Hall of Famer Willie Wood dies at 83

Getty Images

Willie Wood, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who was one of the best players on the Packers team that won the first two Super Bowls, has died at the age of 83.

At a time when African-Americans were rarely given the opportunity to play quarterback, Wood played the position at USC and was the first black quarterback in the conference now known as the Pac-12.

He went undrafted after college but was determined enough to play pro football that he started writing letters to NFL teams. The first coach to respond was Vince Lombardi.

“I wrote [Lombardi] a letter and the next week I got a response saying they would be in town and that I should hold off signing with anybody until I talked to him,” Wood recalled decades later.

Woods signed with the Packers, who played him at defensive back, which he had also played at USC. He quickly showed he belonged in the NFL, and was eventually named to eight Pro Bowls and the 1960s All-Decade Team. He helped the Packers win three NFL championships before the Super Bowl, and then those first two Super Bowls.

After retiring Wood went into coaching and in 1975 he was named head coach of the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League, which made him the only African-American head coach in pro football at the time. In 1981 Wood became the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts, making him the first black coach in the CFL.

Lombardi once said, “Pound for pound, Willie was the best tackler in the game.”