Three Hall of Famers, plus one who probably should be. Another player who gained football immortality that day and two whose participation was barely noted.
Those seven — Jim Taylor, Buck Buchanan, Willie Davis, Johnny Robinson, Max McGee, Frank Pitts and Smokey Stover — made up the considerable Louisiana delegation in Super Bowl I between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, which happened Jan. 15, 1967, 49 years ago today.
That’s nine percent of the 79 players who appeared in the game representing five different Louisiana schools.
And that’s not counting future Saints coach Hank Stram, then the Chiefs coach, who made Covington his home for the rest of his life.
McGee, a wide receiver who had played at Tulane, scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, and Taylor, the fullback from Baton Rouge and LSU who was the first of Vince Lombardi’s Packers to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had the first rushing TD in Green Bay’s 35-10 victory.
Robinson, another Baton Rouge and LSU product, was Kansas City’s leading tackler with nine stops, including one at the Chiefs 2 which prevented Taylor, his friend since their high school days, from getting a second score.
Buchanan and Davis, a pair of Hall of Fame-bound defensive linemen from Grambling, played big roles for the Chiefs and Packers, respectively, while the Chiefs’ Pitts, a wide receiver from Southern, and Stover, a reserve linebacker from Louisiana-Monroe, performed primarily on special teams.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good group,” said Stover, who now lives in Lafayette. “I’m just proud to be able to say I was part of that game because it was history-making.”
Maybe then it’s only fitting that Al Hirt and the Grambling band were featured halftime performers.
Certainly things were different from the 50th Super Bowl, which will happen in Santa Clara, California, in three weeks.
That’s partially understandable because peace between the NFL and AFL had been declared in June. Los Angeles, as the site of the World Championship Game (Super Bowl was the unofficial name for the first three years), wasn’t chosen until Dec. 1, 1966, and the date wasn’t set until two weeks later.
Along with Hirt and the Grambling band, pregame and halftime entertainment included the Los Angles Rametttes the Anaheim High School drill team, and a flying demonstration by the hydrogen peroxide-fueled Bell Rocket Air Men.
The UCLA choir performed the national anthem.
There were no parties and other celebrations building up to the game. Ticket prices were a modest $12, $10 and $6 — and at that, the massive Los Angeles Coliseum had 33,000 empty seats on game day.
Even the coin toss was low-key, with only the captains and referee at midfield.
Moreover, to the Packers, it wasn’t even the biggest game of the season.
To Taylor, the team considered its 34-27 victory at Dallas in the NFL championship game two weeks earlier to have been their biggest accomplishment.
“We felt like the Cowboys were the stronger team,” he said. “Kansas City had some good players, but they weren’t the caliber of the NFL players.”
Lombardi was similarly dismissive of what he called “a Mickey Mouse league.”
But he and the Packers were under tremendous pressure to win from the rest of the NFL.
Before the game, Frank Gifford, who was doing analysis for CBS (NBC also broadcast the game), interviewed Lombardi and later recalled that the famed coach was “shaking like a leaf.”
Taylor acknowledged the pressure, but didn’t recall Lombardi being so nervous before the game.
“We knew we were expected to win pretty big,” he said. “But we were confident that we would.
“We just had to go out and execute what we did best — run at you, move the chains, throw the ball some and play defense. We were stronger, tougher and we were just (going to) bring the game to you and pound you.”
Meanwhile, Stover said the Chiefs were excited about the chance to represent a league many still labeled as “NFL rejects,” although the AFL was at that point competing for the best college talent, thanks to the infusion of money from NBC, which allowed the signing of players like Joe Namath.
“We were underdogs, but I don’t think we were intimidated or anything,” Stover said. “Actually, we had a pretty good feeling about ourselves and we prepared well.
“We kind of had the attitude that everybody knew who the Packers were, but we wanted to show the world we could compete with those guys.”
Then, a few days before the game, Chiefs safety Fred “The Hammer” Williamson vowed to bring down his “Hammer,” the forearm he liked to deliver to opponents, on Packers receivers Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler.
“We kind of cringed when he said that,” Stover recalled. “We figured we probably had the lions ticked off pretty good.”
Early on, the Chiefs proved themselves capable of staying with the Packers.
Buchanan, who had been a 19th-round draft pick of the Packers in 1963 when the Chiefs made him No. 1 overall in the AFL draft, bowled over Fuzzy Thurston to sack Bart Starr on the opening series.
“Man, that guy could compete to this day,” Stover said of Buchanan, who died of cancer at 51 in 1992. “He was so big (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) but was so fast, too.”
On the next series, though, Green Bay reached the Kansas City 37 where, on third-and-3, the Packers pulled one of their signature plays, a down-and-in pattern to McGee who caught the ball at the 23 just beyond the Kansas City safety and went the rest of the way for the touchdown.
“Lombardi liked to throw on third-and-short,” Taylor said. “And Max could get open, plus he had really good hands. It was a very productive play for us.”
After the game, the tale began that McGee — then a 14-year veteran who did not expect to play in the game — spent the night before out on the town with two flight attendants. He was severely hung over, but when Dale went out early with an injury, he was pressed into duty.
“I don’t how true that is,” Taylor said. “Max was like Paul (Hornung); he liked to play hard but also did his work. With guys from Tulane, you never know.”
Added Stover: “We had a reunion of our Super Bowl teams this year, and you always hear things exaggerated from back then. Max probably liked telling that story.”
Later in the half, Taylor scored on a 14-yard run on the classic Packers sweep. The only difference was that Hornung missed the game with a pinched nerve in his neck and it was Elijah Pitts following Jerry Kramer on the through the hole.
“You just ran between the seals,” Taylor said. “All you needed was a little daylight.”
That touchdown gave Green Bay at 14-10 halftime lead. The Packers broke things open in the second half.
With the game in hand in the fourth quarter, Green Bay reached the Kansas City 2, but Taylor’s bid for a second TD was thwarted when Robinson stopped him at the 1. Pitts finished the job on the next play, however, to complete the day’s scoring.
“Johnny’s my dear friend,” Taylor said of Robinson. “I would never hold that against him.”
Taylor finished with 17 carries for 56 yards and was the game’s leading rusher.
“We lost, but I think we showed we belonged on the field with them,” Stover said. “You look at the guys we had, like Lenny Dawson and Bobby Bell and Jim Tyrer.
“Johnny Robinson was one hell of an athlete. I don’t know how he’s not in the Hall of Fame, because he sure belongs in there.”
The Super Bowl turned out to be Taylor’s final game with the Packers.
Earlier in the season, he had decided to play out his option rather than take what he felt was a low-ball offer from Lombardi.
Reports were that Taylor’s coach did not speak to him that season, but he said that is not the case.
“We both understood the situation,” he said. “I enjoyed my last year, just like I did all of my time in Green Bay.”
Taylor wound up playing his last season with expansion Saints, leading the team in rushing.
But first and foremost, he’ll always be a Packer.
With the 50th Super Bowl at hand, Taylor has been to reunions in Green Bay this year and will be part of special events in San Francisco before the game.
“Some of the guys aren’t with us anymore and some aren’t able to travel much,” Taylor said. “But when we do, we like to remember how good those teams were.
“That first Super Bowl, Lombardi had us ready to play, like he always did. There was never a doubt that about us winning that game.”