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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The AFL/NFL Championship Game

24 Oct

With the NFL season entering week 7, there is a game scheduled, between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, which makes for a perfect Throwback Thursday feature for the NFL’s celebration of its’ 100 year history. That game was played on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and it was a historic event as it was to become the first ever Super Bowl game. The game was retroactively called “Super Bowl I” but in reality at the time it was simply called the AFL/NFL Championship Game, and was considered an afterthought, especially by the members of the established NFL. The game wasn’t sold out, but NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made sure it received maximum coverage as the networks who aired each league’s games, NBC and CBS, were both allowed to broadcast it. One of Rozelle’s many attributes as commissioner was his ability to recognize how much media coverage had grown the game. The Packers were a powerhouse at the time, dominating their NFL competition, and were considered huge favorites in this game over the Chiefs, who had beaten the two-time AFL champion Buffalo Bills to reach this point. NFL people had ridiculed the new league as a “Mickey Mouse” operation made up of NFL rejects. Packer coach Vince Lombardi was extremely nervous about the game and how his team would approach it. He realized that although his club was superior, the Chiefs were well coached by Hank Stram and were made up of players who were also professional and would be highly motivated to prove they belonged on the same field with his team. Most of his players may have considered winning the NFL title as the pinnacle of their season and view this game as nothing more than an exhibition. Lombardi gave his team a short motivational speech prior to the game, telling them they “should be proud of their profession and that they could do a lot for the reputation of the league by playing their best” on this day.

 

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Coaches Stram and Lombardi meet before the game

The game itself was competitive in the first half. The Chiefs may have thought they caught an unexpected break when Packer flanker Boyd Dowler re-aggravated an injury he had suffered in the NFL title game and was forced out. However, his replacement, wily old veteran Max McGee, was ready for the moment, even though some of his teammates claimed he was hung over from partying the night before. He opened the scoring by making a spectacular one-handed grab of a Bart Starr pass and carrying it into the end zone for a 37 yard touchdown. K.C. quarterback Len Dawson engineered a scoring drive early in the second quarter, ending it with a 7 yard toss to his fullback, Curtis McClinton, to tie the game. Jim Taylor scored on a 14 yard run and the Chiefs’ Mike Mercer connected on a field goal and Green Bay went into the half leading 14-10. The halftime show for the game was nothing like the extravaganzas put on today on Super Bowl Sunday, but Rozelle did kick up the entertainment a notch from a regular season game by adding jazz trumpeter Al Hirt, 300 pigeons being released, 10,000 balloons and a couple of guys in jet packs wearing football uniforms flying around the stadium as the bands played.

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Flying jet pack football players at halftime

While the Chiefs had stood proud by keeping the game close for a half, the Packers asserted their dominance in the second half. Starr, who would be named the game’s Most Valuable Player, orchestrated a pair of third quarter scoring drives, the first ending on a 5 yard run by Elijah Pitts and the other on another TD toss to McGee, this time from 13 yards out, to extend the Packer lead to 28-10. McGee, who was used sparingly in the regular season, had a career day, totaling 138 yards and the 2 TDs on 7 catches. The Green Bay defense held Dawson and the Chiefs in check the rest of the day, and Pitts scored again from a yard out to seal the deal for his team at 35-10. One of the “highlights” of the second half came when Chiefs’ safety Fred “The Hammer” Williamson was knocked unconscious when his head collided with the knee of a Packer player. The flamboyant Williamson had boasted of planning to use his famed forearm “hammer” to knock multiple players out of the game, but he wound up on the receiving end of an errant blow instead. The NFL moguls and pundits got what they wanted out of the game as the Packers were dominant in the end. Lombardi even added to the fire, stating afterwards that even though the Chiefs were an excellent, well coached club, he thought there were several NFL teams who were better. It would take a couple of years for the AFL to be able to compete, but by Super Bowl III, when Joe Namath and his New York Jets delivered a “guarantee” and an upset win over the Colts, they gained their measure of pride.

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Super Bowl I MVP Bart Starr

 

 

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