They were games with enormous implications. The National Football League's reputation was at stake each time — but to Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr the first two Super Bowls were business as usual.
"One of the best things about Bart was his consistency, his concentration, his total dedication to what he was doing," said Boyd Dowler, a Packers flanker through the 1960s.
"He didn't come in any earlier and study any more tape — it was film back then — because it was the Super Bowl. I played every game Bart played for coach [Vince] Lombardi, and he was never any different."
They weren't called Super Bowls back then, those meetings between the champion of the established NFL and upstart American Football League. It wasn't until the fourth World Championship Game that "Super Bowl" appeared on the tickets — and thus began the evolution from a game to a veritable national holiday.
Starr, precise in his passing and efficient in his play selection, was the Most Valuable Player in Green Bay's 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the inaugural game on Jan. 15, 1967 — 44 years ago Saturday — and again the following year in their 33-14 defeat of the Oakland Raiders at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The outcomes reinforced the NFL's early claim of pro football supremacy before the AFL's New York Jets and the Chiefs won the next two Super Bowls, the final ones before the leagues merged.
"Bart was the same no matter what the game was — an exhibition, during the season or a championship," said Ken Bowman, a Green Bay center for 10 seasons. "He was the consummate gentleman and he was a thinker.
"Back then, the quarterbacks called their own plays. Lombardi would put together the game plan and go through situations with Bart and Zeke [Bratkowski, the No. 2 quarterback]," Bowman said. "Once the game started, rarely did coach Lombardi send somebody in there with a play."
'This is really something'
For two weeks the Chiefs-Packers game was heavily promoted by reporters, broadcasters and the leagues. But despite the hype and a local TV blackout, there were more than 30,000 empty seats as well as 61,946 spectators in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Every game since has been a sellout.
"We had never seen, in all of our championship games prior to the first Super Bowl, the number of media people present as we did on media day for that one," Starr, 77, said from his home in his native Birmingham, Ala. "It did get our attention immediately and we thought, 'Whoa, this is really something.' "
Starr is reluctant to take credit for the Super Bowl victories or even his own play, redirecting praise toward the late Lombardi, Green Bay's exacting, iron-fisted coach after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.
"He was a very, very talented gentleman, extremely disciplined, uniquely well prepared and dedicated," Starr said, "and because of those qualities he always had you extremely well prepared for every situation."
Dowler and Bowman said Starr deserved both MVP awards.
Dowler called Starr "the difference-maker. He was a good athlete but not a wonderful athlete, but the things that he did, and that was from the shoulders up, the neck up, a lot of those things, you can't put a number on that."
Bowman added: "Johnny Unitas probably had a better arm than Bart, but I don't think anybody had [more] strength of character, mental strength or the will to win. Whatever it took to win the game, he was willing to do that."
In 1966 Starr was the recipient of the inaugural Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award, named after the late Supreme Court Justice, NFL tailback and humanitarian, and presented to the player who best serves his team, community and country.
Twenty-two years later the Bart Starr Award was created by Athletes in Action to honor the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership.