Whether leveling a receiver, intercepting a pass or returning a punt, Willie Wood made a contribution in each game he played over his 12-year Packer career.
Yet, after the 1959 season, Wood, the co-captain and quarterback of the University of Southern California Trojans, had no place to play football after his graduation. Too short to be considered as a pro quarterback, Wood wasn’t drafted by either the National Football League or the new American Football League.
He wrote all 12 NFL teams asking for a tryout. The Packers responded and soon found they had landed a future Hall of Fame player for the price of a postage stamp.
At just 5’10”, Wood could jump high enough to touch the goalpost crossbar with his wrist. In 1961, he was the NFL’s leading punt returner. He led the league with nine interceptions in 1962.
Wood soon earned a reputation as a solid tackler. He became famous for hitting much bigger runners and receivers at full speed, ankle high, felling them in his wake.
An eight-time All Pro at free safety, Wood led Packer interceptions five times in his career including three straight seasons, 1961-’63. He is second only to Bobby Dillon in Packer history with 48 pickoffs. He scored two touchdowns on interceptions as a Packer.
He was a starter in all five of the Lombardi Era championship wins and in the first two Super Bowls.
One of the most memorable plays in Wood’s career came in Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Leading by just four points early in the third quarter, the Chiefs were driving on the Packers when Wood intercepted a Len Dawson pass and returned it 50 yards setting up a five-yard run by Elijah Pitts. The Packers went on to a 35-10 victory.
After his Packer career, Wood became head coach of the Philadelphia Bell in the short-lived World Football League in 1974 and later was head coach of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
Wood was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
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