Grading the first ever Super Bowl

With Super Bowl 50 approaching, PFF gets back to the roots of the big game by grading Super Bowl I.

| 8 months ago
(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

Grading the first ever Super Bowl


The NFL season is almost over, but before it officially comes to a close on Sunday, PFF has the build-up to the big game. Today, we take a look at the very first Super Bowl, recently re-aired for the first time by NFL Network.

For anybody unfamiliar, this was the first time the NFL champions (Green Bay Packers) met the AFL champions (Kansas City Chiefs) in a game that would become to be known as the “Super Bowl.” Green Bay was the NFL’s juggernaut at the time, and was heavily favored to win the game, but the Chiefs proved that they (and the AFL) belonged at this level. In the end, the Packers did come away with a comfortable enough victory, but it wasn’t the walkover many had been expecting.

PFF recently took the opportunity to grade the very first Super Bowl; here, we present our game recap:

Green Bay Packers

– This was an era where defense had the advantage when it came to the rules, especially when it came to pass-rush versus pass-protection. Offensive linemen were not allowed to extend their arms and grab, and so pass-blocking became an exercise in trying to catch an onrushing defender almost between your elbows and absorb his momentum. Henry Jordan, DT for Green Bay, was arguably the best player on the field that day, generating a monstrous +12.6 overall grade, most of which came as a pass-rusher. Jordan had seven hurries, a hit, two sacks, and five more plays where he beat his man but the ball was out before he could pressure the quarterback. Over his career, he was a seven-time All-Pro, and on this evidence, I have no trouble believing why.

– Max McGee wasn’t quite the nobody that history suggests coming into the game. He had led the league in yards per catch in 1958 and had been a Pro-Bowler in 1961, but injuries and age had seen his role greatly reduced by the time of this game. Starting end Boyd Dowler went down hurt after just three snaps, and that brought McGee in, where he was targeted 11 times to lead the game, catching seven of them for 138 yards and two scores. Despite an interception thrown on a ball intended for McGee, QB Bart Starr had a passer rating of 112.5 when targeting a player who wasn’t supposed to feature in the game at all. McGee’s one-handed catch and run was one of the signature plays of the game, even if he was only trying to make sure the defensive back didn’t catch a poorly placed ball at the time.

– Green Bay’s offensive line was full of future Hall of Famers, or players like Jerry Kramer, whose Hall of Fame snub has developed its own cottage industry, but the best grade among the O-line in this game came from left tackle Bob Skoronski, a one-time Pro-Bowler whose Wikipedia page is one line long. Skoronski was a powerful force as a run blocker, ploughing into the Kansas City line and generating movement when he did in the technique of the day. He surrendered just one hurry over his 28 pass-blocking snaps and was by far the best Green Bay performer on the line, despite his more illustrious teammates.

– Bart Starr was by far the more accomplished performer of the two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in this game. He had a couple of wayward passes, but was accurate on 75.0 percent of his throws and 63.1 percent of the yardage came through the air. He did throw an interception, but also suffered from a drop by his receivers and was under a steady stream of pressure throughout the game.

– LB Ray Nitschke was another of the players that stood out as likely being able to handle himself 50 years later if he had to. He looked big, fast, and instinctive as a linebacker, and had the nasty streak that teams would have been searching for in the 1960s, but would probably see you collect an endless stream of penalty flags today.

Green Bay offensive grades

SB1 GB O

Green Bay defensive grades

SB1 GB D

 

Kansas City Chiefs

– DT Buck Buchanan was the standout for the Chiefs in this game, and was a visibly-imposing physical specimen for the day. He ended the game with three hurries, a sack, and two more plays in which he beat his man, but couldn’t cause pressure before the ball was away. With the rules for offensive line blocking the way they were, though, you came away perhaps expecting slightly more from a player that was obviously capable of it. When he won his battles at the line, it tended to be decisive, but he was moved in the run game, and it was as a pass-rusher that he had his biggest impacts in Super Bowl I.

– If Bart Starr looked accomplished and capable of playing in a modern offense, Len Dawson looked more of a maverick and akin to Johnny Manziel—capable of great things when the play breaks down, but somebody you can’t necessarily trust to make the routine plays. To be fair to Dawson, he was under a near constant stream of pressure from his offensive line. Both blocking units were overmatched, given the rules constraining them, but Kansas City was coming off worse. The Chiefs were regularly rolling Dawson out of the pocket to try and get him away from the rush, and Kansas City’s passers combined for four scrambles in the game to Green Bay’s zero. Dawson was accurate on just 55.2 percent of his passing attempts, and threw a killer interception that really dug the team a hole.

– Ed Budde was a three-time All-AFL player, a five-time AFL All-Star, and a seven-time Pro-Bowler during his career. In 1966, he was both an AFL All-Star and Pro-Bowl player, but in the Super Bowl, he was beat like a drum by Henry Jordan all game long, earning the worst grade of any player over the game (-13.3). Budde was beaten for six hurries, a hit, a sack, and on five more occasions, he was beaten on the line, but the ball was gone before Dawson could be pressured from it. The vast majority of his negative grade came as a pass-blocker, but his -2.2 run blocking grade was far from a fairytale. All five members of the Chiefs’ offensive line graded negatively in this game, and they were undoubtedly the most overmatched unit in the contest, but Budde was the biggest problem, despite his lofty career awards.

– Several Chiefs looked overmatched against the Packers, but there were several more that looked right at home against NFL competition. LB E.J. Holub was a five-time AFL All-Star, a two-time All-Pro, and is in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, and after Buck Buchanan, had the highest grade of any Chiefs player (+2.6). Holub played well as a pass-rusher, but also against the run, notching a hit and a sack, as well as a forced fumble as reward for his work.

– As is only logical in this game, there were more bad than good performances for the Chiefs, and DE Chuck Hurston (-7.1) along with CB Willie Mitchell (-4.0) were two of the worst performers. Mitchell was the guy on the receiving end of McGee’s big game, while Hurston was unable to hold up against the power running attack of the Packers on the edge.

Kansas City offensive grades

SB1 KC O

Kansas City defensive grades

SB1 KC D

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • LH Almeida

    This must have been one of my favorite posts. Nice job. It’d be really nice to have the raw grades and data back next season. I miss them. A lot.

  • Tim Edell

    Absolutely loved this!! Awesome idea!!!

  • Mike J.

    I thought this was very interesting also, esp. as I watched the game. I saw Nitschke on CBS’s pre-game show not long before he died, & he was BIG!! About the same as Howey Long….BTW–he was the NFL’s All-50 Anniversary mike, not Butkus.

    • Backinmd

      One thing that separated Butkus from other MLB was his great hands ..He never dropped any interceptions or fumbles AND he could tackle like a lineman ..Better than Ray Lewis overall per PFW .. Had a great article comparing the two in the year 2000 …Best MLB ever .. BTW, Nitschke was a great MLB — one of the best ever ….

  • Tim Truemper

    This was a contest that had two distinct halves. In the first, KC held up well. In the second, they got rolled. GB was at its peak that year and had a steady offense and superior defense. KC had several players who were around later when they beat the Vikings. But there were several who no longer be around. I was surprised by Otis Taylor’s grade as he looked very good in the game. Thanks to PFF for doing this. Might they do this with other games from the past in which entire film is available?

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m not sure the grades here have any relevance in relation to the game played today. We need to remember that this was an era when film study was still in it’s infancy, training methods were rudimentary and the understanding of sports medicine and treatment of injuries was not at the level it is now. As mentioned the rules were also much different, not too mention the financial incentives for player back then.

    • Mike J.

      And QBs called their own plays.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Right Mike. The game has changed so much over the last 50 years that it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges now.

      • Auld Lang Syne

        Ya, Peyton Manning doesn’t know anything about that.

    • Backinmd

      And the NFL didn’t have all the hot dogs and prima donna’s as they do today ..Then players played because they loved the game – not the high salaries, bonus’s that they have got the past three decades …..

      • crosseyedlemon

        Namath was considered a prima donna by some but it was probably more a case of the upstart AFL needing some name recognition to avoid being completely overshadowed by the well established NFL. In any event Broadway Joe proved he could deliver the goods and the Jets winning Super Bowl 3 went a long way in legitimizing the AFL.

        • Backinmd

          Your right … And Al Davis didn’t want merge with the NFL but saw the handwriting on the wall …The 1st few years the AFL was a blast to watch ..It could be 35-14 in the second quarter and the final score could have been 42-46 …. Wide open games are more fun to watch especially if your team is on the winning side …Kinda like MLB where home runs put fans in the seats and pitching wins games ..

      • Auld Lang Syne

        Bull plop.

        In 1967 the average NFL salary was about $25k. That’s about $150k a year in today’s money, which is a good living. Bart Star got a $15k bonus for winning the game. The average household income at that time was closer to $6K a year, and Starr got that for winning 1 football game. The players certainly played because they love it (as they do today), but they didn’t play for free.

        And there were plenty of hot dogs and playboys back then. Go read up about Namath sometime. Max McGee, the guy who mentioned in this article as the hero of the game, famously spent the whole night before the first Super Bowl bar hopping in Los Angeles with a pair of flight attendants after breaking Lombardi’s curfew.

        • Backinmd

          NFL players didn’t start making the BIG bucks until Joe Namath signed for $ 300,000 ( as a rookie ) in 1966 .. it sent shock waves throughout the NFL ..Early 1960’s Sonny Jurgensen was making $25K with the Eagles ; 1970 Sonny was making $ 125K with the Redskins…Know Concrete Charlie for years after he retired in 1960 was always whining about the low salaries in the NFL in the 1950 ..Think he was making $8 – $ 10K a year.. What was a schoolteacher, policeman, fireman making in the late 1950s in a large city ? Three, four $ thousand at the most and most NFL players had part time jobs during the off season .. Eagles traded Jurgensen for Norm Snead straight up in 1963 ..Redskins passed on Fran Tarkenton and drafted N. Snead in 1961 ..The 1st three , four SuperBowls winner was $ 15,000 – loser $7,500 ….

  • Matt Godwin

    More of this content please. Henry Jordan was a hall-of-famer and obviously highly regarded, but maybe he was even greater than we thought. He was 31 in this game and had an absurd game. I appreciate what y’all do.

    • Backinmd

      Henry Jordan shows you why V. Lombardi was a HOF coach ..He got more out of his players than they had ….

  • GBPFan12

    NFL Network’s airing of this game with annoying analysts: – 57.3

  • Backinmd

    Otis Taylor should be in the HOF . He was great and kinda of reminds me of Charlie Taylor of the Redskins .. Of course not related to each other …