Harvey Frommer’s Notes on Super Bowl I

Len Dawson throws over the Packers' Ray Nitschke.

Len Dawson throws over the Packers’ Ray Nitschke.

The 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I is sneaking up on us, and I can only imagine the media campaign that will be unleashed by the NFL.  Fortunately, this will also give cause for historians to review the first AFL-NFL championship game (as Super Bowl I was initially referred to) and all of the build-up surrounding the AFL-NFL merger.

A new book titled When It Was Just A Game by oral historian Harvey Frommer, is now on bookshelves across the country, and provides an in-depth look at that earliest of AFL-NFL contests.  I’ve just placed my Amazon order, and will be reviewing the book here on Tales.  In the meantime, I came across an interesting article about Frommer’s research for the book.  Some of these notes are rather well-known, but they still provide historical background on the spectacle that is the Super Bowl.

A Dozen Things I Learned Researching, Interviewing, Writing ‘When It Was Just a Game’

Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

10 Responses to Harvey Frommer’s Notes on Super Bowl I

  1. afl says:

    Crank up Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s ‘Way Back Machine’: if one were able be magically transported back a simpler time sports, ‘When It Was Just A Game: Remembering The First Superbowl’ is the narrative equivalent, next best thing to having been there in 1967. Quite the flashback, definitely not a bad trip down memory lane Kansas City Chiefs the AFL & Green Bay Packers NFL, lead-up to the game, game itself and post script what is now (but wasn’t then) called ‘Superbowl’ or ‘America’s Game’, least in terms a consensus; that approaching 50 years later it is ‘both’, indisputable. Minor quibbles aside (a few typos and some players, fans/others memories that differ/erroneous some cases, likely due the passage of time), the book is a keeper if you want a one-stop source for quotes and flavor of the time.

    There’s not much in the way yesteryear I have not experienced or read re: that era’s Chiefs, who were my childhood heroes. This book remembers it all, and (I state with much satisfaction) affirms what has long been known but not trumpeted – despite post game comments the contrary, the Packers – Vince Lombardi, in particular – indeed did believe the Chiefs were legitimate, in fact, capable of beating the Packers. 7-0, 7-7, 14-10 and 21-10 until but :51 seconds remained before start the 4th quarter a ‘rout’ does not make. Other than a video effort courtesy one enterprising individual’s compilation about 98% the game’s plays via highlights & coaching film (readily available for viewing online), until such time an actual network broadcast ‘Superbowl 1’ is made available the general public, ‘When It Was Just A Game’ will ably suffice. Subjective opinion mine, the NFL is currently exercising its usual $elf-$erving tack, unable to agree on a fair price with an individual who has in fact provided most of the CBS network broadcast of that day (via primitive technology of the time ‘tapes’) to the Radio and TV Museum. These tapes reportedly contain ‘most’ of the game and have already been restored; now we wait, perhaps until the 12th of never. That a replay of the game was shown later that same evening of January 15, 1967, yet neither local affiliates of NBC & CBS or the networks kept a copy (so they claim), unbelievable and sad.


    One game does not determine supremacy… that the Packers won 5 Championships in 9 years (and fell 4-points shy another) ‘is’ indicative said however; latter day Patriots/other modern day teams accomplishments not of the same echelon. On that day 1967 however, Green Bay won, yet, it was a game which, save a missed KC field goal, the Chiefs led 10-7, 2nd quarter. While the aforementioned was not alluded to in the book (and hardly ever conversations otherwise), becomes more than just another case ‘what if’; wishful thinking or no, had the Chiefs gotten the lead even once, ‘momentum’ might have changed the course that game. Make no mistake, the Packers remain the greatest ‘team’ ever, despite not necessarily having had the best players, terms athletic prowess. Individually, the young Chiefs matched & according many surpassed Green Bay in that aspect, certainly in size, speed & strength – which is why I’ve never subscribed the opinion some today’s players/teams would dominate those teams yesteryear via same ‘advantage’, could they play one another. Veteran GB’s experience/execution was the difference in how the game played out. Part & parcel, that 9-months earlier the Packers had escaped with but a 7-point win over the Bears, and 7-months aft Superbowl 1 the no longer NFL-virgin Chiefs beat those same Bears by 38 points, intriguing at minimum.

    Yes, nod the lyrics a popular song of that time, ‘those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end’… picture a true rivalry at its height : AFL vs NFL; today’s NFL pales in comparison.

    • Matt Haddad a.k.a. overdrive1975 says:

      Your comments are great, but I’d like to call attention to something. The Packers won 5 Championships in 7 years–from 1961 to 1967. I risk sounding like a stickler, but I believe that’s an important distinction. Maybe you meant the Packers won 5 times in 9 seasons under Lombardi?

      5 Championships in 7 seasons–that has to be the record for dominance.

      The Steelers won 4 times in 6 years (1974 to 1979), and the Bears won 4 times in 7 years (1940 to 1946). Those would be the teams that have come the closest.

      • afl says:

        Yes, was referring to Lombardi’s ‘in total’ career at GB, 5 in 9 years; that the Packers won those 5 within 7 years & just missed a 6th, unparalleled. I have a feeling the Packers would have dominated playing in the AFL.


    • Matt Haddad a.k.a. overdrive1975 says:

      I’m guessing you meant the Packers won 5 Championships in 9 seasons under Vince Lombardi–losing a close one in 1960 before winning 5 times in the next 7 years.

      And of course, that includes winning 3 years in a row (1965 to 1967).

  2. afl says:

    (PS) I had this on pre-order status for a good while, received it last Friday & read all 300 pages before midnight.

  3. afl says:

    A correction: Chiefs actually beat the Bears by 42 points – KC 66 CHIC 24… big score and victory for the AFL if a small concession by the NFL, comparison Superbowl 1.


    Speaking of Superbowl 1, here is a link to the referenced compilation via YouTube. Game highlights & coaches film sidelines & booth put to the NBC radio broadcast. The film is missing about 7 total plays from the game and once or twice is actually out of sequence, stop action/freeze frames between plays, but this is the gist of what transpired January 15, 1967, so watch it, read ‘When It Was Just A Game’ and you will almost think you were actually there 48+ years ago.


    Of interest:

    If you ever watched how NFL Films/Sabol produced their 1967 ‘propaganda’ film :30 minute highlights back in 1967, you can see after watching the game via the link above how they . put in plays out of proper sequence, in order make Green Bay appear even more dominant & the Chiefs even less ‘game’, if you will.

    As stated earlier, it was a game until the 4th quarter, only those who don’t watch and merely rely on the final score can call it a rout (as if a ‘rout’ ensues from the very beginning, and KC managed only garbage time scores, which of course was not the way the game played out, despite what some media would still have people believe today, being dismissive of the Chiefs entire performance that day.) Similarly, the Chiefs 66-24 win over the Bears, CHIC actually led in that game before it eventually got out of hand.

    Second, watching the Chiefs Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson being taken out of the game while laying on an ‘primitive’ stretcher in lieu the modern day cart, of note (same era football players switched from drinking water using ladles to Gatorade, the Chiefs pro trailblazers following the lead college’s University of Florida football team.

    • Howard says:

      I watched that youtube production you discussed. As an old NFL guy, I came away with much more respect for the 1966 version of Kansas City. Specifically, I thought their defense played very well. They stopped Green Bay’s running game (except for Taylor TD run). And they did a decent job against the pass. Bart Starr played very well and gave the Chiefs little to intercept or break up.

      Upon watching the production, I really think the problem for Kansas City was Len Dawson. While I consider Dawson the greatest AFL quarterback, and a worthy Hall of Fame member; I thought he played poorly. He missed an open Chris Burford several times. He missed Otis Taylor on more than one attempt. He was wild and he gave up on a productive run game. The Chiefs ran very well in the first half. Dawson should have mixed his play calling in the second half. Instead he threw on every down. He panicked, and the Chiefs tanked in the second half.

  4. afl says:

    In addition to the experience and execution referenced, the quickness of Green Bay’s front four stood out to me. Though KC’s Buchanan stood out, GB’s defensive line a 4-man unit was better, putting on better pressure, more consistently. Sort of reminded me of the Patriots D-line mid 1960s. Smaller GB D-line vs KC’s over-sized O-line, the Packers got pushed back on runs but were quick enough not allow long gains. Interestingly, after the game at least GB players made reference to KC’s (lack of) conditioning, inference being Chiefs wore down more so than did GB.

    As for Dawson, his stats were pretty good (better than Starr’s the first half), also not too shabby by game’s end. GB’s defense however did harry him (he nearly tossed an couple more interceptions; BUFF dropped a couple his passes in the AFL Championship Game, too, Bills D-line pressure the brute strength flip-side Packer D-line’s speed & elusiveness.

    As KC’s team had no answer for the Packers blitzing LB’s, this game more than any others got Dawson the rep of not handing a blitz too well. During his career, he was criticized for hesitation/not wanting to throw interceptions (latter sounds a lot like Starr’s MO.) Alas, waiting one beat too long the case Wood’s int allowed his elbow to be hit by Henry Jordan, and from then on GB brought the house often. Chiefs not sticking with the run (in particular Garrett) 2nd half a decision Stram/Dawson made; perhaps it wouldn’t have made an difference any way.

    Plenty of mistakes to go around for the Chiefs: Lenny had copious help the losing effort (such as any KC defensive back ‘not’ named Johnny Robinson, example.) KC drafted Lanier and Lynch shortly thereafter, E.Thomas became a full-time starter at CB ’68 and DT Culp ’69. Alas, those three Hall of Famers & another an All Star too late help, Superbowl 1. Had the ’66 Chiefs had their ’69 defense available Superbowl 1? Now you’ve really got a game!


    Well, it’s all Monday Morning QB’ing of course… Chiefs showed they could play with the Packers, and had the two played a series of games I have no doubt KC would have won some. The best team that day however was the Packers, there’s just no way around it.

    • Howard says:

      All good points. The good defensive showing of the 1966 Chiefs reinforces how great the 1969 unit was! Top 10 all time front four and secondary. And certainly a top 5 linebacking corps. I would say 1966 Packers and 1969 Chiefs were equally as good defensively.

  5. Eddie Arminio says:

    Well said afl, the Packers were a better team that day in 1967.

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