Hall of Famer Willie Wood dies at 83

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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.”

12 responses to “Hall of Famer Willie Wood dies at 83

  1. Yeah… these guys passing one by one. Guess I’m getting old too. Wood was a 5 time All-Pro and I remember him, right up to the end of his career, returning punts and being on kick coverage. When they use the term PRO, they’re talking Wood.

    I read where he couldn’t even remember being a professional football player much less one that was part of 5 World Championships in 7 years.

    RIP #24.

  2. Packer fan since 1959 here. I am really saddened. He was a great player on a defense with a lot of great players. What I remember most is that the guy could really tackle. Nothing lasts forever. RIP WW

  3. Loved watching Willie Wood play. One of my favorite all-time Packers.
    RIP, and thanks for the memories.

  4. His playing career was before my time and I unfortunately remember him as an awful head coach for Toronto in the CFL, a guy who was just completely overmatched in that capacity. Great player who will always be hailed as a member of Lombardi’s Packers, lived a full and productive life.

  5. i read that he had been in poor health for some time. He was a master at making tackles by taking peoples legs out from under them. Somehow he could wait until the last second before he dove at them. Absolutely brutal! You have to remember that the wideouts in the 60’s for the most part were big guys and Willie was on the small side. He didn’t back down from anyone.

    Rest In Peace , Willie! You were a true credit to the game

  6. One of my favorites, Willie was a huge part of the Lombardi era Packer defense that has 6 of 11 starters in the Hall of Fame, and 3 others that made all-pro. Great memories. Thanks Willie.

  7. A great player on a great team from a great era..

    1’m astounded that there is even one hands down from all the above posts..there are some people out there who really need help.

    RIP Mr. Wood

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