An Overshadowed Classic: The 1966 NFL Championship Game

When you look back at the rich history of the Green Bay Packers, we focus squarely on the Lombardi era teams that won 5 NFL championships in the 1960’s. While the most iconic of these championships was The Ice Bowl for the 1967 title, a more gripping affair in the classic sense took place for the 1966 crown. While every championship has its importance this was the 2nd in a row which set the Packers up for the chance at winning 3 straight.

Bart Starr standing amidst a charging George Andrie (66) Bob Lilly (74) and the late Willie Townes (71) attempting a pass.

With the merger between the NFL and the AFL signed, each league would send their champion to play in a world championship game called the Super Bowl. While the sporting press sided with the traditionalist NFL there were revolutionaries who sided with the new guard if you will. The American Football League was established in 1959 and began play in 1960.

The new league had a flashier style of play and took to the air in a way that aside from the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas, the rest of the NFL and traditionalists scoffed at. It was 3 yards and a cloud of dust over here. Evidenced by the perennial champion Packers’ signature play… the power sweep. If I were to tell you to close your eyes and picture the Lombardi Packers, the image of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading either Jim Taylor of Paul Hornung would come to mind vividly.

The founder of the AFL was Lamar Hunt of Hunt Bros. Oil and a Dallas, Texas resident. He had been thwarted in an attempt to buy the St Louis Cardinals a decade previous and wasn’t taken seriously when asked about NFL expansion to Dallas. So once he started the American Football League with his Dallas Texans as a flagship team (now the Kansas City Chiefs), the NFL scrambled and put a team down in Dallas which was then named the Cowboys. Each began play in the 1960 season.

Over the next few years the AFL and NFL waged war for the top college athletes. The Cowboys took several seasons to learn how to win under the guidance of Head Coach Tom Landry. Yet in spirit because they had been borne out of expansion and were the new kids on the block, the Cowboys were AFL kindred spirits residing in the NFL. They had a new way of scouting and evaluating talent much like the AFL and although Coach Landry had been the defensive coach (the term coordinator didnt’ exist until 1967) for the New York Giants in the 1950’s, he pioneered several offensive formations and sets to undo the 4-3 he brought into prominence a decade earlier.

It took a few years to gain footing however Landry finally had a team that could challenge for the NFL Championship by the ’66 season. He would take on his old nemesis Vince Lombardi in The Cotton Bowl to decide who would go on to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Why was Lombardi a nemesis?? Lombardi was the Offensive Coach (Coordinator) of the New York Giants in the 1950’s before moving on to Green Bay. His offense used to sharpen Landry’s defense and vice versa for a great Giants team.

Another side note to this iconic championship it was Dallas’ Tex Schramm who stepped across league lines with Lamar Hunt to discuss the merger in the 1st place. It happened at Love Field and they met at the Texas Ranger Statue. So not only were the establishment Packers going to Dallas for the championship, they wanted to give the traitorous Cowboys their comeuppance. When you think of the city of Dallas from a national perspective, keep in mind we are only 3 years removed from JFK’s assassination there….and Lombardi was a Kennedy Democrat

Into this cauldron Lombardi and his team stepped…

With Tom Brown’s desperation last second interception to conclude the ’66 NFL Championship, the Packers survived and were off to Los Angeles for Super Bowl I. Tom Landry would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches in history. His team wasn’t ready to carry the mantle of league champion yet but they would come back to win Super Bowl VI as the 1st of Landry’s 2 championships.

It was Vince Lombardi’s team who defended their ’65 NFL championship’65 NFL championship and would go on to win Super Bowl I. There they would defeat Kansas City to win their 4th overall league title. Now looking back they had to actually beat two upstarts to win it all originating from the city of Dallas to crown themselves as Team of the 60’s. This would be the last with the Hall of Fame backfield duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. It was quiet Bart Starr who elevated his play with a record 4 TD passes in he win down in Dallas. Out in L.A. he was even better carving up the Chiefs to win the 1st MVP of the very 1st Super Bowl.

Super Bowl I Trophy sits in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

Another championship loomed in 1967 but it was the prime time finish of the ’66 championship at night that pushed the Packers into NFL lore.

As for the trophy won out in Los Angeles, The Chancellor visited it in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame just two weeks ago.

Today this rivalry renews as the Packers are down in Dallas to take on the Cowboys in Jerry World. Hopefully this look back helps in explaining the rivalry began here which will enrich The Ice Bowl memories created a year later.

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Keep in mind we’re still campaigning to assist Jerry Kramer to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and you can help. Lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #64
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Senior Selection Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

 

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SUPER BOWL IX CHAMPION 1974 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The first NFL championship in 42 years where the game ball was given to Steeler patriarch, the late Art Rooney. It had been a long time coming for all the decades of despair this team had been through. From the war time merging with the Philadelphia Eagles to form the “Steagles”. To the failed ability to recognize quarterback talent by cutting future Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas. Nothing good had happened for this organization for decades.

Enter Chuck Noll.

superbowlixNoll was hired to be the Head Coach after serving under Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts regime in 1969. His last game with the organization was the loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. By then Noll was defensive coordinator after serving for years as a defensive line coach, most notably with the early 60’s San Diego Chargers in the AFL.

They say the player is the father to the coach a man becomes and Noll had been a lineman in his playing days. So instead of building his team first with a quarterback or featured runner, he drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene. He would build his defensive masterpiece from the ground up. A point often forgotten is the selection of LC Greenwood in the 10th round that same year.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

In 1970, quarterback Terry Bradshaw was selected as the #1 overall pick. They finally had their quarterback of the future but the chief building block was Noll’s defense and in particular his defensive line. Five years later they were the best in pro football and came to be known as “The Steel Curtain”

Of course the Steelers had the great class of 1974 to put the finishing touch on what would become a football dynasty. However a look back and you can truly see how Pittsburgh’s first NFL championship had AFL roots.

If the AFL hadn’t been around to offer Chuck Noll his first coaching job at the professional level in 1960, would he have been in place to take the Steelers job in 1969?? Also look at the make up of the Steeler team from a draft and racial standpoint. Mining talent from historically black colleges and smaller schools was an AFL trait, not an NFL one. What Noll did in Pittsburgh was recreate the San Diego defensive line of the early 1960s he wasn’t allowed to in Baltimore.Steel_Curtain_Time_Magazine

  • Joe Greene – North Texas St.
  • LC Greenwood – Arkansas AM & N
  • Ernie Holmes – Texas Southern
  • Dwight White – East Texas State

So think of Joe Greene as a latter day Earl Faison or Ernie Ladd who had come from Grambling. By the time we include the late quarterback “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, Mel Blount from Southern, and John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, this team resembles the 1965 San Diego Chargers or 1969 Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL more than it did the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

super-bowl-logo-1974Many former players have talked about the racial quota that existed in the NFL back when. Well along with Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram, Chuck Noll broke that system for good and let talent flourish. First the Steelers took $1 million to move in with the AFL teams to form the AFC in 1970 with the league merger. Than Chuck Noll built the best AFL team he could through the draft

In doing so he brought Pittsburgh a championship it so desperately sought. It would not be the last.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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This bauble was what each player and coach received after their 16-6 win vs the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.

The History of The AFL: Making Amends

As The Chancellor of Football, it’s imperative the history of the NFL and AFL is preserved and showcased for future generations. One of my favorite friends to Taylor Blitz Times is Chris Burford. Not only was he the starting wideout for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I, he was the first player signed in the history of the American Football League. He also suggested a great book to me last year. The Ten Gallon War which covered the days when the Chiefs / Dallas Texans battled the Cowboys for the heart of Dallas.

chris burfordAt the end of the highlight for Super Bowl I, he’s the one who puts on the Cowboy hat and heads out as John Facenda’s voice offers “In another year it will be the turn of the AFL. But this first spectacle of a sport belonged to Green Bay.”

These words echoed in my mind when Chris commented on an article which was the earlier incarnation of one I did on the ’66 Chiefs here.

“The major press were all in the NFL’s corner and denigrated our teams throughout the 60′s…however, when all was said and done after 10 years and 4 Super Bowls, the score was AFL 2 NFL 2…..(Chiefs 1-1), and the football world knew we could play with or against anybody….was a great time in pro football and a joy to have played in the AFL, from the beginning and through the emergence of the league….John Facenda, the Sabol’s, Pete Rozelle, Sports Illustrated, and the NFL propaganda machine notwithstanding.”

Full comment and original article here.

I thought it would be fitting to share with Chris one of my older archives where the late Steve Sabol had the late John Facenda narrate The History of The AFL. It’s told in a very respectful vain. The importance of this is even in the highlight for Super Bowl III, NFL Films narrated it with an NFL slant. Steve Sabol some time around 2000, later apologized for it. Going over the top about “One more moment for the master”- John Unitas trying to bring the Colts from behind instead of focusing on Joe Namath, the AFL, and the Jets victory. Which further validates Chris’ point.

So without further adieu lets take you back to this gem recorded in 1987 yet was produced in 1982.

Unfortunately I started two a day practice and didn’t get the other two shows recorded. What most folks don’t understand is there is still a battle between the AFL and NFL. For those that were there, some like Al Davis, didn’t want a merger. Others went on yet have their memories intact of the 10 year war and are fighting to be remembered and recognized. How the late DE Jerry Mays and FS Johnny Robinson were on the All Time AFL team, yet not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are glaring omissions.

Websites like mine and Todd Tobias’ Tales From The American Football League do what we can to recognize these players. I know this doesn’t totally make amends Chris but something I wanted to share this Memorial weekend.

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SUPER BOWL II RUNNER UP 1967 OAKLAND RAIDERS

Ahhh…January 14, 1968 the second AFL/ NFL World Championship game…Super Bowl II: Packers 33-14 over Oakland. The game was best remembered as Vince Lombardi’s final game as legendary Packers coach. Yet the culmination of Al Davis work, since returning from a stint as AFL commissioner, also took the field that day down in the Orange Bowl.

sb2l

Al Davis fist Raider ring

The 1967 Raiders had the best record in all of pro football with a 13-1 record. After throttling the Houston Oilers 40-7 in the AFL Championship, they were poised to avenge the AFL’s first SuperBowl loss. Behind the “Mad Bomber” Daryle Lamonica, this era of Oakland Raider football was among the best in Raider history. When you look at the years 1967, ’68,’69, and 1970 the Raiders made it to the AFL Championship or AFC Championship every year.

The block AFL

The block AFL “A” along with the 1967 AFL Championship score 40-7 over Houston.

Warren Wells and Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff were the receivers during these years. Wells was the quintessential deep threat where as Biletnikoff was the intermediate target piling up yardage over the middle. Biletnikoff at one point held the postseason record for receptions, yardage, and touchdowns who later was named Super Bowl XI MVP. Hewritt Dixon and Clem Daniels (AFL All Time leading rusher) were the running backs for this team.

The defense was led by Ben Davidson at DE, Carleton Oats, Tom Keating on the defensive line formed a serious pass rush. Dan Conner and Gus Otto were steady linebackers yet the secondary was a serious strength of this team and where they borrowed the techniques started in Buffalo of tight cornerbacks playing “bump and run” coverage. Hall of Famer Willie Brown and Kent McCloughan were strong on coverage. This coverage along with the rush was what propelled this team to a 13-1 record. Their 1st chance to win the AFL championship in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum went like this:

Silver & Black...#1 in the AFL West

Silver & Black…#1 in the AFL West

They played in some of the most famous games in football history, from The Heidi Bowl to George Blanda’s miracle season of 1970 where he garnered MVP votes for 5 nail biting finishes. It was this era that propelled the Raiders into becoming the winningest organization in sports…then the Stabler, Branch, Biletnikoff (still going), Tatum, Atkinson, Villapiano, Hendricks era took it from there.

super-bowl-logo-1967Not bad for a franchise that was supposed to be in Minnesota huh? Minnesota?? Yeah Minnesota. I have told the story before where one of the final AFL teams was going to be in Viking country. However the NFL brass told the owners of the Minnesota territory to wait until the last second to defect to the NFL for one of their franchises. When that happened, the AFL moved the chess piece further west and drafted the Oakland territory. So its fitting that the masterpiece that was the first Raider Super Bowl win was in the 11th edition against Minnesota…. How’s that for irony?? LOL

The AFL: A True American Success Story

Roster from Ange Coniglio’s Remember The AFL.

Unlike other leagues that popped up and died, the American Football League lives on in the American Football Conference of the modern NFL.  With a burgeoning economy after World War II, Americans turned their attention to a life of leisure during the 1950s. Sports became the outlet for most of America. There was a clamor by many who felt slighted when it came to big league sports.  The furthest point west on the map where major professional sports was played, was Wisconsin & St Louis Missouri. Then something happened to change the landscape.  The AAFC football league folded and the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, along with the champion Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.

This event helped propel the Cleveland Rams west to Los Angeles, where they joined San Francisco to be the first pro teams in California. Now other western cities wanted in on the action and all the other sports started to broaden their minds toward relocation.  Soon moves were made by an L.A. Councilwoman who massaged the beginnings of what came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California also in 1957.  Expansion was on soon with the Lakers in 1960 moving from Minneapolis.  Now Texans wanted an NFL team and had the money to gain an NFL franchise or so Lamar Hunt thought.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

Then the NFL had the landmark 1958 NFL Championship overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts that transformed the spark of interest into a flame. Hunt and principles moved quickly to form the American Football League since the NFL had thwarted their attempts to bring football to Texas. Now you have to understand who we’re talking about here for a second.  Lamar Hunt was son of H.L. Hunt of Hunt Brothers Oil! We’re talking seriously deep pockets here. The NFL in its arrogance thought they would outlast a fledgling league like the AAFC just a decade before….damn were they wrong.

Once the idea of the AFL gained momentum, the NFL turned to espionage and tricky double dealing to sink the new league.  The eight cities that Hunt and the other AFL owners decided on were Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. However the NFL bent the ear of the Minnesota ownership group, and told them they would give them an NFL franchise if they would decieve their brethren, by defecting to the NFL at the last minute. It almost worked but the AFL scrambled to move the eighth team to its new home in Oakland. Meanwhile the NFL put a team in Dallas to compete with Hunt’s Dallas Texans, they were called the Cowboys.

The AFL had some seriously rich men that wanted to see it succeed in Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt, and Barron Hilton yet there were other ownership groups that struggled to make ends meet as the league got off the ground in 1960. Many teams were losing money at record rates, some to the tune of a million dollars or more.

It was former Boston Patriot owner Billy Sullivan who coined the phrase “The Foolish Club” when listening to his colleagues joke about revenues lost.  However John Madden recalled a reporter asking Lamar’s father H.L. Hunt “What did he think of his son losing $1 million  a year??” Hunt’s answer was cryptic to the NFL and the sporting establishment’s ears when he replied “Well, he’ll be ok. At that rate he’ll only be able to go on for another 150 years.” Damn!!  On 1960’s dollars??  Yikes!!

Although the NFL had been around forever, for the first time they were up against wealthy men who gained their fortunes as titans of industry outside of football. NFL owners George Halas, Carroll Rosenbloom, Tim and Wellington Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Art Modell were primarily football men and knew their asses were in trouble.  If it came down to the AFL’s pockets they would be in for a battle they couldn’t win.

The first few years had the established sporting press scoffing at the league’s style of play, uniforms, retread players and coaches, you name it. This is an era where if you went against the establishment, you had more than an uphill battle just for acceptance….I mean the radical 60’s were not yet underway. Yet here they were continuing the plan on expanding professional football to more points within the United States.

One of the first items the AFL did was secure a television contract to assist the teams that had financial problems like the Titans and Raiders.  The Raiders had also come to a point of folding when they contacted their fellow teams and said they couldn’t sustain operation financially.  Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson stepped in and lent the Raiders $450,000 to stay afloat because the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams. As for the Titans and Harry Wismer, the Jets needed an ownership group that had the pockets and vision to rival that of the New York Giants. Enter Sonny Werblin.

Werblin spearheaded a group that purchased the bankrupt New York Titans, renamed them the Jets and helped negotiate the most lucrative television contract to date with NBC.  Over $1.8 million dollars went to each team in 1965 and with all of their teams solvent for future operation, new stadiums went up in San Diego (Los Angeles), Oakland, & Denver. Now the next move Werblin spearheaded was to draft Joe Namath and pay him a ridiculous $427,000 contract to be the star in New York. Uh oh…this single shot turned the draft into a who is going to pay the most for a players services between the two leagues.  Talk about impact.

An unwritten agreement existed between the two leagues to not sign each others current players.  Yet the NFL went underhanded, yet again, when the New York Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak from the two time AFL Champion Buffalo Bills.  The AFL retaliated big time. It was recounted by Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Texans who had moved his team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs, to meet Tex Schramm and discuss a possible merger. Hunt still lived in Dallas. They met at Love Field under the Texas Ranger statue and when the meeting was over, Hunt flew to Houston to elect Al Davis AFL Commissioner.  Joe Foss had been a good commissioner but now they needed a “war time President”.  Al Davis quickly helped teams realize they could bring the NFL to its knees if they created a bidding war by signing away their superstars.

The moves of signing away San Francisco quarterback John Brodie, Los Angeles’ Roman Gabriel, and Chicago’s Mike Ditka were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The bidding for player’s talents had driven contracts up dramatically and the NFL grudgingly came to the table.  Al Davis was away about to sign another player when Hunt told him that they were going to meet the next day about a merger and they didn’t need the headlines. *Pay attention because this is the birthplace of the Chiefs / Raiders rivalry and the Al Davis against the world mentality takes place*  Davis signs the player which angers Hunt.

In the subsequent negotiations, the leagues agree to a merger with the two league’s champions playing in a new championship game, the Super Bowl, for the first four years and realignment into one all inclusive league in 1970.  Pete Rozelle remained commissioner over all of football, there was a common draft starting in 1966… and Al Davis….?? They left him out in the cold sort of..

al-davis-bustThis is where he received his dubious ownership distinction and awkward title President of the Managing General Partner for the Raiders.  He had only been a coach before, yet one of the  items that seemed spineless is the NFL made the AFL’s teams pay $3 million in reparation damages each and had Al Davis been there would never have acquiesced to such a demand.  Not when they had the NFL crawling to the table.  It was this animosity toward Pete Rozelle, Bud Adams and especially the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Hunt that raged on for many years. *This is where the animosity between Davis and Rozelle fostered…remember the court battles of the 1980s between the Oakland Raiders v the NFL??*

The patch worn by the Kansas City Chiefs on January 11, 1970 for Super Bowl IV. The final game of the AFL

In the first two Super Bowls Green Bay bested Kansas City and Oakland respectively.  The landmark win came when the Jets upset Baltimore to show that the AFL was on a par in Super Bowl III.  Then with a twist of fate, the ownership group who traitorously tried to sink the AFL by defecting, came into Super Bowl IV against the Kansas City Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt.  In the last game ever for the AFL, Kansas City buried the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to bring not only the Super Bowl record to 2-2 between the two leagues, but able to have the satisfaction of kicking Judas’ ass in the process.

In conclusion: It was wrong to not include Davis and to me is the one of the few black eyes in this success story.  The AFL was swallowed into the monolith that is the NFL after expanding the AFL to 10 teams with Cincinnati, and Miami emerging.  These 10 teams were joined by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts, yes the Baltimore Colts who gave the NFL a black eye with that first loss. They didn’t go empty handed, each club was paid $3 million to move to the new AFC.  Yet AFL loyalists such as Davis wished the two leagues stay separate, and he truly believed they would have eventually folded the NFL.

This is the ring for the Raiders triumph in Super Bowl XI. Look at the middle pic of the side of the ring. There you’ll see the AFL Block “A” along with the AFL logo and not the bold modified AFC “A”.

In fact in the 3 Super Bowls the Raiders won in the post merger NFL, Davis always used the Block “A” of the AFL and not the bold modified block “A” of the AFC on their Super Bowl rings.  He didn’t relent until the 2002 AFC championship ring where he finally used the AFC “A”.

hof-lamar-huntThere you have it…how the AFL changed the sporting landscape after the first shot was fired by the folding of their predecessors, the AAFC.  San Francisco’s entering the NFL doesn’t get the impact that it should because so much focus was on champion Cleveland coming over.  The western expansion of American Football owes a debt of gratitude to the 49ers yet even more to those original owners.

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