Unearthed Super Bowl I broadcast a three-hour slice of long-lost Americana

Unearthed Super Bowl I broadcast a three-hour slice of long-lost Americana

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You probably think you’ve already seen all you need to see about Super Bowl I. That’s mostly because of NFL Films and how ubiquitous its highlight shows are this time of year.

You’ve surely seen the one about the first Big Game, narrated by the Voice of God himself, John Facenda, featuring brief snippets of the pregame show (two guys shot airborne on individual rocket launchers) and halftime show (trumpeter Al Hirt).

You’ve seen Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda looking on inside the LA Memorial Coliseum, which was famously only two-thirds full that day, Jan. 15, 1967.

You’ve no doubt seen the Packers, mainly Max McGee and Willie Wood, mic’d up and cackling when Kansas City’s Fred (“The Hammer”) Williamson is knocked out of the game late, after chirping all week that he was going to do the same to the Green Bay receivers.

“Some folks think they’ve seen the game because of that,” says Ron Simon, head curator of the Paley Center for Media. “Or they’ve seen longer versions that were stitched together to essentially show the whole game.”

Who was watching?

Saturday afternoon, however, inside the Paley Center theater at 25 W. 52nd St., the actual CBS broadcast of Super Bowl I — or, as it was referred to at the start of the telecast, the “AFL-NFL World Championship” — will be shown, and it is a fascinating slice of three hours of American life from that third Sunday of January 1967.

The First World Championship Game, AFL vs. NFL, later known as Super Bowl I, on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. CBS via Getty Images

Thanks to Martin Haupt, an engineer living in Scranton, Pa., who had the technology to record the game decades before the invention of VCRs or DVRs — and the foresight to save it, unlike CBS or NBC, both of which also simulcasted the game — the Paley Center is now the proud caretaker of this game, seen as it was 20,845 days earlier on WDAU-TV, Channel 22 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

In a high-definition world, the broadcast is jarring at first, but the eyes quickly adjust, especially if you own eyes that were raised on TV images that didn’t seem sharper than real life.

The colors strike you first, and that game was blessed by a brilliant tapestry of green-and-gold and red-and-yellow, both the uniforms and the painted end zones of the participating teams.

A Bell Rocket Air Man performs as part of the halftime show during Super Bowl I. Vic Stein

Other things grab you, too. Most of the commercials have been deleted, but the ones that survive are telling.

In just under four years, the FDA would ban all tobacco ads from TV, but among the sponsors of this game were Pall Mall and True cigarettes, and Muriel cigars — appropriate, given that among the most famous snapshots of that day is Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson dragging on a heater in the halftime locker room, a bottle of Fresca at his feet.

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Quarterback Len Dawson in the Chiefs’ locker room during Super
Bowl I. Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock
Kansas City Chiefs players resting during Super Bowl game against Green Bay Packers. Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Brews and bruises

Fresca didn’t sponsor the game. But Schmidt’s did. And so did Black Label. And that also feels right, since if you’d actually watched the game on Jan. 15, 1967, you were likely to have a case of those old snub-nosed Schmidt’s on ice somewhere nearby, and you were almost certainly engulfed by clouds of smoke, in a saloon or a living room or a basement somewhere.

The game itself, in truth, looks awfully similar to what we see today. The Packers and Chiefs happen to wear essentially the same uniforms in 2024 as they did in ’67, so that helps. But there is a lot of pre-snap motion, a lot of balls being slung in the air — it probably surprises you to know the teams combined for 65 passing plays and only 53 rushes.

There’s only two single-bar helmets visible, Bart Starr’s and McGee’s, and the two placekickers, Don Chandler and Mike Mercer, kick straight ahead. Otherwise . . . it really looks a whole lot like a game you might’ve saved in your digital queue a few weeks ago.

Willie Mitchell (back to camera) of the Chiefs tackles his opponent. Art Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock
Kansas City’s Fred Williamson was knocked out of the game late, after chirping Green Bay receivers all week. Getty Images

Well, except for a couple of notable things. There’s a lot of extra elbows and slaps while on the ground after tackles, that would cause a littering of yellow flags today. There’s one play, midway through the third quarter, where Kansas City’s Buck Buchanan stops Jim Taylor at the line of scrimmage, the two men clearly exchange pleasantries, and then Buchanan takes Taylor by the shoulder pads and heaves him to the ground.

“That’s going to cost Buchanan and the Chiefs,” Frank Gifford says.

Except, well, of course it cost them nothing other than a brief admonition from the official and a play-on rotating of the ref’s arm.

The same thing happens a little later when Williamson clotheslines Green Bay receiver Carroll Dale about 15 yards clear of the line of scrimmage.

NBC announcer Paul Christman speaks with CBS announcer (and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Frank Gifford) before Super Bowl I. Vernon Biever/WireImage.com
Green Bay Packers’ Elijah Pitts runs with the ball during Super Bowl I. Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Rough and tumble

Not only does Williamson not dance over his fallen prey, not only does Dale get right up and not wave his right arm looking for a flag . . . but Gifford says, approvingly, “hard but clean play right there.”

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This is where the differences between Then and Now really stand out. At one point Jack Whitaker (who took over play-by-play for the second half after Ray Scott did the first) says merrily: “Everything’s a record here today!”

And in that spirit, all week, Williamson (a shut-down corner long before the term had been invented) had become the very first Super Bowl Week quote machine; in the most famous he vowed to take out the Packers’ two main receivers: “Two hammers, one to Dowler, one to Dale, should be enough.”

Super Bowl I ticket (of reserved seat, $10.00) for the first game of
the Green Bay Packers against the Kansas City Chiefs. NFL/WireImage.com
Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson in the Super Bowl I. Darryl Norenberg/WireImage.com

Well, Boyd Dowler left on the game’s first series after separating his shoulder making a block and Dale bounced right back up again after Williamson’s attempt at beheading.

But later, with barely three minutes left in the game, Green Bay running back Donny Anderson’s knee collides with Williamson’s helmet and for four full, uncomfortable minutes Williamson is out cold on the field.

And not one word — not one — is uttered about the remarkable irony of all of this, not a mention about Williamson’s boasts, not a peek at the Packer sideline which, we later learned, was all but falling down laughing about it.

Gifford, still a few years away from becoming a play-by-play man for ABC, is outstanding in his role as an analyst, even if he offers one too many olive branches to the humbled Chiefs.

Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr (15) is seen in action during Super Bowl I. AP
Vince Lombardi AP

For one thing, he twice correctly identifies the Packers as “the best team that’s ever played the game of football” (which was certainly true in the moment, and given the proliferation of players that day who are in the Hall of Fame, it still might be).


When the Packers first took control of the game, Gifford points out to Whitaker that the Packers only blitz 10% of the time, one of the lowest in all of football, and he says, “I think we’ll see more of that now that the Chiefs have to play catch-up” and almost immediately the Packers send five and six green shirts after Dawson.

(Time-transport Tony Romo from Allegiant Stadium Sunday to the Coliseum and you’d get something akin to, “THEY’RE GONNA BLITZ, JACK! YOU WATCH, JACK! GONNA RED DOG HIM, JACK! GONNA COME AFTER HIM, JACK! THEY DID IT AGAIN, JACK! LOOK AT THAT, JACK!!!”)

Another thing kept quiet: Up 25 points late in the fourth, the Packers are still throwing the ball. Vince Lombardi (Gifford calls him “Vinny”) clearly wants to send a message. They also have the ball in the last two minutes, and the Chiefs don’t call any timeouts, but there’s no kneeling.

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Perhaps Victory Formation hasn’t been dreamed up yet, but it sure looks like Lombardi would’ve been happy to keep running plays for an hour more.

Packers halfback Elijah Pitts scores a touchdown during Super Bowl I. Tony Tomsic

Now . . . Ed Sullivan!

In all, with commercial deletions and a gap that costs the first seven minutes of the second half, it only runs for barely 90 minutes, including a brief interview between Pat Summerall and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who doesn’t even try to hide the smile on his face that looks like he just won the Irish Sweepstakes.

And, like Lombardi at game’s end, you really wish there was more. It’s thrilling to watch McGee — famously playing with a hangover the size of the Hollywood Bowl subbing for Dowler — make an array of catches that even 57 years later would be called “dazzling.”

Packers’ Herb Adderley and Kansas City’s tight end Fred Arbanas
head to the lockers after Green Bay’s 35-10 victory in Super Bowl I. Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock
Chiefs cheerleaders perform during Super Bowl I. Vernon J. Biever

It’s poignant to see a few shots of Paul Hornung in his last game (though he never played one snap), the camera catching him from behind so all you see is his golden hair and his No. 5.

It’s curious to see a McDonald’s commercial where one voice coos, “where quality starts fresh every day,” and another describes the key ingredient used on the burgers as “golden mellow cheddar cheese,” which explains why it probably tasted better in ’67 than in ’24.
The cheeseburger was also 19 cents.

It is a simple telecast, evoking a different time. And it was. After the brief postgame show and then a weekly episode of “Lassie,” CBS handed its air over to Ed Sullivan as it did every Sunday at 8 o’clock and soon thereafter, in one of that show’s last culturally iconic moments, the Rolling Stones played “Let’s Spend the Night Together” — but only after agreeing to change the lyric to “let’s spend some time together.” Mick Jagger famously sang that song with an exaggerated eyeroll.

Maybe even he couldn’t believe more wasn’t made about the Hammer.

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