KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Mindful of what the modern-day Super Bowl has become, former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Bobby Bell is struck by the contrasts from the January 1967 day when he and his teammates helped the whole thing get started.
"I was standing on the sideline with [teammate] Buck Buchanan right before the game, and we were talking about how the stadium wasn't even full," Bell said, aware of how ridiculous that sounds now, as the NFL prepares for the 50th Super Bowl in February. "I think tickets cost $12 or something like that. People wouldn't even pay $12 to see the game! My [four] tickets for the Super Bowl last year were $2,500."
The Super Bowl has indeed changed a little since 1967, when pro football's championship game got started with a Jan. 15 game between the Chiefs, the champions of the American Football League, and the Green Bay Packers, champions of the NFL, at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
The Chiefs and Packers are about meet again, this time in a regular-season game, and the matchup was placed on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" for a reason. The NFL is celebrating the season of the 50th Super Bowl, and what better way to do that than have the rematch of Super Bowl I played in prime time?
The Packers, after leading 14-10 at halftime, won the original Super Bowl 35-10. Green Bay had gone 12-2 in its regular season, Kansas City 11-2-1. Each team had to win just one playoff game to reach the Super Bowl, with Green Bay beating the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City the Buffalo Bills.
The game featured 13 players, nine from the Packers and four from the Chiefs, and two head coaches who would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But nobody knew back then what a cultural icon the Super Bowl would become. With that in mind, ESPN.com contacted six Chiefs who played in Super Bowl I for their thoughts on that long-ago meeting with the Packers and what the game has become today. Two former Chiefs, Bell and quarterback Len Dawson, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The others are wide receiver Chris Burford, offensive lineman Ed Budde, linebacker Smokey Stover and defensive back Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.
Q: Has the sting of losing that game worn off almost 50 years later?
Burford: "Has it been that long? Seems like a couple weeks to me. I thought when we went in at halftime we were going to win the game. I still think we could beat them. I'd love to play them today. But it doesn't work that way."
Dawson: "I can't do anything about it now. But there were a few plays I'd like to have back. After the first half, I thought we had a shot at those guys. Then I threw one [interception] to [Green Bay defensive back] Willie Wood and that turned everything around."
Williamson: "A loss stings even if I'm playing golf. It would have been nice to have a chance to redeem ourselves because we didn't get back to the Super Bowl while I was there."
Budde: "It doesn't feel a lot better now. When you lose anything, it's forever. It doesn't change. We thought we could win, but they had better players than we did. It was still an honor to be in the first championship game. That's what they called it then. They didn't start calling it the Super Bowl until later."
Bell: "I still feel bad about that. We thought we could beat those guys. I still think we could have won that game."
Q: Could you see then that the Super Bowl would become what it is today?
Bell: "No idea. It's amazing the magnitude of that game now. I remember the press was outside our hotel talking to us around the swimming pool. Now they go down to the convention center and do all that stuff and there's 5,000 press. A lot of people don't even go to the game. They go to the functions before the game. Back then, the function was the game. There were no functions before the game."
Stover: "The hype was not quite what it is today. When we did our coin flip right before the game, there were two captains from Green Bay, two captains from Kansas City and two referees. That was all that was on the field. Now there are a hundred cameras and a hundred microphones and a whole hullabaloo for the coin flip. So even the coin flip was different compared to what it is today. For us, it was an important game but just another game at the end of the season. Now the Super Bowl overtakes everything. As soon as football season starts, people start talking about Super Bowl possibilities for all the teams. Nobody had any idea it would turn into what it is today."
Budde: "I don't think that back when we played in the Super Bowl, commercials were $10 million a minute or $5 million a minute or $1 million a minute, whatever it is now. That's one of the things that's different about the game now. The differences are the size of the players and the money."
Dawson: "The coverage by the media is so much more now. Think about it: There was no ESPN back then. It's what they call a happening now. It wasn't a happening when we played in it, not like it is today. People are watching the game now whether they're football fans or not. Tickets were something like $12 for the first Super Bowl and they still didn't sell all of them. I have a picture from the game, and in the background, there's a whole section of stands with maybe four people in it."
Q: Given the choice, would you rather have played in Super Bowl I or one in the modern era?
Bell: "The first Super Bowl. There aren't that many people that can say that. I've been first in a lot of things, and you can't take that away from me. The first guy that went to the moon, you think he would trade that for going to the moon now? How many guys were in that game? I think each team had 33 players, so only 66 guys out of the whole world can say they played in the first Super Bowl. There's something special about playing in the first one. It doesn't change that we lost the game but it's still special. That's one of the things that stands out in my mind is that we were the first. That's something that will never change."
Williamson: "I couldn't play now. The rules are too restrictive. The way I used to hit, I would have owed so much money there would be no point to me even walking on the field. If I just call myself The Hammer, it's going to cost me $15,000. If I use The Hammer (his signature tackle using a forearm to the head), that's another $15,000. My idea of covering a guy was to not let him get down the field. I would pound on him from the line of scrimmage until the ball was in the air, which you could do back in the day. Now, you can't touch these receivers, and if you give them a good hard tackle, it's an unnecessary roughness penalty. From a financial standpoint, I'd rather play today, for sure. But from a game standpoint, I'd rather play back in the day. It was a better game."
Stover: "I'll take the first one. We were making history, even if we didn't realize it. I wouldn't trade the memory for anything. It was quite a thrill."
Budde: "It was an honor to play in that first Super Bowl even though we lost. I wish it was the other way around. But it was still a honor for us, for the Kansas City Chiefs, to play in that first Super Bowl."
Burford: "I'd love to be playing for the money these kids are playing for. But there will be only one Super Bowl I."
Dawson: "The first Super Bowl was history in the making. That one, definitely."