Packers, helping to launch 35th season of 'Monday Night Football,' made winning debut when primetime showcase began in 1970
It was early in the fall of 1970 and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, an innovative promoter of his game, was in the process of launching an intriguing addition to the nation's sports scene... "Monday Night Football."
Intriguing, certainly, because football - both college and professional - long had been almost exclusively a Saturday-Sunday event.
Although it since has become a Monday night fixture on network television and a national viewing habit, the innovation was introduced with surprising restraint - at least from the league's perspective.
In a six-page "Preview of the Season" in the NFL's 1970 "Official Record Manual," the only reference to "Monday Night Football" came in the final sentence, with this low-key announcement..."For the next four years, CBS has the broadcasting rights to NFC games, NBC has the rights to AFC games, and ABC will televise nationally a 13-week series of Monday night games."
Today, with the series currently celebrating the 35th year of its colorful existence, and the Packers as principals in the first "actual" Monday night game of the season next week (at Carolina Sept. 13), the milestone inevitably evokes memories of the Green and Gold's initial appearance on the prime time showcase.
Among the first teams to draw a "MNF" assignment, the Packers made their debut on the NFL's then-new vehicle in the fourth week of the 1970 season, invading California to take on the Chargers at San Diego Stadium the night of Oct. 12.
It would be the first meeting between the Packers, who had recently forged pro football history by sweeping to five NFL championships and winning the first two Super Bowls during the '60s, and the Chargers, who had just become members of the NFL's American Football Conference following the formal merger of the NFL and the former American Football League earlier in the year.
The Chargers were no strangers to success themselves at that point, having won five AFL division championships and one league title over a 10-year span - all under the legendary Sid Gillman, who had stepped down as head coach prior to the 1970 season.
Quarterback Bart Starr, in the next-to-last season of a storied, 16-year Hall of Fame career, presided at a 22-20 win over the Chargers in the Packers' historic Monday night baptismal - a game in which the Green and Gold led most of the way, then found themselves having to come from behind in the late stages to pull out the win.
The first half was largely a defensive struggle, the teams departing for their respective locker rooms in a 6-6 tie, the result of two early field goals by Packers placekicker Dale Livingston and two second-quarter "threes" off the right foot of Chargers specialist Mike Mercer.
Starr, a precise marksman who completed 16 of 20 passes for 158 yards without an interception, threw a pair of touchdown passes in the third quarter - a 4-yard strike to wideout Jack Clancy and a 2-yarder to tight end John Hilton - to put the Packers up 19-6.
Running back Travis Williams, en route to a 109-yard rushing performance, had triggered the Clancy touchdown with a 37-yard run to the San Diego 28 and cornerback Bob Jeter had set the stage for Hilton's score by pilfering a John Hadl pass at the San Diego 48.
Jeter's theft was one of four "picks" by the Green Bay defense, including two others by free safety Willie Wood and one by linebacker Dave Robinson, with Wood's second interception ultimately setting up a game-winning Livingston field goal.
There were some anxious moments for the Packers in the interim, however, as the Chargers retaliated with a pair of back-to-back touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Marty Domres stepping in for starter Hadl to spur the San Diego comeback.
Tight end Willie Frazier scored the first of them on a 24-yard end-around, three plays after linebacker Pete Barnes' interception of a Don Horn pass. On first down following the kickoff, the Chargers recovered a Horn fumble at the Green Bay 7, then scored again on a 1-yard run by Jeff Queen and mounted a 20-19 lead via Mercer's second and final conversion of the game.
Livingston next was short with a 49-yard field goal attempt but the Packers quickly regained possession when Wood intercepted Domres and returned 21 yards to the San Diego 13.
With fourth-and-3, and 3:39 remaining in the game, Packers coach Phil Bengtson called for the "sure thing." Livingston delivered a 14-yard field goal - and, subsequently, the Packers' first ever victory on "Monday Night Football."
Continuing an association with the team that is more than 55 years old, Lee Remmel was named the first official Team Historian of the Green Bay Packers in February 2004. The former *Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter and Packers public relations director, Remmel will write regular columns for Packers.com as part of his new assignment.
In addition to those articles, Remmel will answer fan questions in a monthly Q&A column. To submit a question to Remmel, click here. *