Green Bay became "Titletown" in late 1961, just as Willie Wood was beginning his storied Packers career. Would the nickname have endured if the Packers had lost a little more than five years later in the first AFC-NFC Championship game, an annual showcase that ultimately became cemented as the Super Bowl?
Thanks in no small part to Wood, there is no doubt. When the Kansas City Chiefs hoisted their first Super Bowl trophy in 50 years Sunday, one day before Wood's death at age 83, there wasn't much reason to discuss Green Bay's convincing 35-10 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl I. The Chiefs would win their only other Super Bowl three years later.
Wood intercepted legendary Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson and returned it to the Kansas City 5-yard line in the third quarter, with Elijah Pitts scoring from there to give the Packers a 21-10 lead. It may have been the game's dagger moment.
"We played well in the first half and at the start of the second half," Chiefs coach Hank Stram said. "But that interception by Wood changed the complexion of the game."
Dawson was on point early, hitting 11 of 15 passes in the first half for 152 yards, but he was limited to 49 yards on 5 of 12 in the second half. He was sacked three times in addition to the interception.
For those who weren't around to see the Packers thwart the Chiefs in that first AFL-NFL Championship on January 15, 1967, here's what else to know about the Packers' 35-10 victory.
It was a curiosity and had a major following, even though it was the first of its kind
Bringing the champions of the American Football League and National Football League together for the first time in a game at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles represented a first-of-its-kind phenomenon, and was nowhere near the spectacle it has become today. Chunks of the stadium were empty, but that doesn't mean the game was devoid of buzz.
The AFL-NFL World Championship Game earned its eventual "Super Bowl" distinction through the media coverage surrounding it. But it wasn't just a novelty, either; both teams were seriously taking a chance to prove their league superior. The Packers were the favorite and presumably under the greater burden of pressure. The game aired on WTMJ and WISN in Milwaukee and was broadcast by two radio networks.
Paul Waldmeier of the Detroit News called the game "overemphasized and overexposed" and said "nobody seemed to know" what the outcome meant, and Waldmeier's colleague Jerry Green called the game "overballyhooed." When Green saw the Packers resorting to blitzing, he wrote, "Vince Lombardi was embarrassed to confess that use of this strategic device."
Bob Brachman of the San Francisco Examiner said, "The American Football League in general and the Chiefs in particular know why they are called the Packers. They grind you up, grind you up some more and then refine you until you fit in the box."
In Green Bay, reaction to the success was a little subdued when the Packers were fogged in at the Los Angeles airport for their return, forcing the cancellation of a return celebration. "It's very quiet," a police sergeant said. "A few are out riding and honking horns and waving banners, but other than that, it's very quiet."
The Packers were the clear-cut favorite even though they barely won the NFL title game
The Packers finished their season 12-2 and won a second straight NFL title over the Cowboys in a thriller, 34-27, and the Chiefs finished 11-2-1 with a win in the AFL title game over the Buffalo Bills, 31-7.
The teams exchanged three game films, but NFL and AFL teams hadn't met on the field. The Packers' defense had been tested in the previous two games, allowing 25 points per game after permitting just 11.6 in the regular season.
The football world was still buzzing about the NFL title game, an often-forgotten game in the history of the Packers franchise, not as historic as the Super Bowl game to follow nor as iconic as the Ice Bowl the following year.
Dave Robinson's near-sack of Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith snuffed out a fourth-and-goal on the 2-yard line with just more than 30 seconds to go, sealing the 34-27 win for the Packers. Meredith's panicked pass was intercepted by Tom Brown.
The Packers led only 14-10 at halftime, but then turned it on
The Packers turned their season finale into a rout after clinging to a 14-10 lead at halftime. Pitts had two second-half scores from short distance to put the game away.
At one point in the first half, a 64-yard touchdown pass to Carroll Dale was negated by a motion penalty, but Bart Starr and the Packers converted a trio of third downs before Jim Taylor dragged a defender into the end zone for a score that made it 14-7.
Defensive back Willie Mitchell intercepted Starr on the Chiefs 11-yard line with the Packers up 28-10 and looking for a knockout blow, but the Chiefs only got to Green Bay's 46. The Chiefs punted, Starr found Max McGee on a 37-yard pass play and the drive concluded with a Pitts touchdown.
Kansas City replaced Dawson at quarterback with Pete Beathard and Lombardi began subbing in.
It was a game that made a legend out of Max McGee for more than one reason
McGee, a 34-year-old backup receiver pressed into duty when Boyd Dowler was injured on the third play of the game, finished with an astounding seven catches for 134 yards, including two touchdown receptions. His one-handed 37-yarder against the 24-year-old Mitchell was the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, and he later added a touchdown reception in Super Bowl II as well.
Even more famous than the fact that he caught just five passes that entire year coming into the game or his history-making catch was the story that he played the game hung over after breaking curfew the night before and spending the evening with two flight attendants he met in the team's hotel bar.
McGee died in 2007 but forever remained in the good graces of Packers fans, serving as the team's color commentator for radio broadcasts from 1979 to 1998.
Though McGee may be remembered as the star of Super Bowl I, Bart Starr was named the game's MVP (sound familiar to modern Super Bowl fans?). He completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards, even though his string of 173 passes without an interception was broken in the fourth quarter. Starr won a sports car presented by a national magazine and received a $15,000 check.
It looked like the end of an era for the Packers
Several Packers were believed to be considering retirement after the game, including guard Fuzzy Thurston, who battled back from a midseason injury to play. McGee, Taylor, Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer were all on the cusp of their careers ending. All kept playing in 1967 except Hornung (who didn't play in the Super Bowl as he nursed a left arm injury), though Taylor played his next and final year in New Orleans.
Of course, the Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, as well, beating the Oakland Raiders in Miami, 33-14. That game was also considered an AFL-NFL Championship Game; the Super Bowl terminology was adopted in 1968, and the leagues finally merged in 1970.
Editor's note: The years during which Max McGee worked Packers radio broadcasts (1979 to 1998) have been corrected.