When Herb Adderley passed away on October 30 at the age of 81, the Green Bay Packer glory teams of the 1960’s lost another memorable link. Of the twenty-two Packer players who started Super Bowl I in January 1967, only three players — linebacker Dave Robinson, safety Tom Brown and center Bill Curry — are still alive.
Adderley, the best cornerback of his era, compiled an impressive resume in his 12-year career. He played in 4 Super Bowls (on the winning side 3 times); 6 championship teams (one of 4 players to do so); and was named to the Pro Bowl 5 times. In total, he intercepted 48 passes, returned them for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns. His most impressive feat: in the entire 1965 season, he allowed zero touchdowns.
There were three reasons, Adderley asserted, for all this success: excellent conditioning, the coaching advice offered by legendary Vince Lombardi, and his faith in God.
“I stayed in shape all year long,” he remembered. “Every day I ran 5 miles in the morning and 5 miles in the afternoon. Staying in shape is the reason I played 12 seasons in the NFL.”
Listening to Lombardi was equally important. “I love my father, but I don’t think of my father every day,” he stated. “I think about Coach Lombardi every day. The principles he taught us over and over again: hard work, self-respect, respect for others, keeping a positive attitude.”
Adderley stressed that Lombardi took an interest in his players’ lives off the field. When Adderley first came to Green Bay, he, Willie Davis and Elijah Pitts had to share a small apartment on the outskirts of town. It was the only place African Americans could find housing.
“Davis slept in the bedroom and Pitts and I took turns on the couch and cot,” Adderley said. When Lombardi found out about the squalid living circumstances, he spoke to some realtors. Thanks to this intervention, the players found themselves in better housing. “Coach Lombardi had no tolerance for racism…he opened a lot of doors for Black folks and Black families, many of whom had nothing to do with the Packers.”
As for his faith, Adderley simply said, “God is number one in my life.”
During his career, Adderley played in a number of big games, but two landmark contests standout: Super Bowl I and the Ice Bowl, one of the most iconic NFL match-ups.
Super Bowl I was hardly the hottest ticket in Los Angeles. It was played in the LA Coliseum with over 30,000 empty seats, making it the only Super Bowl that was not a sell-out.
The inaugural duel between the two rival leagues featured the NFL Packers and the AFL Kansas City Chiefs. Players on both sides were very nervous — even Coach Lombardi, during a pre-game television interview, was visibly shaking.
The Packers were expected to win, and after a reasonably close first half, they put the Chiefs away 35-10. Adderley and his Green Bay teammates were more relieved than elated afterwards.
Poorly attended as it was, this was the game that established the Super Bowl mega-industry.
The Ice Bowl was played on December 31, 1967 in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. It was a watershed game for two reasons: the come-from-behind victory by the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys in arctic weather conditions made it unforgettable football lore; it was also the last NFL Championship Game to be considered more important than the ensuing Super Bowl.
The temperature was minus 17 at kickoff, windchill down to -65 by the fourth quarter. The Packers had installed a state-of-the-art heating system (wires buried six inches below the turf — it was referred to as an $80,000 electric blanket), but the elaborate system died in the extreme cold.
The playing field had become an ice rink that severely limited any passing game. Steve Sabol of NFL Films coined the term, “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field,” in honor of that frigid environment.
The final drive of the game was remarkable. Trailing 17-14, the Packers took possession on their own 32 yard line with 4:54 left to play. Quarterback Bart Starr nimbly led the team on a 12-play trek that culminated in the most daring QB sneak in the game’s history. At the 13-second mark, the Packers grabbed the lead, 21-17.
Had the sneak failed, there would not have been enough time for the Packers to attempt a tying field goal. It was a gamble that gave Vince Lombardi’s charges their third straight title. Adderley contributed one interception and one fumble recovery to the classic winning effort.
One famous Adderley anecdote: in Super Bowl II, Oakland Raiders QB Daryle Lamonica preferred to throw away from Adderley’s side of the field. In the fourth quarter, Lamonica elected to do otherwise: Adderley picked off the pass and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown. This was the first Super Bowl TD scored off an interception.
“I was a running back in college, so I loved to run the football,” Adderley said later. “I always wanted to get my hands on the football and get going the other way.”
After nine years with Green Bay, Adderley closed out his career with the Dallas Cowboys, where he played in two more Super Bowls. But, his heart remained in Green Bay.
“Vince Lombardi said I was the best cornerback he had ever seen,” Adderley recalled. “In front of the whole team, he said I was the best athlete. I will always remember that.”
Adderley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
Herb Adderley, RIP.
PHOTO CREDIT: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/sports/football/herb-adderley-dead.html