Jon's Jottings: Super Bowl always has a Packer connection
You can't really think about the Super Bowl without including the Green Bay Packers in the mix. The Packers were at the foundation of what has become the biggest sporting event in America and arguable pushed football ahead of baseball as "America's Sport."
The Packers upheld the honor of the National Football League in SB I by whipping the Kansas City Chiefs of the new American Football League 35-10 on Jan. 15, 1967. They did it again on Jan. 14, 1968, when they thumped the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
Next Sunday Super Bowl XLIV will be played in Miami.
Not a lot of current fans were around for that first Super Bowl 44 years ago and fewer yet have been to every one of the big games. Those who fit the category usually have a Packer connection, like my old friend Chuck Lane.
I met Charlie when I took the job as managing editor of Ray Nitschke's Packer Report just prior to the start of training camp for the 1975 season. He was the Packers' public relations director.
Lane started as a fresh-faced 23-year-old not long out of college PR man and caught on with the Packers and their drive to Super Bowl I under legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
"It's hard to believe the first game was 44 years ago," he said in a recent telephone conversation from Green Bay.
"The pressure was squarely on Lombardi to uphold the reputation of the NFL over the upstart AFL who had run up prices for talent and given the 'old guard' ownership, many of whom were tighter than the nuts on a new bridge, a colossal headache.
"It was a media-hyped, Hollywood extravaganza and Coach Lombardi was not comfortable in the midst of this circus. He knew he had a better team but the Chiefs were extremely talented at several positions and a lot bigger than the Packers. It was a real test of Lombardi's philosophy that it is The Team that matters, and the strength of the wolf is in the strength of the pack," Lane recalled.
Lane said the Packers were really on the down swing and a little long of tooth for the two Super Bowl Games. Most of the same players were part of the 1961 and 1962 powerhouse teams.
"I think that the NFL players really felt that the NFL Championship Game was the real title game," he said.
The was probably the case before Super Bowl II when the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 on a Bart Starr quarterback sneak in 13-below zero temperature Dec. 31, 1967, at Lambeau Field for the team's third consecutive NFL title.
Lane said middle linebacker Ray Nitschke was really hampered in Super Bowl II suffering from frostbite. "Lombardi didn't want anyone to know our guys had frostbite from the Dallas game," he said.
Another old acquaintance is a member of that rare group that has been roaming the sidelines for every Super Bowl. John Biever, now a Sports Illustrated photographer from Milwaukee, worked with his father, long time Packer photographer Vern Biever, at Super Bowl I. He was 15 years old.
"I think I was the youngest working journalist," said Biever, 58. My father and mother had gone out to LA ahead and I flew out with a Milwaukee Journal photographer who took me under his wing.
"There weren't many photographers on the sidelines and you could roam around," he said. The 100,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum only had about 75,000 in the stands."
Hollywood celebrities were in evidence "Bob Hope watched the alongside me and the comedian Flip Wilson," Biever said.
"I didn't think much about the historical significance of the game, but my dad was sure it would be big," he said. Vern Biever, 87, covered the first 35 Super Bowls and started as the Packer sideline photographer in the 1940s.
Keeping his string of 44 Super Bowls alive wasn't easy. "I went to the first two because the Packers were in it," Biever said. His dad helped him work out a deal with NFL Films and NFL properties for the next few years. When he graduated from UW-Milwaukee he became a staff photographer for the Milwaukee Journal. He has covered the last 24 Super Bowls as a Sports Illustrated photographer.
"Every 10 years, the NFL has a gathering for those members of the media who have covered every Super Bowl. "I think the last time there were only nine left," Biever said.
The first Super Bowl, in fact, was called the NFL-AFL World Championship game. Tickets ranged from $6 to $12. Last year the face value of tickets ranged from $500 to $1,000 each.