When I was 16, my oldest brother gave me a trip to Super Bowl I for Christmas. Jack was nine years older than me, still is, and his girlfriend at the time lived in Los Angeles and had a brother my age.
It was my first trip on a plane, and it was delayed that Friday night out of San Francisco with heavy fog … but once I arrived in LA it was a storybook weekend. Turns out Sue’s brother was a very cool guy who was friends with this up-and-coming band on the LA scene. They were playing a song in their garage that was popular at the time, For What It’s Worth, by Buffalo Springfield, and the football game on Sunday was played in perfect weather without a full stadium.
Well that band, the Backgrounds, never made it big. I could have known that with a basic knowledge of the music business given they were playing someone else’s music. But the football game played that weekend did catch on big time. It wasn’t called the Super Bowl when played on January 15, 1967, simply the AFL-NFL Championship Game, and tickets for the game that year averaged $12.
Now, I did have a basic knowledge of football in 1967, and when asked by the principal at my high school who I thought was going to win, I had been called into his office for booking bets on campus, I told him to lay the double-digit spread and take the Green Bay Packers.
In those days, the American Football League was considered a stepchild to the more established National Football League. The fact that the two league’s were meeting at all was due to an agreement ignited by Al Davis and consummated by league founder Lamar Hunt with NFL officials including Pete Rozelle and Tex Schramm. Davis had raided the NFL by signing top quarterbacks to exorbitant salaries that forced the established league to the bargaining table. The negotiations resulted in an agreement to merge the American and National football leagues into one league with two conferences, the American and National.
The two leagues didn’t begin play in that format until 1970, but had agreed in their bargaining that the contracts between the AFL and top quarterbacks would be nullified and the competing leagues would meet in a title game beginning in 1967.
So, in 1967 we had the Green Bay Packers, led by legendary head coach Vince Lombardi, taking on the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs guided by Hank Stram.
The AFL hadn’t begun play until 1960, and the young league was considered no match for the NFL. But Lombardi wasn’t taking anything for granted. He emphasized to his squad the importance of showing domination, and a loss by the Packers to the Chiefs would forever tarnish their place in football history.
The Packers could have taken the game for granted, certainly wide receiver Max McGee did. He spent the night and early morning hours before that first Super Bowl partying and showed up at the stadium still carrying the effects of a drinking binge. He figured he was going to spend the day on the sidelines, he was a backup on the team, but when Boyd Dowler was injured, McGee was forced into action and took full advantage of the opportunity. McGee scored the first ever Super Bowl touchdown on a reception from Bart Starr and collected another scoring toss later in the game won by the Packers, 35-10.
Now, 54 years after that first Super Bowl was played, the two teams that participated in that game are poised to advance to the title game again. They were in a similar position last year, both Kansas City and Green Bay had advanced to their conference championship games in the 2019 season, but while the Chiefs won at home the Packers were upended in San Francisco.
This year, both the Chiefs and Packers are at home and favored to advance. We’ve still got a few days to sort out all the factors leading up to these title games and evaluate who has the edge against the current point spreads. But, from where I sit, I think we are headed to a rematch of Super Bowl I.