Gary's Fred Williamson played in Super Bowl I for K.C.

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, a Gary Froebel grad, enjoyed an eight-year NFL career with Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. He played in Super Bowl I for Kansas City before a career in Hollywood.

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Let me give you a brief football history lesson.

The defending champion Patriots, love 'em or hate 'em, and the underdog  Eagles battle Sunday in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

But I'll bet young fans didn't know two Gary legends competed in Super Bowl I, which pitted the Chiefs against the Packers in what was billed as outright "war" between the AFL and NFL, each of whom had begun signing the other's star players.

Hall of Famer Hank Stram coached the Chiefs and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson was their starting left cornerback.

You had the well-dressed, stoic Stram and the colorful Williamson, a one-man PR firm who loved flapping his gums nonstop.

It was called the AFL-NFL Championship Game, not the Super Bowl, and held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967 before a crowd of 61,946. There were 33,000 unsold tickets because fans were angry at the then-exorbitant price of $12.

Remaining tickets for today's game were going for $3,200 as of Friday afternoon, according to the NFL Ticket Exchange web site.

"Back then, it was boys against men because the NFL was the old guys who had been around a long time and the AFL was the young kids," Williamson said of Super Bowl I. "So there was a battle beneath the battle.

"It wasn't about how much money the winning team made and how much the losing team got because we weren't making any money anyway. We were playing for the pride."

The Super Bowl I winners got $15,000 per player, the losers $7,500, compared to $112,000 and $56,000 for today's game.

Williamson played eight years of pro ball with the Steelers, Raiders and Kansas City. Undrafted out of Northwestern, he said his NFL signing bonus in 1960 was $1,900 and his starting salary $9,500.

The plan from Day 1 was to increase his market value with levity, laughter and steady play.

"We wanted to beat up this NFL team because they talked bad about the AFL; that we'd never make it," Williamson said. "But they didn't realize the owners were committed like the players were. They had the money to sustain it, so they weren't worried.

"They just wanted to beat the crap out of the NFL. It wasn't the Chiefs against the Packers. It was the AFL against the NFL."

There was no ESPN, no Internet, no social media to pump up the game, marking the first and only Super Bowl simulcast by two networks — NBC and CBS, which covered the AFL and NFL, respectively.

"The hype was not as big. I created my own hype by talking about how bad the Green Bay Packers were and the guys I had to cover like Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale," Williamson said. "I wasn't worried because I covered all the AFL speedsters quite well."

Williamson made national headlines boasting he would knock the Packers' two top receivers out of the game with his trademark forearm hits.

"Two hammers to Dowler, one to Dale should be enough," he said. "I had become the Pied Piper. (Media) followed me around because nobody else would talk. They came into my hotel room and I was ready for 'em. I had eight or 10 silk suits with alligator shoes. They took pictures of my wardrobe."

Game day was a different story.

Outscoring the Chiefs 21-0 in the second half, the Packers cruised to a convincing 35-10 win behind MVP Bart Starr.

Williamson had helped fire up Green Bay.

It was estimated Super Bowl I had around 100 credentialed media, if that. Today's game features more than 5,000 media from 24 countries and will be broadcast around the world.

"I told 'em I wasn't just passing by," Williamson said. "I came to have a good time, which was unheard of then, and make a statement."

After retiring, Williamson took off for Hollywood, where he has directed more than 30 action films and appeared in more than 60.

The guy turns 80 in March and looks like he could still deliver a mean forearm shiver.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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