Sunday February 6, 2016 the 50th Annual Super Bowl will be played in Santa Clara, California. The two teams playing for the NFL Championship will be the Denver Broncos, led by future first ballot NFL Hall of Fame player, white QB Peyton Manning. The opposing team will be led by a first time visitor to the big game, a young brash black QB by the name of Cam Newton. This could be the future hall of fame player’s “Last Rodeo” win or lose. The young QB’s claim to glory and his future depends on whether his team wins the Super Bowl.
In Washington, DC Willie Wood was once a legendary playground, high school, college and pro athlete. He will be watching, but the question will be can he comprehend the importance of the game. Willie now resides in a nursing home in NW DC with dementia. The dreaded disease has crippled and claimed the lives of some of the NFL’s biggest stars.
Willie Wood was known as one of the league’s biggest hitters. He tipped the scales at 175 pounds soak and wet!
Willie and Cam have a whole lot in common; Willie was the first black QB in modern day history for the University of Southern California. He was not drafted and became a walk-on free agent for the Green Bay Packers and the rest is NFL history. As Cam prepares for the big game he probably does not have a clue to who Willie Wood is and his place in NFL history.
Willie Wood played in the first Super Bowl in 1968 as a member of the Green Bay Packers and their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. On the other side of the ball were the Kansas City Chiefs and their equally legendary coach, Hank Stram. This game matched the old school established National Football League Champs, Green Bay Packers against the New Kids on the block, the American Football League Champs, Kansas City Chiefs.
Movie actor Fred Williams was a corner back for the Chiefs and was known as “The Hammer” for his aggressive style of play. In the second half of the game, Williams was carried off the field on a stretcher. There was a sound bite where someone yelled, “It looks like The Hammer just got nailed,” it was the voice of Willie Wood. The Packers won 35-10.
Willie was one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play in the NFL. Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi often called the greatest coach ever in the NFL and he called Willie “My coach and Captain” on the field.
Willie Wood was more than just a football player he fought for a better way of life for our children. Making “Children First” was more than just a political sound bite to him.
He led on and off the field on any given Sunday for the Green Bay Packers, but he was also a leader in his DC and Green Bay Packer communities.
Willie played 12 years in the NFL and was named to the NFL All-Pro team 6 of his 12 years in the league. The Packers won 5 NFL Championships and two Super Bowls during his outstanding NFL career. He was named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1989.
He came home during the off season to work in the community as a substitute school teacher and a gang busting “Roving Leader” for the DC Department of Recreation. He used his leverage as a star and high profile NFL player to visit schools and playgrounds to discuss the Game Called Life with at-risk children.
He was the first NFL player to make returning to his community a priority during the off-season.
During the 1968 riots he and I walked in the Cardozo/Shaw 14th Street corridor (Black Broadway) arm and arm with the late DC Superior Court Judge Luke Moore who was the U. S. Marshall in charge at the time.
DC landmarks like Industrial Bank of Washington, Florida Avenue Grill, Bens Chili Bowl and Lee’s Flower Shop are still standing because Willie Wood cared. He was the first NFL player to join me in the community to help improve the growth of inner-city children. Redskin players, Larry Brown, Harold McLinton, Roy Jefferson, and Ted Vactor would follow his lead.
Celebrities who reach back; Willie Wood back row on far right / Willie standing second on left.
In December 1968 after the riots he shipped a box of toys home to DC from Green Bay. The toys were from him and his teammates for my first ever Kids In Trouble Christmas toy party. The toys were for needy children who were victims of the riots.
Willie saying hello to young admirers and presenting KIT Life Time Achievement Award to the late sports columnist, Dick Heller.
In 2013 Kids In Trouble hosted its last toy party for needy children making it the longest on-going community based toy party in DC. I thank the generosity of Willie Wood for the success of the parties. He never forgot who he was and where he came from.
The DC City Council on Tuesday December 13, 2011 named the street in NW DC where he was raised in his honor, Willie Wood Way. He really deserves much more than a street named after him, he deserves a Charter School or a recreation center named in his honor. Willie Wood’s accomplishments in the community and athletics are second to no one.