so nervous he held onto my arm and he was shaking like a leaf.” Bart Starr felt that Lombardi “wanted to win this game very, very, very badly. He treated it like a personal mission.”  The Chiefs saw this experiment of a game to prove they should be playing in the NFL, and some players like quarterback Len Dawson relished it, but linebacker E.J. Holub said: “The Chiefs were scared to death, guys in the tunnel were throwing up.”

At the time it the most commonly held opinion in pro football was the AFL teams were no match for the quality of the NFL, and for the first half at least this sentiment was being called into question as the Chiefs had more first downs than the Packers, more in passing yards and more in total yards who were keeping it close losing just 14-10 at halftime. Their only touchdown scored by Curtis McClinton from a pass by quarterback Len Dawson. However, it was the tidal wave of Green Bay defenders that were pressuring and harrying Dawson that changed the game. Early in the 3rd quarter, Dawson to be hit by three onrushing Packer defenders threw a fluttering pass towards his receiver on the sideline. But Green Bay safety Willie Wood intercepted the pass and ran the ball back 50 yards before being tackled just yards away from the end zone. As Kansas City Head Coach Hank Stram put it “I think the interception on the 3rd & 5 situation seemingly changed the personality of the ball game.” He was right, the Packers scored a touchdown on the next play and took a 21-10 lead.

From here on out, Packers could just line up on defence and prevent the bomb downfield, knowing that what the Chiefs were going to try in order to get back into the game and that’s what they did as the Chiefs didn’t score at all in the entirety of the second half. The Packers, on the other hand, scored 17 points in the remaining half of the game, with quarterback Bart Starr putting on a clinic against the Chiefs secondary. His favourite target of the game was 34-year-old tight-end Max McGee who came into the game after starter Boyd Dowler got injured very early on. McGee was a backup and not expecting at all to play in the Super Bowl, so he decided the night before the Super Bowl to violate the Packers curfew and go out on the town. So he did apparently according to Packer’s folklore, spending the night with 2 of the female flight attendants he met on the team’s way to Los Angeles. He said to Dowler on the morning of the Super Bowl “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape.” However, when he got into the game McGee had the game of his life. During that season he’d caught just 4 passes, but when he played in Super Bowl I, he caught 7 passes for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns. He became the first man ever to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

But it was his quarterback, Bart Starr that was named MVP, he completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was one of many Packers who could have won the award with McGee, running back Elijah Pitts who scored 2 touchdowns and himself all seemingly in line for the MVP. It was the only Super Bowl to be simultaneously cast by both CBS and NBC with the feud between the two networks about who would win the rating war being so heated that apparently there was a fence built between the two trucks at the game. The ratings did deliver as Super Bowl I commanded the largest sports audience in the history of television at the time with 51.2 million people tuning in to watch the Packers and Chiefs square up against one another.

The Packers won their 5th championship title of the decade cementing their team in NFL history, the Chiefs were buoyed on even in defeat and they would come back to the Super Bowl just 3 years later. When they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to win their only Super Bowl. A surprising fact about this game was that the winning men of the Packers received $15,000 and the Chiefs $7,500 -the largest single-game shares in NFL history at the time. Nowadays the players on the winning team get $102,000 and the losers $51,000. The game was a non-sell out with just 61,946 people in the Coliseum, more than 31,00 empty seats. Perhaps this was because instead naming the stadium to host the Super Bowl three years in advance, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was named the stadium for the Super Bowl just three weeks earlier, giving fans very little time to organise a trip to watch the game. Or perhaps it was because people loudly complained about the extortionate ticket prices, with Super Bowl tickets being sold at $12.

A lot has changed in the NFL since this game 51 years ago but as we saw with the improbable finish to the Saints vs Vikings game yesterday. The same joy, passion and excitement still ring true for this game and through the playoffs.

Alex Riley

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