Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Patrick Johnson, who caught a pass in Super Bowl XX, nearly made a diving catch for a touchdown in that same game against the New York Giants.
Jim Weatherwax, who played in the fabled Ice Bowl game against Dallas, had a hand in helping Green Bay win its first two Super Bowl titles.
Brian Billick basked in the glow of his name joining names like Landry and Shula, Noll and Parcells, Walsh and Gibbs on the Lombardi Trophy. Curiously, eventual five-time Lombardi Trophy celebrant Bill Belichick would join that list after Billick.
Welcome to the Redlands Connection-Super Bowl edition. That trio of former Redlands football players – Johnson (1994 graduate), Weatherwax (1961) and Billick (1972) – has surfaced in America’s greatest sporting spectacle.
It’s easy to break it down, too. Johnson’s speed. Weatherwax’s strength. Billick’s brains. It culminated with a spot in pro football immortality.
Johnson’s path to the Super Bowl might have been the shortest. He graduated from Redlands in 1994, committed to the University of Oregon and was selected in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
Weatherwax left Redlands after graduating in 1961, headed for Cal State Los Angeles before transferring to West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas before Green Bay selected him in the 11th round of the 1965 draft.
Billick’s path took him to the Air Force Academy, eventually transferring to Brigham Young University. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, but his career wasn’t on the playing field. He coached in Redlands, San Diego, Logan, Utah, and Palo Alto (Stanford) before surfacing as an assistant coach for Denny Green in Minnesota. By 1999, Billick was head coach of the Ravens.
It almost seems like pro football didn’t exist before 1967. That was the year when the National Football League champion played the American Football League champion for professional football’s world title. It was a first.
In the seven years since the AFL had been developed, the league held its own championship. The Houston Oilers, Dallas Texans (future Kansas City Chiefs), San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills had won AFL titles.
NFL titles during that same span mostly went to Green Bay (1961-62, ’65) with the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and the Cleveland Browns also winning pre-Super Bowl championships in those years.
SUPER BOWL ERA BEGINS
By the 1966 season, with 1967 showcasing the first AFL-NFL title game, the Super Bowl era was born.
In fact, Super Bowl terminology had yet to become adopted. The game was billed simply as the AFL-NFL Championship Game.
Green Bay going up against Kansas City was quite a spectacle.
It was the AFL’s best team going up against the NFL’s best. Vince Lombardi’s Packers playing Hank Stram’s Chiefs.
Redlands had a representative right in the middle of that package. It was none other than Weatherwax, known to his friends back in Redlands as “Waxie.”
Weatherwax, for his part, played plenty in the second half of both games. He was seen spelling starters Ron Kostelnik and Henry Jordan on a few plays in the first half of Super Bowl II.
That particular game had been set up by the famous Ice Bowl game of 1967. That NFL Championship showdown came down to Bart Starr’s last-second quarterback sneak for a touchdown that beat the Dallas Cowboys on the “frozen tundra” of Green Bay.
That play hinged on the blocks of Packers’ center Ken Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer, who blocked Cowboys’ defensive tackle Jethro Pugh. That play, that win ultimately led the Packers into the second Super Bowl, this one against Oakland in Miami.
Pugh, incidentally, was picked in that 1966 NFL draft five players ahead of Weatherwax in the 11th round.
Green Bay, of course, won both championship games. The Packers, thus, set NFL history in virtual stone.
“That (second Super Bowl) was Lombardi’s last game,” said Weatherwax. “You should’ve heard the guys before the game, Kramer in particular. ‘Let’s win it for the old man.’ That’s what he was saying. Looking back, you couldn’t do anything but think that was special.”
AFL, NFL TACTICS LED TO MERGER
It was that first Super Bowl, however, that proved itself worthy of attention.
There was bitterness between the two leagues. The AFL started in 1960. Hopes were to provide enough competition that the old NFL would be forced to allow AFL teams into the NFL hierarchy.
When the NFL’s New York Giants signed Buffalo Bills’ placekicker Pete Gogolak in 1965 – thus stealing the first player from the AFL – the war between the two leagues was on. Finally, after much negotiation, many tactics, various shenanigans, the two leagues would be consolidated into one. The AFL forced the NFL’s hand.
They called it the AFL-NFL merger.
Some of those bitter feelings were on display in the Jan. 15, 1967 Super Bowl. Played at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The quarterbacks: Bart Starr against Lenny Dawson.
The coaches: Lombardi against Stram.
The referees: Six overall, including three from the AFL and three from the NFL, including head referee Norm Schachter, who started his officiating career 26 years earlier when he started his teaching career in Redlands.
The networks: The AFL’s NBC would be telecasting against the NFL’s CBS. Jim Simpson was on the radio.
Tough talk: Part of that first Super Bowl was the chatter emanating from the mouth of Chiefs’ defensive back Fred Williamson. Who could forget Williamson, who had a future in the movies?
Known as “The Hammer” for his vicious hits, Williamson boasted that his severe forearm shiver into the helmets of Packers’ receivers would knock them from the game. It was part of the well-hyped buildup, perhaps part of that bitter feeling between the two leagues.
As the game played out, it was “The Hammer” who was carried from the Coliseum field.
Weatherwax, meanwhile, was playing behind the likes of Willie Davis and Bob Brown, Kostelnik and Jordan – Green Bay’s legendary defensive linemen.
The Redlander gave a short chuckle as “The Hammer.” Weatherwax said, “I can’t really say what happened out there.”
Translation: He knew what happened, all right.
Part of the legend: Starr’s 37-yard TD pass to Max McGee, the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, was followed by Green Bay’s kickoff to the Chiefs. When Packers’ placekicker Don Chandler sent his kick in the direction of Kansas City’s Mike Garrett, it was Weatherwax who drove the onetime college Heisman Trophy winner out of bounds.
Credited with a tackle. In the Super Bowl.
There were a few times that Weatherwax, part owner of restaurant in Orange County, later moving to Colorado, sat next to my desk. He’d shown up visiting old friends. Part of those visits included stopping by the Daily Facts. This dates back to the 1980s and 1990s. Sharing stories. Sharing memories. Showing off his championship jewelry. Great guy. Helpful. Willing to talk.
It was a huge part of a Redlands Connection.
Part 2 – About Super Bowl XXXV tomorrow.