Povich Rewind: Super Bowl I

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Povich Rewind: Super Bowl I
Jan 30, 2019

Shirley Povich covered his first Super Bowl on Jan. 15, 1967. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angelis Coliseum.

At the time, it wasnt that big a deal. But Vince Lombardis Green Bay Packers defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, before a less-than-capacity crowd at the Los Angeles Coliseum, was the beginning of a new tradition. Like the Colts victory over the Giants in 1958, Povich understood the impact of the game. But even he could not have predicted that the Super Bowl would become the closest single U.S. sports event to a national holiday.

Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 1967 — This was just before the opening kickoff, and there was a ceremony. National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle, with a signal to the prop men on the sideline, sent hundreds of uncaged doves fluttering into the Coliseum’s skies. There was no mistaking Rozelle’s message. This was symbolic of the new peace that had come to the newly merged pro football leagues.

Rozelle must have been joking. His NFL champions, the Green Bay Packers, gave the Kansas City Chiefs virtually no peace at all thereafter. They scored a touchdown against the American Football League representatives the second time they got the ball and poured it on mercilessly in the second half. It was the NFL telling the AFL that if you hang around with the Packers too long you get hurt, badly.

The final score of 35-10 in the Super Bowl was a fair commentary on the flow of battle and also where the greater skills lay. For a half, the Chiefs kept it respectable and even tossed a scare into Green Bay partisans. Also, there were some aggressive individuals among the AFL personnel who were putting a big rush on Bart Starr.

But the Packers blew the game open almost immediately in the third quarter and it was one of their defensemen, Willie Wood, who did it. Len Dawson aimed a long pass down field to his tight end, Fred Abranas, and Wood snagged it. He also raced it 50 yards upfield to the Kansas City five-yard line and pretty soon the Packers had the touchdown that made it 21-10, Green Bay, and if that wasn’t the ball game there would be great surprise.

For the AFL, this contest was a rude admittance to the company of the NFL, especially after being snared into visions of an upset victory. Quickly, Len Dawson got the Chiefs’ tying touchdown in the second quarter and at the half it was only 14-10, Green Bay, and the Packers were looking not at all as if they were invincible.

And then the Packers caved them in. Wood stole that Dawson pass to set up the 21-10 gap. The Green Bay rush line that had been baffled a bit by Dawson’s moveable pocket in the first half began to read his movements and put him under pressure. Bart Starr, who had a creditable 8-for-13 passing record in the first half, began exploiting the Kansas City defenses anew and connected with eight of his ten second-half pitches.

In the Super Bowl, Starr made Willie Mitchell and Fred Williamson of the K.C. defense his super-dupes. His first touchdown pitch, for 37 yards to Max McGee, found defender Mitchell in the wrong place. Starr later lost a 64-yard touchdown when his pass to Carroll Dale was called back because of offside, but on that play Mitchell and Williamson were lucky, both having goofed on the coverage of Dale.

The same blocking on his passes that Dawson was getting in the first half didn’t hold up in the second when the Packers had a better book on his movements. It was quickly established that the Chief’s running game, even with Mike Garrett sometimes able to dazzle, wasn’t going to be a problem for the Packers, and the second-half statistics tell of the Chiefs’ futility against Green Bay’s defenses.

In that second half, Kansas City had the ball for only four plays in Packer territory and never could move it beyond the Green Bay 45-yard-line. This was the Chiefs getting an understanding of Packer defenses that had allowed NFL clubs an average of only 12.6 points a game. On this day, each of the Packers had that potential $15,000 paycheck in mind and by their lights it was a sight better than the $7,500 fee for the losers.

Vince Lombardi, the Packer coach, said he didn’t make any special adjustments in the second half, but obviously his athletes did. Ron Kostelnik, Henry Jordan and Bob Brown put the smear on Dawson a total of six times for losses. Dawson had not been getting this kind of pressure in the AFL and his record of 16 completions in 27 pitches was an excellent one.

If Lombardi was under any anxiety in the first half when the Chiefs were refusing to submit to the Packers’ reputations, he did not betray it in his postgame statement. The Packers’ coach was even a little bit caustic when he was asked, “How does Kansas City compare to the National League clubs?” Said Lombardi, “They don’t.” He added later on that he didn’t want to get into such comparisons, but it was already on the record.

The Chiefs for most of the first half were indistinguishable from a good NFL team, and indeed the best lineman on the field was their Buck Buchanan, a 6-7, 285-pound tiger at tackle who was belting through the Packers’ blocking. Kansas City got its touchdown to tie it at 7-7 on an elegant maneuver by Dawson, whose fake handoff to Bert Coan drew defender Willie Wood out of the path of Curtis McClinton, the eventual receiver of a wafted toss into the end zone.

There could be admiration for this sort of thing, even on the Packers’ side of the field. The Packers as well as the Chiefs were under some tension, betraying it with a pair of costly off-side penalties. They had made much of the over-anxiety by Dallas a couple of weeks before which resulted in an offside that perhaps cost the Cowboys the tying touchdown in the NFL playoff, but here were the old pro Packers making the same kind of mistake.

But there are always two halves to a football game, and it was in the second half that the AFL learned more about the Packers. Not only did Green Bay put Dawson under the rush that set up the 50-yard interception by Wood, but down on the five-yard line where the going is supposed to be the stickiest, Elijah Pitts went all the way through the left-tackle passage carved out by Bob Skoronski.

That made it 21-10, Packers, and to get them their next touchdown Starr beat the third-down situations consistently. Packer depth showed through when Max McGee grabbed a pass for 16 on third and 11 and later snatched a 13-yard bullet pitch into the end zone. McGee got into the game as a backup man for Boyd Dowler, who was hurt in the first quarter. The Packer’s No. 2 flanker tried so hard he caught seven passes from Starr, two for touchdowns.

In the fourth quarter, it wasn’t quite fair. The Chiefs were reduced to playing catch-up and their attack was sheer desperation. They couldn’t afford a single run, and all of their 15 offensive plays were easily read passes that produced mostly gift yardage. It was not a good day for the AFL.

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