Super Bowl I was all business
Pressure was on to destroy AFL’s Chiefs
Before Super Bowl I, Vince Lombardi sequestered his team in Santa Barbara, Calif., for a week of practice, 95 miles away from the spotlight and distractions of Los Angeles.
Two weeks earlier, the Green Bay head coach had taken his team to Oklahoma to escape the harsh Wisconsin winter and prepare for the NFL Championship Game in Dallas. That didn’t exactly pan out, as a winter ice storm hit Tulsa that forced the Packers indoors and disrupted the head coach’s schedule.
The veteran team and defending NFL champions were unfazed, and played well in a hardfought, 34-27, victory over the Cowboys on their home turf.
Packers quarterback Bart Starr was at his best, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns, and the Packers defense rose up to stop the Cowboy’s lastgasp drive with Tom Brown’s dramatic interception in the end zone in the final minute.
But one game remained on Green Bay’s schedule: the firstever meeting of champions from the established National Football League and upstart American Football League.
With the leagues merging in 1970, this “Super Bowl” — so dubbed by Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt after his grandson’s high-bouncing toy ball — was established to determine football’s world champion.
Lombardi and the Packers, in the midst of their 1960s dynasty, were heavy favorites to showcase the superiority of the older NFL. The game would be broadcast by two networks (CBS had the NFL, NBC broadcast the AFL) and pressure to win weighed mightily on the Green Bay head coach.
Guard Jerry Kramer said his teammates and coaches felt the pressure to convincingly beat the AFL champion Chiefs.
“Coach Lombardi got calls from (Wellington) Mara, (George) Halas, (Art) Rooney, and other NFL owners to not just win, but to embarrass Kansas City,” Kramer said from his Idaho home Monday. “We had to beat the (expletive) out of them, prove the NFL was the better league.
“And you know what? Coach Lombardi was much tighter than the players. How could we tell? Well, he tripled the team fines (curfew, etc.) and he hid us 100 miles out of L.A. from the rest of the world.”
Santa Barbara was so fitting. Lombardi, a devout Catholic, chose a city named for a patron saint who was kept locked up in a tower by her rich pagan father, Dioscorus, to protect her from the outside world.
“Coach Lombardi told us, point blank, we had to win by three touchdowns to prove the NFL’s superiority,” former Packers linebacker Dave Robinson said from his Ohio home Saturday. “And Vince didn’t run the score up on anybody, even against the Little Sisters of the Poor teams in our league. There was a lot of pressure on the Green Bay Packers to win, and win big.”
So Lombardi did what he always did: make sure his team was prepared.
“Coach Lombardi was miser- able in Santa Barbara, it was a hell week of practice,” tackle Bob Skoronski said in a past Packer Plus interview. “There was no fun or sun for us. He pushed us so hard. I thought we might leave that game on the practice field.”
Former Green Bay fullback Jim Taylor relished the hard work and challenge.
“Coach Lombardi kept us away from L.A. for a reason,” Taylor said from his Louisiana home Saturday afternoon. “We had a job to do. I just went with the flow that week with all the press and stuff. It was a different kind of week for us.
“But we were confident and knew the Chiefs had some good football players, but not the depth we had. The AFL had only been in business for six years and the NFL was established. We had already beaten a tough Dallas team and many didn’t think Kansas City was the caliber of many of the top NFL teams.”
For Taylor, it would be his last season in Green Bay, one in which he rarely talked with his head coach.
“It was a business decision for me to stay or leave Green Bay,” Taylor said. “I had to look out for me and my family financially. But I was a Packer for nine years and was glad to be a part of that Super Bowl I team. We were on a mission to prove the Green Bay Packers were the better team and the NFL was the better league.
“Coach Lombardi demanded it.”
Lombardi was so focused on game preparations and practice that he didn’t realize his wife had left for Las Vegas for two days in the middle of the week.
In “When Pride Still Mattered,” David Maraniss wrote that Lombardi asked his wife if she had flown over the mountains on her Nevada flight.
“No dummy,” Marie Lombardi replied, “I flew under them.”
Kramer said Lombardi — on rare occasions — told the team a corny joke to break the tension. Lombardi didn’t tell any jokes leading up to the historic matchup with Kansas City in a game that would become a world spectacle.
According to Maraniss, he stopped the team bus as it was about to depart for the Los Angeles Coliseum on game day.
“He rose to his feet, stepped into the aisle, got the attention of his players, and danced a soft shoe. The players started screaming, ‘Go, Coach, Go.’
“When he sat down, Jack Koeppler (a close friend) asked him, ‘What the hell was that?’
“‘They were too tight,’ Lombardi said.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS While the Packers prepare for Super Bowl I in January 1967, Vince Lombardi studies the Los Angeles Coliseum turf.