NFL – Throwback Thursday: A New Era Begins

04 Nov

Last week’s Throwback Thursday post featured a very historic Super Bowl game, and with the Green Bay Packers meeting the Kansas City Chiefs on this week’s slate of games, we’ll revisit another title game of historic proportions, the first Super Bowl. It was played between the Packers and Chiefs, and technically wasn’t a Super Bowl because the annual championship contest hadn’t been given that name yet. The established National Football League, with commissioner Pete Rozelle leading the way, engineered a merger with the newer American Football League, led by Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. Under the 1966 merger agreement, the 2 leagues would henceforth hold a common draft of college players, ending the wild bidding war between the rival leagues, merge into one league beginning with the 1970 season, and immediately following that ’66 season, hold an annual championship contest between each league’s best to be played at a neutral site. The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL title, while the Chiefs steamrolled the Buffalo Bills to emerge as the AFL champ.

The title game was dubbed the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” for the first couple of years, and this first one was carried by both networks that televised each league’s games. The Los Angeles Coliseum was chosen as the venue for the game, and it was treated more as a curiosity than anything. It didn’t sell out, and the NFL clubs basically ridiculed the junior league, dubbing it a “Mickey Mouse” league made up of NFL rejects. For anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the match (like me), however, the sight was incredible. Seeing these 2 teams from different leagues on the same field was unheard of, and the pre-game handshake between the coaches, Vince Lombardi of Green Bay and the Chiefs’ Hank Stram, was like nothing ever seen before. It was new and fresh and exhilarating, even if it wasn’t given a lot of credibility by the established NFL.


Hank Stram, Vince Lombardi pre-game handshake


Lombardi entered the game under tremendous pressure to win the game and show the NFL’s dominance. He was a smart football man and realized that this young K.C. club was talented and wouldn’t be a pushover. He also had confidence in his players, who had won 2 consecutive NFL titles and been champs 4 times in the previous 6 years. The Packers were dealt an early blow when their starting flanker, Boyd Dowler, went down with a shoulder injury. An unlikely hero then emerged to start off the scoring in the game. That would be Dowler’s backup, old veteran Max McGee. Rumor had it that McGee, not expecting to play on Sunday, had defied Lombardi’s curfew on Saturday night and was hung over when he entered the fray. McGee snagged a Bart Starr pass over his shoulder and rambled 37 yards into the end zone. It was the first of many big plays the old receiver would make in the game. Kansas City stayed competitive, and Len Dawson led a drive that culminated in a 7 yard scoring toss from him to his fullback, Curtis McClinton, to tie the score. Green Bay’s fullback, Jim Taylor, put his club back in front with a 14 yard touchdown run, and when a Chief drive near the end of the half stalled, Mike Mercer booted a 31 yard field goal to shorten the Packer lead at the break to 14-10.

Rozelle, whose background was in public relations, attempted to boost the game’s overall look from just another gridiron clash to an event. The halftime show included doves being released, singer Carol Channing and a couple of guys in football uniforms flying around the stadium with jet packs. It was a far cry from today’s lavish halftime shows, but it was a modest beginning to what was to become practically a national holiday in the future.



Halftime show included release of doves, Carol Channing and flying rocket men


The Chiefs put up a competitive fight in the first half, but the Packers’ experience and power took over in the second half. Elijah Pitts scored on a 5 yard run and Starr targeted McGee again on a 13 yard score to open up a 28-10 lead after 3 quarters. The lead allowed Lombardi’s forces to tee off on Dawson in the final quarter, and when a heavy pass rush forced an errant throw, Willie Wood intercepted and returned it 50 yards to set up the game’s final score, a 1 yard plunge by Pitts to secure Green Bay’s victory at 35-10. Starr was deservedly named the game’s MVP, although he got a lot of help from McGee, who staggered his way to a game-high 7 catches for 138 yards and the 2 TDs. The Chiefs never mounted much of a rushing attack, but Dawson and his receivers, Chris Burford, Otis Taylor and tight end Fred Arbanas, all put forth a good effort. Lombardi, who pleased his NFL counterparts by winning the game handily, praised the Chiefs as a very good squad but also threw a dig at the AFL, saying he felt there were numerous teams in the older league that were better than Stram’s club.


Green Bay QB Bart Starr, the obvious MVP


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