After all these years, former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Willie Mitchell has become accustomed to the razzing he gets from friends when another Super Bowl rolls around.
The phone calls and wisecracks invariably come after highlights of past Super Bowls run on a seemingly endless loop on cable TV, courtesy of NFL Films.
"They'll call me and say, 'I watched the first Super Bowl and you still got beat by McGee,'" Mitchell said Friday, referring to late Green Bay Packers wide receiver Max McGee. "It's not something that goes away, but I take it in stride. Even though we lost that day, I take pride in being part of history. Most people never get that opportunity."
The Packers rolled to a 35-10 victory over the Chiefs on Jan. 15, 1967, in a game then called the AFL-NFL World Championship. Today, it is considered the first Super Bowl.
A 1959 Wheatley High School graduate, Mitchell was a starter for the Chiefs when they faced the iconic Packers on that memorable day at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Led by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, Green Bay had won back-to-back National Football League titles twice (1961-62 and 1965-66) in six seasons.
Coached by Hank Stram, the Chiefs started out as the Dallas Texans as charter members of the American Football League in 1960 before moving to Kansas City in 1963.
"There was a lot of pressure on both teams in that first Super Bowl because it was a game that was supposed to determine who had the most power in pro football, the NFL or the AFL," Mitchell said. "A lot of people said the AFL wasn't equal to the NFL.
"Unfortunately, we lost the game. It was depressing from that point of view, but that's the nature of sports. It's like life. You win some and you lose some. You just have to make the best of it and go on."
Mitchell won Super Bowl ring
Mitchell was on the Chiefs team that squared things three years later, beating the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.
"I got my Super Bowl ring," Mitchell said. "Playing against Green Bay in that first Super Bowl helped us in Super Bowl IV. We still felt pressure but it was different. We knew we could win because we knew we had a better team. Everybody in the AFL was so relieved and happy when we won because the AFL had won another one."
The Chiefs' victory against the Vikings came a year after Joe Namath and the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Now 71, Mitchell has lived in San Antonio since retiring from pro football in 1971 and owns a construction company. He was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
One of the city’s most respected community leaders, Mitchell has been recognized nationally as chairman of San Antonio Fighting Back, a nonprofit corporation that focuses on substance abuse, crime and violence prevention, and community development.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Mitchell was a three-sport letterman at Wheatley and attended Tennessee State on a football scholarship. He made the Chiefs' roster as a free agent in 1964, and played seven seasons for Kansas City before ending his career with the Houston Oilers in 1971.
Mitchell and McGee, a 34-year-old backup who had only four receptions during the 1966 regular season, are inextricably linked in Super Bowl history.
While Packers quarterback Bart Starr was voted the game's most valuable player after completing 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, it was McGee who became a legend with his performance that day.
McGee didn't expect to play
Covered by Mitchell most of the afternoon, McGee caught seven passes for 138 yards and two TDs after entering the game when starter Boyd Dowler suffered a shoulder injury on Green Bay's second possession.
McGee was so sure he wouldn't play that he broke curfew and partied until the wee hours. Hangover or no hangover, McGee had the game of his life at Mitchell's expense.
"We didn't know anything about Max McGee," Mitchell said. "Everything in our scouting reports pointed to Boyd Dowler."
Lined up at right cornerback, Mitchell found himself on his heels against the older, crafty McGee.
"The interesting thing about that game was that I was supposed to have inside help, but our free safety (Johnny Robinson) made some mistakes," Mitchell said. "Bart Starr was a heck of a quarterback. He threw the ball exactly where he wanted to throw it. There was no way I could defend that much of the field.
"When we were going to the bench one time after McGee scored, Johnny said he had made a mistake. I remember telling him, 'You know that and I know that, but nobody else does.' It was a little depressing but I never used that as an excuse. It was a good game for Max and a bad game for me.
That was the only time McGee and Mitchell crossed paths. When McGee died at age 75 on Oct. 20, 2007, after falling from the roof of his home, Mitchell said he felt as though he had lost a friend.
"I never had any animosity toward Max," Mitchell said. "We'll always be linked by that game. I never got to meet him off the field and I wish that I had."
Mitchell rooting for Patriots
Green Bay capped its storied run under Lombardi with a 33-14 victory against the Oakland Raiders in the second AFL-NFL clash.
"The Packers were like legends," Mitchell said. "Lombardi was a great coach. They had a better team than we had when we played them. They had a real good team and you could say we were a mediocre team in some areas."
Mitchell said he will pull for the New England Patriots when they play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday. New England is an original member of the AFL.
"I like the Patriots," Mitchell said. "There's going to be a lot of pressure on both teams, but I believe the Patriots are going to get back at the Giants. No matter what the Patriots say, you know they're thinking about losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl a few years back."
The Giants rallied for a 17-14 victory against New England in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, spoiling the Patriots' bid to finish 19-0.
Mitchell still marvels at the mega event the Super Bowl has become since the Chiefs played the Packers.45 years ago.
"I never would have believed it if somebody had told me then that it would grow to what it is today," Mitchell said. "It's just one of those games that everybody looks at and enjoys. I think it's great that there is that much interest in the game. I had no idea it would come to this."