John McClain: Donny Anderson spurned Oilers for Packers, helped Lombardi win Super Bowls I and II

Jan 15, 1967; Los Angeles, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Green Bay Packers half back Donny Anderson (44) runs with the ball with a block from receiver Bob Long (80) during Super Bowl I against Kansas City Chiefs safety Johnny Anderson (42) at Memorial Coliseum. The Packers defeated the Chiefs in the first ever AFL vs NFL championship called the Super Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

John McClain: Donny Anderson spurned Oilers for Packers, helped Lombardi win Super Bowls I and II

Believe it or not, there was a time when a big part of the United States didn’t give half a hoot about the Super Bowl. In fact, the first two after the 1966 and 1967 seasons weren’t even called the Super Bowl. The official title was the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The NFL didn’t rename the game until Super Bowl III, and the league made it retroactive.

Donny Anderson, a native Texan from Stinnett who became an All-American running back at Texas Tech, played in the first two AFL-NFL World Championship Games for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. Anderson, 79, is a retired businessman who resides in Dallas and still loves to watch college and pro football, including his beloved Red Raiders and Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Anderson vividly remembers events surrounding the first two games – Packers’ victories over Kansas City and Oakland – and loves to tell stories about what it was like playing for Lombardi in the last two years (1966-67) of his nine-year career as Green Bay’s coach.

Anderson laughs while recalling the first Super Bowl and how there was little hype leading up to the game. The NFL and AFL had been in a financial war since 1960 when they started competing to sign college players. They agreed to a merger in June of 1966 that would create a common draft and one league for the 1970 season. An instrumental part of the merger was a championship game between the two leagues, beginning after the 1966 season.

“There just wasn’t a big buildup,” Anderson said this week as what’s now referred to as Super Bowl I. “There wasn’t a lot of publicity at that time. It just wasn’t looked at as a big, big game the way it is today.”

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with a capacity of 94,000, wasn’t selected as the site for the game until Dec. 1. The game was set for Jan. 15, 1967. Fans complained tickets were overpriced at $12 each. There were 33,064 unsold seats, making it the only Super Bowl that wasn’t sold out.

Officials scrambled to get Al Hirt, world-renowned trumpeter, to provide the halftime entertainment with marching bands from Grambling and Arizona. It also was the only championship game televised simultaneously by two networks – CBS and NBC, who had a combined audience of 51.1 million.

“Before the game,” Anderson said, “people were saying, ‘How’s Kansas City going to stand up to Lombardi and the mighty Packers?’ There just wasn’t a lot of flavor to it. Lombardi and the Packers were supposed to beat the upstart Chiefs from the AFL.”

And the Packers did defeat the Chiefs 35-10, the fourth of five consecutive championships Green Bay would win under Lombardi, who’s considered the greatest coach in NFL history. The Packers were favored by 14 points in a game that would feature 20 future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including 12 from Green Bay.

“We got an $8,000 share for beating the Cowboys (34-27) in our league’s championship game and $15,000 for winning the Super Bowl,” Anderson said. “That $23,000 total was a larger income than 60% of us earned in salary that season.”

During the week before Super Bowl I, Chiefs safety Fred “The Hammer” Williamson created controversy by boasting how he was going to use “The Hammer,” his padded forearm, to take out some Packers when they came over the middle. His style was to hit them in the head and try to knock them out.

“Freddy had been bragging all week about what he was going to do to us,” Anderson said. “He told the writers, ‘The Hammer’ is going to knock out our receivers, Carroll Dale and Boyd Dowler and Max McGee. Old Freddy was a man of many words.”

Until Williamson was knocked out and carried off the field on a stretcher after a collision with Anderson, who was 6-2, 215, late in the third quarter. It was one of Anderson’s four carries for 30 yards against the Chiefs.

“We ran that famous Packer sweep, and just as I turned the corner, the Hammer came in to tackle me, hit my left thigh, and went down,” Anderson said. “I’ve got a picture someone sent me many years ago, and he’s lying on the ground, out cold. They told me when Freddy went down, Max McGee shouted, ‘The Hammer is out! The Hammer is out! Anderson got him!’ And (safety) Willie Wood yelled, ‘Yeah, Anderson got him alright. He got The Hammer with his wallet.’”

Much had been made about Anderson’s rookie contract that season because he received a record $600,000 from the Packers to keep him from signing with the Oilers and owner Bud Adams. The veterans gave Anderson a hard time about the contract, but when they saw how he could run, catch, block, punt, and return kicks, most of them knew he was worth the money. And they got a big kick out of Anderson playing a role in shutting up Williamson.

“Freddy said later he wasn’t really knocked out and that I needed knee surgery the next day,” Anderson said. “He was just selling fiction. The day after the game, I left for Fort Campbell to get a physical. I was in the National Guard for six years.”

Before Williamson was knocked out of the game, he surrendered a touchdown to McGee, the 34-year-old receiver who caught only four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown during that 1966 season. McGee, a noted partier who drove Lombardi crazy, had missed curfew the night before the Super Bowl and figured he wouldn’t be playing. He didn’t even take his helmet on the field. When Dowler was forced out of the game on the second series, McGee had to borrow a helmet when Lombardi told him to get into the game.

“Old Max scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, and he ran right by The Hammer,” Anderson said.

McGee made a great one-handed catch on a pass from Bart Starr and beat Williamson for a 37-yard touchdown. Despite being hung over from a night of partying, he caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Many thought he should have won the MVP Award that went to Starr.

The next year, Anderson also played a significant role in the Packers’ 21-17 victory over the Cowboys in the infamous Ice Bowl that sent Green Bay to a second consecutive AFL-NFL Championship Game. With a game-time temperature of minus-15 and a wind chill of minus-48, Anderson carried 18 times for 35 yards and caught four passes for 44 yards.

“When we were coming off the field after the Ice Bowl, Lombardi came up behind me, put his hand on the back of my neck, and said, ‘Donny, you became a man today,’” Anderson said. “I always appreciated that. I think one reason he liked me was because I could catch. He’d say I was his only back with good enough hands to catch the ball, and he liked that. I didn’t drop a lot of balls. I also could run inside and outside.”

The Ice Bowl victory sent the Packers to a second consecutive AFL-NFL Championship Game, this time in Miami against the Raiders.

“That first win over the Chiefs was special, of course, but when we played the Raiders in that second Super Bowl, the AFL was getting more respect, and we were trying to repeat as champions,” Anderson said. “We’d (players) heard that Lombardi was thinking about retiring, and that motivated us. We wanted to play our best to beat the Raiders and give him the kind of send off he deserved.

“In practice, everybody made sure to give their best effort because we wanted to win for Vince. We wanted to play a perfect game. Looking back, I think we played pretty close to perfection.”

In what would be Lombardi’s last game as the Packers’ coach – he stayed as general manager one more season – Green Bay led 33-7 in the fourth quarter and won 33-14 before 75,546 at the Orange Bowl. Anderson carried 14 times for 48 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 18 yards.

Like many of his teammates, Anderson learned a lot of life lessons from Lombardi that have served him well over the last 55 years.

“He was tough and demanding, and we learned so much from him, not just as players but also as businessmen off the field,” Anderson said. “I had a very tough father. He was a hard-to-please guy, a cowboy who expected everything to be done correctly. It wasn’t the best days with Lombardi, but it wasn’t the best days with my dad, either.

“Lombardi was all about discipline and not making mistakes. We’d do things over and over until he thought we got it right. He would transform guys, and his style didn’t fit everybody. He had an image of perfection.”

After spending the 1968 season as Green Bay’s general manager, Lombardi went to Washington as the head coach/GM in 1969. He coached one season before he was diagnosed with colon cancer and died in 1970 at 57.

“I was traded to St. Louis in 1972, and Don Coryell was the Cardinals’ coach,” Anderson said. “I was blessed to play for a coach like Coryell. Playing for Lombardi was like going to boot camp, and playing for Coryell was like going to a country club. He was an innovator. I see things on offense today that he was the first to do. He had a tremendous impact on the game.”

Anderson’s nine-year career would have been a lot different if he had accepted Adams’ offer to come to Houston to play for the Oilers.

“The Packers wanted me, but so did the Oilers,” he said. “The Packers didn’t have a lot of money back then, certainly compared to Bud Adams, who was an oilman. “Adams was offering more money and a service station. I wanted to play for Lombardi, and I was negotiating with Pat Peppler.”

Peppler, who spent four years (1977-80) with the Oilers as assistant general manager under Bum Phillips, was the Packers’ director of player personnel who handled negotiations. He was called into Lombardi’s office to give an update on the negotiations to sign Anderson.

“Lombardi wanted to know how the negotiations were going with that kid from Texas?” Anderson said. “He told Peppler he liked players from Texas because we were good, tough kids.”

Anderson got some negotiating advice from Bobby Layne, the Hall of Fame quarterback from Dallas who played at the University of Texas before embarking on an NFL career that included leading the Lions to two championships. Layne told him to sign with the team that offered the most money – the Oilers.

“Bobby told me to just take the money,” Anderson said. “Bobby said that’s all that’s important. Peppler told Vince, ‘We’ve got a problem with Houston. They’re throwing out money and service stations and all kinds of things.’

“Pat told him I asked for two cars. Vince went through the roof. He said, ‘Anderson wants two cars? What’s the matter with that boy? He can only drive one at a time. Why does he want two cars?’ Peppler told him, ‘He’s getting one for his mother and one for his brother.’ Then Vince settled down and said, ‘Well, he’s a good boy. I thought he was crazy, but he’s a really a good boy. One for his mother and the other for his brother, huh?’

“And Vince Lombardi gave me two cars.”

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and  Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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