Film Room: Super Bowl I, Willie Wood and Blitz-3

It was the lead-up to the World Championship Game - later known as Super Bowl I - and Vince Lombardi was nervous.

He tried not to let on that he was nervous, but quadrupling his usual game-week fines tipped off his players, even if nothing else did. Of course, that didn’t stop Max McGee from sneaking out and hitting the town the night before the game, but that’s a different story for a different time.

It was the pressure that was getting to him. Keith Dunnavant recounts a couple of stories in his book America’s Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League. In a pregame interview, Lombardi told Frank Gifford, “Every owner in the league is calling me, telling me, ‘You’ve got to not only win, but win big.’ You know, this is a really good football team. This isn’t just a bunch of Humpty Dumpties.”

Gifford wasn’t the only one Lombardi talked to about this. Lombardi voiced a fear to Tex Maule that if they lost to the Chiefs, his legacy would be forever tarnished. All the past championships would be forgotten. “The only thing anyone would ever remember about the Packers was that they had lost to the Mickey Mouse league in the first Super Bowl.”

Boyd Dowler felt it, too. “I think the pressure there could not be avoided. We had everything to lose. We represented the establishment and the tradition of the NFL.”

Beyond the mounting pressure, the Packers were coming off a grueling NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys; a game that ended with Tom Brown intercepting a pass from Don Meredith in the end zone (shout-out to Dave Robinson on the QB pressure).

While the Packers emerged from that game as victors, they would not escape unscathed. Boyd Dowler was hit late after scoring a touchdown, knocking him out of the game and making him questionable to play in the Super Bowl.

So, with the eyes of the entire NFL on them and a bucket of anxiety in tow, the Packers rolled into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to play the AFC Champion Chiefs.

It was partially due to that anxiety that led to a conservative defensive game plan. The Packers were not a big blitzing team anyway – Chiefs’ Head Coach Hank Stram charted them at 2-3 blitzes per game – but they didn’t blitz a single time in the first half.

The reason for that was simple: Lombardi didn’t want to give up a big play. He believed the Packers were the better team – certainly the more experienced team – but he also believed that the blitz opened the defense up to give up a big play, and a single big play could change the game. So he played it close to the vest.

Stram banked on 2-3 blitzes from the Packers and coached his players accordingly. They were not going to change their offense. They would be sending 5 receivers out in their routes and leaving Len Dawson with only the protection of the offensive line on the bulk of their plays. On the rare occasion they saw a Packers blitz, Dawson was instructed to throw the ball away or take a sack. Basically, they decided to waste 2-3 plays over the course of the game if it allowed them to run the offense they wanted to run. Not a terrible strategy on its face.

That strategy appeared to be working. The Packers – 14 point favorites – were only leading 14-10 going into halftime. The Chiefs had outgained them in yardage, 181-164. The Washington Post called the Chiefs “slightly superb” in the first half, and I’m sure the Chiefs themselves were feeling the same way.

But the second half? Ah buddy, that’s where it gets interesting. Just because Lombardi didn’t blitz much doesn’t mean he didn’t believe in the game-altering power of a blitz.

On their first drive of the second half, the Chiefs faced 3rd & 4 from their own 49 yard line. Not content to sit back, the Packers dialed up a blitz against Len Dawson and the Chiefs. According to Doug Farrar’s The Genius of Desperation, the call was Blitz-3.

Blitz-3 was a strong-side blitz. Here’s Vince Lombardi discussing the principles of the strong-side blitz in Lombardi on Football:

[The strong-side linebacker’s blitz] can come from the outside or it can come from inside that defensive end. Where he blitzes from usually depends upon the split of the Y end of the right end. If the Y end is split out he’ll probably blitz from the outside. If the Y end is in tight, he’ll probably blitz inside the defensive end. Of course, the purpose is to draw the block of that offensive tackle on the defensive end and then release the linebacker inside. The fullback is usually looking for the blitz from the outside, so sometimes that strong-side linebacker can get inside that protection.

On the particular play, the Y end is aligned tight, so the blitz comes inside the defensive end.

Lombardi’s coverage behind the blitz was pretty cut-and-dry. The relevant portion for today’s discussion is related to the strong-side safety. No matter the blitz – one man, two man, etc. – the strong-side safety will cover the tight end man-to-man. On this play, the tight end is Fred Arbanas, and the strong-side safety is Willie Wood.

The Chiefs’ offensive line is completely overrun. As often happens in the heat of battle, Dawson forgot his instructions. He didn’t throw the ball away or take the sack. He tried to hit Arbanas down the field, but Willie Wood was man-to-man on Arbanas and saw it all the way. Wood had dropped a couple potential interceptions earlier in the game. This time, the ball fluttered down the field and Wood didn’t let it hit the ground.

Wood was chased down and tackled at the 5 yard line – a fact his children teased him about years down the line – but Elijah Pitts scored a touchdown on the next play. Suddenly the Packers were up 21-10 and the Chiefs were taken out of their game plan and left scrambling.

I love the blocks on the left side of the line. Bob Skoronski and Fuzzy Thurston double the man across from Skoronski and drive him downfield. Thurston peels off to block back to the inside, opening a perfect lane for PItts to follow to the end zone.

A well-timed blitzed destroyed the offense’s preconceived plans and the Packers rolled to a 35-10 victory in the Super Bowl, forever cementing their place in history.


Albums listened to: The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators; The Rolling Stones – Aftermath; Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer; Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde; The Remains – The Remains; The Kinks – Face to Face; Love – Da Capo; Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly; The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

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Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or email at [email protected].

6 points

Comments (11)

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RedRight49's picture

May 05, 2021 at 04:29 pm

An excellent synopsis and presentation of the blitz strategies of both of the Coaches in SB 1.

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Since'61's picture

May 05, 2021 at 05:45 pm

First a great play by the Packers defense. Then the left side Lombardi’s OL just obliterates the right side of the Chiefs defense and Pitts goes untouched for the score.

The 2 plays are a synopsis of the Lombardi era. Great DL creates a pick, great OL leads the way to an easy score.
Win the trenches, win the game.

Thanks Dusty, Since ‘61

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LeotisHarris's picture

May 05, 2021 at 05:49 pm

Stellar work as always, Dusty. Thanks!

Stellar album choices as well. I know you'd enjoy the new Zappa documentary produced by Alex Winter and released a few months ago. Another good documentary is You're Gonna Miss Me, about the life of Roky Erickson of 13th Floor Elevators fame. Incredible and tragic story.

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PeteK's picture

May 05, 2021 at 06:23 pm

I was just thinking the same thing about Zappa.

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DustyEvely's picture

May 05, 2021 at 08:40 pm

I've never been a huge Zappa guy, but he's a fascinating figure. I didn't know Alex Winter did a doc on him. May need to check it out!
I watched Your Gonna Miss Me years ago. May need to revisit that.

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splitpea1's picture

May 05, 2021 at 10:48 pm

Neither am I. Immensely talented and definitely some good stuff here and there, but doesn't translate into a huge amount of compact hits and catchy songs like with some of the other artists mentioned. I know he was a free spirit and didn't care, but if he would have toned down the lyrics a little bit, he would have gotten more airplay and sold a lot more records (however, note that well-established, hit-making artists can get away with such edginess and won't miss a beat from a commercial standpoint).

So did Lombardi actually call them "the Mickey Mouse league"? That's pretty funny. It sounds like some of those NFL owners were getting a little nervous about the competition--which turned out to be well-founded as "Mickey" eventually grew into "MIghty" by early 1970. Or maybe it shows you just how good the Lombardi Packers really were. I wish I could have seen them play, or at least been old enough to understand what was happening on the TV set.

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PeteK's picture

May 05, 2021 at 06:26 pm

Thanks for the memories. never realized the intricacies of that game. First football game I ever saw, and a Packers fan ever since.

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Coldworld's picture

May 05, 2021 at 06:50 pm

Really a pleasure to read. Would love more of the same!

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Samson's picture

May 05, 2021 at 06:53 pm

Ahh... The good 'ol days.. when players played & coaches coached. --- I remember the game like it was yesterday. I could turn to channel 2 or channel 5 & catch the same action. --- The Pack had to dominate to put the upstart league in its place. A 21-0 second half had everyone breathing again. 12 future HOFs for the Pack were connected to this game (11 players plus Vince). --- My favorite -- Bart to Max ... twice.

To learn even more---- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_I

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 05, 2021 at 10:39 pm

I bet Lombardi gave Starr advanced notice of all his personnel moves. :S

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 05, 2021 at 10:37 pm

Thanks Dusty.

I'm routinely surprised how many Packers fans have never watched Super Bowl 1. It's free on youtube.

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