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'Super Bowl I' To Remember


As one of fewer than 10 people to have been in attendance for every Super Bowl since the game's inception, Packers' team historian Lee Remmel looks back on the first AFL-NFL Championship Game.

I have had the rare privilege of attending all of the 38 Super Bowls played to date. And, as might be expected, they have run the competitive gamut.

Fortunately, there have been a fair number of garrison finishes - such as last year's New England squeaker over Carolina by an Adam Vinatieri field goal with four seconds left - along with a variety of mediocre matchups and an occasional "blowout."

But, while looking forward to Super Bowl XXXIX, to be contested Sunday by the reigning champion New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, I can't help remembering Super Bowl I - and what set it apart for me...for all time.

It was not even known as the Super Bowl then. I was lucky enough to be one of the 338 members of the media credentialed to cover the historic contest in Los Angeles, the latter a modest total compared to the 'army' of 3,000-plus that will be chronicling and videoing XXXIX on Sunday in Jacksonville.

It remains fondly memorable for a variety of reasons, chief among them the fact that the Packers were not only involved but, to the delight of the faithful, proceeded to emerge from that confrontation in the cavernous LA Memorial Coliseum as rulers of the professional football universe.

On that sunny Sunday afternoon, from the historical perspective, the contest was officially presented to the 61,946 fans in-house and a national television audience as the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game."

(And the same name, except for noting it was the second AFL-NFL World Championship Game, was employed to identify the contest the following year).

The Super Bowl designation did not become the official name for professional football's ultimate game until Year Three, when the Roman numeral III was used in referring to the game--and those first two contests were retroactively renamed "Super Bowls."

Getting back to Number One, for what was to be the only time in Super Bowl history, the game was not a sellout.

It seems hard to believe, looking back over a 35-year span in which ticket prices have soared from a paltry $10 for that first game to $500 per seat today, but there were 30,000 empty seats in the LA Coliseum on that occasion, apparently the result of confusion over whether the game was or was not to be blacked out on local television.

And there were other circumstances that set Super Bowl I apart from the 37 editions of the "Big Dance" that have followed.

Behind the scenes, leading up to the game, there was the simmering competitive backdrop - the product of what had been a bitter player-signing war between the leagues - the American Football League and the National Football League.

The "war" had just ended six months earlier with a merger of the leagues. But if there was peace-it was an uneasy peace. The wounds of war were slow to heal.

And those concerns were intertwined with the issue of pride. The venerable leaders of the older, long-established NFL could not bear the thought-and the potential embarrassment of--losing to the young, upstart AFL, then a mere six years old.

In fact, the elders of the NFL - club officials and head coaches of the clubs not involved in the big game - conducted an unofficial campaign behind the scenes in an all-out attempt to avert such a catastrophe.

At the time, those close to Coach Vince Lombardi said that, as a consequence, they had never seen him as "uptight" as he was during the two weeks prior to the game. Club owners and coaches were reportedly calling him every day, telling him, 'You can't lose to those people' - and it was getting to him.

Externally, there also was an air of mystery about the game because teams from the two leagues had not previously met on the football field. So what was likely to happen that historic day was anybody's guess.

As it turned out, the first half might have been somewhat more competitive than the Packers had anticipated, since they led by a tenuous 14-10 score a the intermission, which meant that, that back home in snowbound Green Bay, the natives were exceedingly restless at halftime.

But, fortunately, a major breakthrough was at hand for the Green and Gold. It came as the threatening Chiefs reached midfield following the second half kickoff.

Len Dawson, at quarterback for Kansas City and under a heavy rush, fired in the direction of tight end Fred Arbanas in the flat. But the pass was short and Packers free safety Willie Wood wheeled past Arbanas, gathered the ball in at the Green Bay 45, broke to the middle and cut back to the right, maneuvering all the way to the Chiefs' five-yard line before being run to earth.

Before the stunned Chiefs could recover, halfback Elijah Pitts barged over left tackle into the end zone on the next play behind a power block by tackle Bob Skoronski and the Packers had, for all practical purposes, wrapped up the first Super Bowl championship - although they would add two more touchdowns to their collection before departing the premises with a 35-10 victory.

An intriguing sidelight, which also set 'SBI' apart from many Super Bowls to follow, was provided by veteran end Max McGee, who came off the bench early in the first quarter - following an injury to starter Boyd Dowler - and proceeded to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including an acrobatic, back-handed catch of 37-yard strike from quarterback Bart Starr which staked the Packers to a 7-0, first quarter lead.

It was not discovered until after the game that McGee, who had caught only four passes during the regular season, was so sure he would not be called upon to play that he broke Lombardi's curfew the night before t he game and was out - by his own admission - until 6:30 a.m. the morning of the contest.

And, further, was far from ready when summoned to replace Dowler, the victim of a shoulder injury.

"I was just dozing in the sun on the end of the bench," the eternally droll McGee related in a post-game interview, "and I heard Coach Lombardi yell, "Get the hell in there, McGee!"

Considering his spectacular production-his 138 yards remained a Super Bowl record until SB X, when Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann harvested 161 yards on four passes from quarterback Terry Bradshaw to break McGee's mark, it is tempting to wonder what McGee might have done, had he gotten a good night's sleep.

McGee did, by the way, also take the post-game opportunity to announced that, the next day, he would be accompanying his bosom buddy - Paul Hornung, and Hornung's fiancée - to Hawaii for their then impending nuptials.

Earlier in the hectic aftermath of the first "Big Dance," I had chance to be standing right in front of Lombardi during his wrap-up press conference.

Vince, obviously both relieved and triumphant in victory, seldom tried to be funny. But, on this unique occasion, he couldn't resist adding a facetious postscript.

Taking note of the fact that an AFL football had been used for one half of the game and an NFL football for the other half - he expansively twirled the game ball in his hands - it had been presented to him by his players - and said with a chuckle:

"The National Football League ball catches better...and kicks better...than the American Football League ball..."

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 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. *

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