A Dozen Things I Learned Researching, Interviewing, Writing ‘When It Was Just a Game’

By Harvey Frommer, Contributor
September 7, 2015 10:15 pm Last Updated: December 13, 2015 11:25 pm

1. Pete Rozelle hung out in a Miami Hotel men’s room for a couple of hours and adjusted his tie, looked away, washed his hands whenever anyone entered. He later guessed that he had washed his hands 35 times while waiting before he got the news—at 33 he was the new NFL Commissioner.

2. At American Football League NY Titan games in the Polo Grounds, owner Harry Wismer would count the number of legs sitting in the park, and then multiply by four instead of dividing it by four to get an estimate of the attendance.

3. The “whammy” Super Ball was the inspiration for the name SUPER BOWL. Pete Rozelle and other powers thought up and suggested AFL-NFL Championship Game, the Pro Bowl, the Ultimate Game, the Big One….

4. Vince Lombardi out of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, an altar boy at his local parish, had never held a head coaching position beyond the high school level when he showed up On February 2, 1959 as a tough talking and determined 45-year-for a meeting with the Green Bay Packer Executive Committee. They were interviewing him for the head coaching job. He wound up hired as head coach and general manager.

5. Elevated on the blocking sled, Lombardi was fond of exhorting his players to do nutcracker drills. Blood flowed freely.  The Packers worked out with cracked ribs, broken bones and torn cartilage. Dehydrated players were sometimes sent off to the hospital.

6. In the Packer locker room at Lambeau Field there was a big sign:

What You See Here

What You Say Here

What You Hear Here

Let It Stay Here

When You Leave Here

Vince Lombardi, coach of the NFL champions the Green Bay Packers worries his team through to a 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 2, 1967 in Green Bay. The Packers now move into the Super Bowl game against Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. (AP Photo)
Vince Lombardi, coach of the NFL champions the Green Bay Packers worries his team through to a 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 2, 1967 in Green Bay. The Packers now move into the Super Bowl game against Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. (AP Photo)

7. BILL CURRY: Coach detested racism or any other prejudice. He wouldn’t tolerate it. He had experienced it because of his Italian-American background. Other teams had quotas; they would only have 1 or 2 African-American players. And Coach Lombardi didn’t believe in that stuff. We had 10 guys on the team at times that were African-American.

He didn’t care what your pigmentation was if you could play, and that was a great lesson for a southern kid coming up. I had never been in a huddle with an African-American until I got to Green Bay.

8. Hank Stram of the Kansas City Chiefs was Lombardi’s opposing coach in the big game.

Coach Stram’s attention to detail was evident in everything like having Dial yellow soap in the showers. He thought it reduced infections. Like practicing over and over again the right way for a punter to give up a safety in his own end zone, to how the team would run out on the field to warm up, to replacing every shoe lace in every shoe prior to every game, to all kinds of rituals and beliefs.

9. Both Stram and Lombardi were very religious, had one or more priests traveling with them and on the sidelines during games. Both coaches quoted scriptures.

10. That first AFL-NFL Championship Game was played on January 15, 1967. It was the only “Super Bowl” game to be telecast by two television networks, the only Super Bowl to fail to sell out. Tickets at $15, $12, $10 were thought to be over-priced and no one knew exactly what the new game was all about especially with two Midwestern teams in it.

11. The Chiefs under Stram and the Packers under Lombardi had no quotas of any kind and they did so much for diversity in pro football.

It was estimated that there were more African American athletes on the field that first Super Bowl day, than at any other time in the previous history of a sport that saw the NFL draft start in 1939 with no franchise selecting an African-American player until 1949. Even during World War II, when the NFL was so shorthanded, no blacks needed to apply. They knew bigotry barred the door for them.

12. With that first game history, the Super Bowl has evolved into the grandest, grossest, gaudiest annual one-day spectacle in the annals of American sports and culture. All of this incredibly spun off the game that was played on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a game that for a time lacked a name, a game that lacked a venue, a game that lacked an identity, a game that didn’t even sell out.

Written by acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an intro by pro football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, When It Was Just a Game tells the fascinating story of the ground-breaking AFL–NFL World Championship Football game played on January 15, 1967: Packers vs. Chiefs. Filled with new insights, containing commentary from the unpublished memoir of Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram, featuring oral history from many who were at the game—media, players, coaches, fans—the book is mainly in the words of those who lived it and saw it go on to become the Super Bowl, the greatest sports attraction the world has ever known. Archival photographs and drawings help bring the event to life.

Dr. Harvey Frommer is in his 39th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium was published in 2008 and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park was published to acclaim in 2011.