We lost a familiar voice a couple of weeks ago, Jim Simpson. I grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and discovered Simpson in the late 1950’s as he became the first play-by-play radio announcer for ACC basketball. This was the days of no televised basketball games. My brother Cliff and I spent many nights listening to the golden voice of Simpson on my transistor radio. Remember, the first nationally televised college basketball game was not played until 1968, when UCLA played the University of Houston in the Astrodome. Interestingly, as I did research on Simpson for a chapter in my new book, I saw where Jim Simpson was also the first radio play-by-play announcer for the first Super Bowl. It really is a small world.
On Sunday, January 15, 1967, a local friend of mine, Jim Sambol, and 61,946 football fans made their way into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch what would later become known as the “Super Bowl” between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Remember this was 50 years ago. As you can see by the photo, his ticket cost him $12. The going rate this past week was $5300. The temperature at game time was 72 degrees. Jim grew up in Kansas City and he, along with several hundred fellow country club friends, purchased a package to Las Vegas that included tickets and airfare to the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. “We arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday,” said Jim. “My plane left at dawn, Sunday morning, for Los Angeles. There where several chartered planes loaded with Kansas City fans and some flights left at a later time. Unfortunately, when the later flights arrive in L.A., the smog was so bad they were not able to land, so those planes were forced to turn around and head back to Kansas City,” said Jim.
Some little-known facts about the Super Bowl I include that fact that the two teams used different footballs. Kansas City used the J5V by Spalding, and Green Bay used “The Duke” football made by Wilson. Super Bowl I is also the only Super Bowl in history to not sell out. Of the 94,000-seat capacity in the Coliseum, 33,000 seats went unsold. “I stood outside the Coliseum before game time and tried to sell our extra tickets, but there was no one to sell them too,” said Sambol. The Packers were favored by 14 points. This game was also the only Super Bowl to be broadcast simultaneously by two television networks, NBC and CBS. The cost of a 30-second commercial was $42,000. This year, Super Bowl 50 commercial spots will exceed 5 million dollars each. Only six officials were used by the NFL from 1965 through 1977, so Head Referee, Norm Schachter, oversaw a combination of referees from the two leagues. Since officials from the NFL and the AFL wore different uniforms, a neutral uniform was designed for this game. Neither team brought their cheerleaders, so the Ramettes of the Los Angeles Rams performed. “Halftime included a flying demonstration by the hydrogen-peroxide-propelled Bell Rocket Air Men,” said Sambol.
As for the game, the Chiefs’ regular season record was 11-2-1 and they had beaten the Buffalo Bills, 31-7, for the right to play in the championship game. The Packers, with a record of 12-2, beat the Dallas Cowboys, 34-27. According to Jim Simpson’s halftime report on radio for NBC, Kansas City led Green Bay in first downs, 11 to 9, and total yards, 181 to 164, but the Packers held a 14-10, lead on the scoreboard. The final score was 35-10, Green Bay. Packers’ quarterback, Bart Starr, was chosen as the MVP. Paul Hornung was the only Packer that did not play in the game, because he suffered from a pinched nerve in his neck. Elijah Pitts replaced Hornung and scored two touchdowns for Green Bay. The winner’s share of Super Bowl I was $15,000 and the losers earned $7,500. “After the game, I purchased a dozen hats in the parking for a dollar a piece,” said my pal Jim. Interestingly, the name of the trophies that are given to the AFC and NFC Champions are called the Lamar Hunt (AFC) Trophy and the Vince Lombardi (NFC) Trophy; and both played a part in this game.
Representing the two teams, a total of 14 players, two head coaches and one owner are currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The names are worth remembering. Packers: Vince Lombardi (coach), Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Willie Wood. Chiefs: Lamar Hunt (owner), Hank Stram (coach), Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Len Dawson, and Emmitt Thomas.
As for Jim Simpson, his voice and name are attached to many high-profile sporting events. Jim called 14 Olympics, 16 Major League Baseball All-Star Games, six Super Bowls and six World Series for television and radio. He worked for NBC from 1964-1979, calling AFL and later NFL broadcasts. On January 15, 1967, Simpson and former quarterback, George Ratterman, called Super Bowl I for NBC radio.
Over the years, Jim worked for NBC, ABC, CBS, and TNT. In 1979, a small fledgling company named ESPN lured Simpson away. His very name gave this new cable sports station instant credibility. Jim Simpson called the very first college basketball game ever televised on ESPN. His color commentator was none other than a new-to-the-business, Dick Vitale. Vitale credits Simpson with helping him develop as a sportscaster. Simpson also called USFL and College World Series Baseball Games for ESPN. In addition, Simpson was the initial U.S. sportscaster to appear live via satellite from Asia, and he was involved in the first American sportscast using instant-replay technology. Simpson, a television legend, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Emmy Awards show, in 1997. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Jim Simpson left us for his field of dreams on Wednesday January 12, 2016, after a short illness. He was living in Scottsdale, Arizona, when he passed. He was 88.
I have info from reliable sources that the NFL has invited all living players and their immediate families to attend Super Bowl 50 at no cost. Personally, I have been blessed to attend five Super Bowls: XXVII (27), XXVIII (28), XXIX (29), XXX (30), and XXXIII (33). Those trips were always a blast and something every football fan should put on their bucket list. My friend Jim and I would like to say, “Enjoy the game.”