Monday, January 14, 2013

Lombardi's Super Swan Song

The second–ever Super Bowl, which was played 45 years ago on this day, was an emotional game for the eventual winners, the Green Bay Packers.

Their coach, Vince Lombardi, hadn't officially announced his retirement yet, but there were suspicions — on the street and in the Packers' locker room — that the game against the Oakland Raiders would be his last.

In his book about the 1967 NFL season, "Instant Replay," guard Jerry Kramer wrote about the days leading up to the Super Bowl and his thoughts and observations — and growing suspicions that Lombardi would be leaving.

At the team's afternoon meeting a couple of days before the game, Kramer wrote that Lombardi became unaccountably emotional as the team broke into smaller groups. Afterward, a teammate asked him what he thought it meant.

"Looked like there's no question about his retirement," Kramer replied.

Two days later, after the Packers beat the Raiders, 33–14, Kramer was one of the players who helped carry Lombardi off the field.

Earlier, Kramer had recorded Lombardi's pregame speech — his last, or so everyone thought at the time. Lombardi would return to the sideline a couple of years later to coach the Washington Redskins, and he gave pregame speeches to motivate the 'Skins in the 1969 season, but he would never again deliver another speech before a Super Bowl.

It may have been on this day in 1968 that I began my lifelong attachment to the Packers. I grew up in the South — never, to my knowledge, ever got close to Green Bay, Wisconsin — but I've been a Packer fan as long as I can remember.

I think my family may have had a TV set on this day 45 years ago, but I'm not really sure about that. I remember that we did have a TV the following month because that was the month that Peggy Fleming won Olympic gold in figure skating, and my mother insisted that we eat our dinner in front of our TV set when figure skating was on.

But that's another story to be told at another time.

I kind of think I may have watched this game at my friend Larry's house. His family had a color TV, and not too many people had those in 1968. My family sure didn't. We had one of those old black–and–white portables (with a screen that was probably 13 or 15 inches) with the rabbit ears, and that was our family television.

My family lived in the country, and Larry's house was about a mile or so from ours so, if the weather was nice that day, I probably rode my bike to Larry's house, and if the weather wasn't so nice — if there was ice or snow on the ground (and there probably wasn't because we hardly ever had ice or snow in central Arkansas) — I probably walked all the way.

I have spotty memories of seeing Lombardi and the Packers on TV when I was small so I can't be sure I watched the game at Larry's. I only suspect that I did. Larry was probably my best friend in those days, and he was a Packer fan, too. If we watched the game together, I'm sure we were whooping and hollering all afternoon.

For the second straight year, Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr was named the game's most valuable player — even though his numbers would pale next to the numbers that subsequent players piled up. He completed one pass for a touchdown and racked up a little more than 200 yards through the air.

That woulddn't have bothered me, though. Starr was my favorite player.

It's really a shame I don't have more of a memory of that afternoon because I had to wait 30 years to see the Packers play in another Super Bowl. The memory of the game that was played 45 years ago would have had to sustain me for three decades.

As it was, I spent most of that time not entirely sure that I saw the Packers play in that first or second Super Bowl — and wondering if I ever would see them play in one again.

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