Packers Rewind: Super Pilgrimage with Willie Davis
An exclusive conversation with the Packers' defensive captain at the site of one of his team's greatest triumphs, Super Bowl I. (Photos: Jay Sorgi/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Video by wtmj.comvideo
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Click the "video" link at left to see the full interview with Willie Davis at the L.A. Coliseum, and click here for a photo gallery of the site of Super Bowl I.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the only stadium in the world to host the Olympics, the World Series and the Super Bowl, including the very first Super Bowl which Willie Davis' Green Bay Packers won.
"What happens, when you come in this facility, you think of all the great moments here, from football to the Olympics and whatever, but for us at Green Bay, you think about the Coliseum as a very, very special place."
It's a place where the Packers showed the world that after three years where they won NFL titles while the AFL competed with the established league, the Packers could finally compete with the upstarts and show they truly were, undisputedly, the world's best football team.
The '66 Packers went 12-2 and were four points away from an undefeated season, with a 21-20 loss at San Francisco and a 20-17 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings as their only blemishes.
The team outscored its opponents by a 2-1 margin. Its quarterback, Bart Starr, was the 1966 NFL MVP, and he was so effective that for every interception he threw, he delivered three times as many touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer.
Meanwhile, for every four points the Packers defense gave up (163 in the regular season), the opportunistic defense scored one off interception returns for touchdowns (42 points).
So often when we think of the Super Bowl I, we go back to the MVP performance of Bart Starr and the great day by the late Max McGee after a night on the town.
But like every great win, there's always the defensive side of things, and it's that defense that helped the team become overwhelming favorites going into Super Bowl I against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Still, coach Vince Lombardi was taking nothing for granted in a game with NFL pride on the line.
"The thing that Coach Lombardi reminded us of more than anything, was that this team had the same kind of big-name players that any team in the NFL had," said Davis. "That simply meant, on any given day, with enough will, enough planning, enough determination, they could beat anybody."
The Chiefs boasted a squad with future Hall-of-Famers in quarterback Len Dawson, defensive lineman Buck Buchanan, linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier and cornerback Emmett Thomas.
Its offense had defending Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett returning to his collegiate home stadium, along with explosive receiver Otis Taylor for Dawson to throw to.
"Coach Lombardi replayed that message to us so much, that it really had a lot to do with how we played the first half.
In Davis' mind, they played tentative. They respected the Chiefs' weaponry so much that they got sucked in by play-action passes to allow the Chiefs their only touchdown of the day, a scoring throw to Curtis McClinton, in the second quarter.
Therefore, one of the most dominant single-season teams in NFL history only owned a 14-10 advantage at halftime.
"I never will forget, when we went into the dressing room, and took our seats, I remember Coach Lombardi came up," said Davis, who described Lombardi's legs as trembling so much that they hit his own while he sat right in front of his head coach.
"He said, 'I'm going to tell you one thing. You played 30 minutes reacting to the Chiefs and respecting them. Now, I want you to go out there and play 30 minutes of Green Bay Packer football and let's see whether they can adjust to you.' "
The Chiefs didn't adjust.
On their first possession after the locker room speech, Davis said he got the team's first sack of the second half.
"I said, 'Hey, this is what we've got to do.' It was almost like the example. The next thing, we got another big rush."
That rush produced a rushed throw from Dawson and an interception by Willie Wood, which he returned 50 yards to the cusp of the Kansas City goal.
"After that, we were clearly in charge."
A status which Elijah Pitts cemented with a touchdown run on the next play to increase Green Bay's lead to 21-10.
They stayed in charge, shutting out the Chiefs the rest of the way and adding the second of Max McGee's two scoring receptions and another Pitts touchdown run to earn a 35-10 win.
"You walk up the tunnel here at the Coliseum. When you're a winner, it's a relatively short walk," said Davis through a hearty laugh.
"We probably made it very clear beyond any other NFL championships, that we are the best in the world."