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With Super Bowl in sight, new season draws closer

Yastrzemski's Triple Crown captured imagination after inaugural NFL spectacle in 1967
MLB.com @HalBodley

Midway through the fourth quarter, Bart Starr clicked on a 25-yard pass to Carroll Dale. Moments later, Elijah Pitts crashed over Kansas City's goal line from a yard out, and it was over.

The Packers had all but wrapped up their 35-10 romp over the Chiefs in the first "American Football League-National Football League World Championship Game."

Midway through the fourth quarter, Bart Starr clicked on a 25-yard pass to Carroll Dale. Moments later, Elijah Pitts crashed over Kansas City's goal line from a yard out, and it was over.

The Packers had all but wrapped up their 35-10 romp over the Chiefs in the first "American Football League-National Football League World Championship Game."

Ah, yes. The first Super Bowl.

Not too long after Pitts' touchdown, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi looked into a camera. When pushed, he said something like, "Yes, I believe the National Football League is superior." He followed that with his familiar forced smile.

For Lombardi and the NFL, it was crucial that their league proved that belief by winning convincingly.

Fifty years ago, I sat in front of a somewhat snowy 21-inch TV set and viewed the first of what has become the most-watched sports event in America.

Wow, a half-century ago.

Actually, all I really thought about that wintry Jan. 15, 1967, was that in a month I'd be on my way to Florida for Spring Training. Why not watch this football game between two of the top teams of 1966?

Really, all that Super Bowl did for me then was bring another baseball season closer.

Both NBC and CBS televised the game, and even though I switched back and forth between the networks, I was more comfortable with Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman on NBC. Mostly because in those days, I believed Gowdy was more "baseball."

Gowdy kept talking about how fitting it was that the first world championship game was between Kansas City and Green Bay. Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt had founded the rival AFL in 1960. Creation of that league and its eventual merger with the NFL in 1966 made this game a natural progression towards the league we know today.

Plus, the Packers were arguably the NFL's best team, so it was important they showed their superiority over what was then the lesser AFL.

There were 61,946 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but there were also 33,000 empty seats in the huge stadium. Then again, my thoughts were on baseball. Beginning in 1958, I'd spent many days at the Colesium watching baseball. That's where the Dodgers played before Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.

I tried refreshing my memory about where home plate and the short left-field fence were for baseball, not the football layout.

Tickets for that first Super Bowl went for just $12, and a 30-second TV commercial was a mere $42,000. This year, a 30-second ad goes for $5 million. Although the face value of tickets ranges from $850 to $1,800, CNN reports the average sale price on the secondary market is $4,957.

Enough about Super Bowl I, Lombardi, Most Valuable Player Starr and the animosity between the NFL and AFL.

If 1967 was an important year for professional football and the Super Bowl, it also became a historic season for Major League Baseball, a summer filled with milestones and memories.

It was my 10th year as a baseball writer, and it became even greater than I envisioned watching that "football game."

About the same time America followed the buildup for the first Super Bowl, Carl Yastrzemski spent much of his offseason lifting weights. After winning the American League batting title in 1963 with a .321 average, the number fell to .278 by 1966.

So, Yaz decided to do some heavy lifting, and it paid off.

Yastrzemski recorded his best season in 1967 when he captured the AL Triple Crown with a .326 average, 44 homers (tied with the Twins' Harmon Killebrew) and 121 RBIs.

The Orioles' Frank Robinson had won the Triple Crown the year before, but the feat became rare until 2012, when the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera did it again.

Video: DET@CWS: Miggy, American Pharoah share Triple Crown

When Cabrera ended the long drought of Triple Crown winners, Yaz said, "I'm glad that he accomplished this while leading his team to the AL Central Division title. I was fortunate enough to win this award in 1967 as part of the Red Sox's Impossible Dream Team."

It was Yaz's greatest of his 23 years -- all with the Red Sox. He also led the AL in hits (189), runs (112), on-base percentage (.418), slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (1.040). Yastrzemski fell one vote shy of being the unanimous AL MVP Award winner during an All-Star season. These credentials helped his 1989 election into the Hall of Fame.

Most importantly to him, Yaz said, was playing for manager Dick Williams during the "Impossible Dream" year.

The late Williams made believers of the Red Sox, who rebounded from a ninth-place finish in 1966 to win the AL pennant for the first time since 1946 on the last day of the season.

"[Williams] got rid of all the individuality, made us into a team, gave us an incentive and made us want to win," Yastrzemski said.

Going to Fenway Park and getting to know Williams and Boston pitcher Jim Lonborg that October in the World Series are cherished memories. The Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games, falling to Bob Gibson three times.

But Yaz batted .400 with three homers and five RBIs.

By the time the dust settled on that World Series and Yastrzemski's face appeared on Sports Illustrated as its "Sportsman of the Year," the inaugural Super Bowl seemed a long time ago.

And now, with another baseball season just a few weeks away, I'm hoping that after Super Bowl 50, our national pastime will have the same exciting year it did following Super Bowl I.

Odds are it will.

Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com Follow him on Twitter @HalBodley

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.