Wil­lie Wood, Pack­ers great and Hall of Fame DB, has died

Antelope Valley Press - - WEATHER/OBITUARIES -

LOS AN­GE­LES (AP) — Wil­lie Wood, the Hall of Fame de­fen­sive back who won five NFL cham­pi­onships with the Green Bay Pack­ers un­der coach Vince Lom­bardi and made the first in­ter­cep­tion in Su­per Bowl his­tory, died Mon­day. He was 83.

Wood died of nat­u­ral causes in Washington, ac­cord­ing to Robert Sch­midt, his long­time friend and for­mer team­mate at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Wood had suf­fered from ad­vanced de­men­tia for sev­eral years.

Af­ter be­ing un­drafted out of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Wood sent post­cards to sev­eral NFL teams seek­ing a try­out. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder signed as a free agent with the Pack­ers and played safety for them from 1960-71.

“The Pack­ers saw his heart while the oth­ers saw his size,” Jim Hill, who played for the Pack­ers from 1972-74 and now is sports di­rec­tor for KCBS-TV in Los An­ge­les, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Vince had an eye like Joe Torre or Tom La­sorda. He could see tal­ent where other peo­ple couldn’t.”

Wood had a key in­ter­cep­tion in the first Su­per Bowl, re­turn­ing it 50 yards to set up a third quar­ter touch­down that sealed the Pack­ers’ 35-10 vic­tory over the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.

“Wil­lie was Mr. Packer on de­fense along with Ray Nitschke,” Hill told the AP. “Wil­lie set the tone and the pace for peo­ple who played safety — very smart, very ar­tic­u­late, a good tack­ler. Any­thing that was good about sports and foot­ball was Wil­lie Wood.”

Wood had a 31-yard punt re­turn in the sec­ond Su­per Bowl that stood as a record for 16 years. The Pack­ers beat the Oak­land Raiders 33-14 in the 1968 ti­tle game.

“The Green Bay Pack­ers fam­ily lost a leg­end,” Pack­ers pres­i­dent and CEO Mark Mur­phy said. “Wil­lie’s suc­cess story, ris­ing from an un­drafted rookie free agent to the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame, is an in­spi­ra­tion to gen­er­a­tions of foot­ball fans. While his health chal­lenges kept him from re­turn­ing to Lam­beau Field in re­cent years, his alumni week­end vis­its were cher­ished by both Wil­lie and our fans.”

Wood was a nine-time All-NFL first or sec­ond team hon­oree, an As­so­ci­ated Press All-Pro from 1964-68, and played in eight Pro Bowls. He won five of the six NFL cham­pi­onship games he played in. In his ca­reer, he had 48 in­ter­cep­tions and had 1,391 yards on 187 punt re­turns. His 154 ca­reer starts was an NFL record for a safety.

He was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Pack­ers Hall of Fame in 1977. He was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team and was one of two safeties cho­sen on the Su­per Bowl Sil­ver An­niver­sary Team in 1990.

“The game has lost a true leg­end with the pass­ing of Wil­lie Wood,” Hall of Fame pres­i­dent and CEO David Baker said. “He had an un­be­liev­able foot­ball ca­reer which helped trans­form Green Bay, Wis­con­sin, into Title­town USA. Wil­lie was a rare player who al­ways fought to be a great team­mate and achieve suc­cess.”

Al­though they didn’t play at the same time in Green Bay, Hill was friendly with Wood.

“I would al­ways tell him, ‘No­body could re­place you,’ and he would smile and down­play his role,” Hill said.

Wood, how­ever, was no pushover on or off the field.

“If some­body made fun of his height, they didn’t do it in front of him,” Hill said. “He was one tough (guy).”

The flag at the Hall of Fame in Can­ton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in Wood’s mem­ory.

At USC, Wood played quar­ter­back and de­fen­sive back from 1957-59. He was the first black quar­ter­back in what is now the Pac-12

Con­fer­ence. He was a team cap­tain as a se­nior when the Tro­jans were 8-2. He came to USC af­ter play­ing the 1956 sea­son at Coalinga (Cal­i­for­nia) Ju­nior Col­lege, where he was a JC All-Amer­i­can

Wood went into coach­ing af­ter his play­ing days. He be­came the first black head coach in the sport’s mod­ern era with the World Foot­ball League’s Philadel­phia Bell in 1975. He also was the first black head coach in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League with the Toronto Arg­onauts in 1980 and ‘81. He also had stints as an as­sis­tant coach with the San Diego Charg­ers and Arg­onauts.

Af­ter coach­ing, Wood ran his own busi­ness in the Washington, D.C., area.

He is re­garded as one of D.C.’s great­est high school ath­letes af­ter star­ring at Arm­strong High.

WOOD

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