A Sixth Excerpt From the Book: “When It Was Just a Game”
On January 11, 1967 Gene Ward writing in the New York Daily News had declared:
“In fact, and to be brutally frank, this could wind up being labeled the ‘Stupor Bowl.'”
The New York Times sports section headline on January 15, 1967 read:
“The Super Bowl: Football’s Day of Decision Stirs Nation.”
The Los Angeles Times headline read:
“Super Sunday – Here At Last!”
The United States of America at that time of the first Super Bowl was involved in a bloody and unpopular war in Vietnam. During the game an ad would feature President Lyndon B. encouraging the purchase of war bonds. On the home front there was protest against the war and a surging civil rights movement. It was a time when the Louisville draft board turned back Cassius Clay’s appeal for exemption from the service on his plea that he was a Black Muslim minister.
That year of 1967 the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, all made music. “Hair” had opened on Broadway. The first issue of Rolling Stone was published priced at 25 cents. The last “Milton Berle Show” aired on TV. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was created. Seat belts were to finally become a staple in automobiles.
Median household income was just over $7,000. Unemployment was 3.8%. The average price for a gallon of gas was 33 cents. A home cost on average $7,300. For a nickel one could purchase a first class stamp. A ticket to a movie on average was $1.20. A gallon of milk was $1.03. A pack of cigarettes was about thirty cents. Life expectancy was 70.5 years.
The scene was finally set for the playing of a football game that many were now calling “the Super Bowl” or the “Super Game. After the historic announcement of the merger of the two football leagues, after months of bickering, backstabbing, bargaining and ballyhoo, it was finally almost Game Time.
MICHAEL MACCAMBRIDGE: I think for Lamar Hunt, it must have been surreal to wake up on the morning of January 15, 1967 and get ready to go to a football game which he himself made necessary. Without Lamar’s toughness and tenacity, you not only don’t have the game, you also do not have had the expansion in the 1960s where the number of pro football teams almost doubled.
BART STARR: On the morning of our game I woke up, took a quick shower and headed downstairs to read the paper and have some breakfast. I walked by Max McGee and greeted him. He looked like he might need a shave and was wearing the same sports coat and slacks as the night before. Max said, ‘Hey, Bart,’ glanced at his watch and headed for the elevators.
At 11 A.M. sharp, the Packers, packed and poised and feeling some pressure although most would not admit it, took their seats on the chartered bus taking leave of their Los Angeles Sheraton-West Hotel. All was in order for the trip to the Coliseum. There was a lot of hustling and bustling about by writers who covered the team as they settled into seats.
BUD LEA: Max McGee had returned to the hotel just in time for the team’s breakfast. He napped for an hour and then boarded the team bus for the Coliseum.
“This is Super Morning of Super Sunday, “an upbeat Max McGee shouted out. We are all going out to the Super Bowl and I am a Super End.”
BILL CURRY: We didn’t know at the time that he had been out all night, but he made that very clear later. McGee was hung over. There were some chuckles about that. There was some discussion.
The last one to come aboard the bus was Coach Vince Lombardi. He settled in. He sat in the front seat, right side. The doors of the bus were shut. The bus began to slowly move out.
“Just a minute,” the Packer head man told the driver.
Standing up, moving into the aisle, Lombardi called for the attention of his players. Then he slowly broke into a muted soft shoe dance.
“Go coach, go!” some players encouraged him.
Later Lombardi explained that he did what he did to loosen things up. “They were too tight,” he said.
BILL CURRY: It was bright and sunny and that seemed strange at that time of year. Getting on the bus it struck me: everybody is behaving just like they always do. The players were not the least bit taken aback by all the stuff that went on. Nobody behaved any differently than normal. There was the regular normal joshing by the ones who tended to be funny like Hornung.
A couple of guys on the bus were discussing the selections for the Pro Bowl which was always a big deal to the players. Somebody was chosen, somebody wasn’t. I remember Forrest Gregg saying, “Gosh, I never played very well in those things.”
And I wanted to say, “Yeah, but you’ve been in 10 in a row, Forrest!”
I’m just sitting there listening to all of this.
CHUCK LANE: Going to the game there were a couple of buses. In those days the local media were invited to travel with us. We had a number of people from our executive committee along. We were a very tight group. It was an awful lot riding on that game, and I think everybody had a great deal of confidence that we could win the ballgame, but there was pressure.
DAVE ROBINSON: I thought the game was never going to be that big. In fact, my wife wanted to come because she said some day it was going to be bigger than the World Series.
I told her, “It’s never going to be bigger than the World Series, but come on out to California anyway.”
A foggy Sunday morning in Long Beach greeted the Kansas City Chiefs players who stood around their bus, some hugging wives.
The Chiefs were set to go directly from their Long Beach hotel to the Coliseum.
“On the ride to Los Angeles,” Hank Stram said, “the team was quiet and preoccupied. Each player was afraid of the game, of coming into the presence of greatness– the Green Bay Packers.”
Hank Stram had made the point of repeating to his players: “We’re playing for every player, coach, official who has ever been in the AFL. We have a strong purpose.” Now he repeated that statement again.
The Los Angeles Times assigned four of its top photographers to the contest. Art Rogers, Ben Olender and Charles O’Rear were positioned on the sidelines, cameras at the ready with 35 millimeter black and white film. Larry Sharkey and his sequence camera was in the press box. He had an overhead location to shoot from with 70 millimeter black and white film.
Ground for the impressive and gigantic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had been broken on December 21, 1921. Designed originally as a memorial to World War I veterans, built at a cost of $954,873, it opened May 1, 1923 on 18 acres in the architectural style of art moderne.
The Coliseum had a long history of playing host to all manner of events including the 1932 Summer Olympics. In 1967, the USC Trojans first began playing there and have used the facility ever since. After the Dodgers left Brooklyn at the end of the 1957 season, they played at the Coliseum as the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958 to 1961.
Now it was going to be the environment for the football game of all football games.
(Autographed, mint, discounted copies of WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME are available direct from the author)
Written by acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an introduction 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 40th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 43 sports books including the classics: best-selling New York City Baseball, 1947-1957 and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. He also authored the acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park. The prolific Frommer is working on “the Ultimate Yankee book” to be published in 2017.