Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote Its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
"Determination probably was my trademark. I was talented but so were a lot of people. I’d like people to tell you I was the toughest guy they ever played against.”
(Southern California)...5'10'', 190...William Vernell Wood. . .Signed as free agent, 1960. . .Soon developed into premier free safety. . .Played in six NFL championships, Super Bowls I, II, eight Pro Bowls. . .All-NFL six times. . .50-yard interception return key play in Super Bowl I. . . Career record: 48 interceptions, 699 yards, 2 TDs; 187 punt returns, 1,391 yards, 2 TDs. . .Led NFL in punt returns (1961), interceptions (1962). . .Born December 23, 1936, in Washington, D.C...Died February 3, 2020 at the age of 83.
Willie Wood is another of the talented athletes who teamed to give Green Bay pro football dominance in the 1960s. Yet the 5-10, 190-pound University of Southern California quarterback who specialized in running the ball, was not drafted by any National Football League team.
He had to seek a tryout and prove his worth before the Packers accepted him as a free agent in 1960. Within a short time, Willie was recognized as a premier free safety in the NFL. He became a starter in his sophomore 1961 season and held that job for more than a decade until his retirement following the 1971 campaign.
Wood, who was born in Washington, D. C., won first- or second-team All-NFL honors nine times in a nine-year stretch from 1962 through the 1970 season. A Pro Bowl participant eight times, 1963, 1965 through 1971, Wood also played in six NFL championship games. The Packers won all but the first one in 1960.
Willie also was the starting free safety for Green Bay in Super Bowl I against the Kansas City Chiefs and Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders. His 50-yard interception return of a Len Dawson pass early in the third quarter of Super Bowl I broke open a close contest and paved the way for the Packers’ 35-10 triumph over the Chiefs.
Like many Packers who had a chance to handle the football, Wood compiled impressive statistics with 48 career interceptions, which he returned for 699 yards and two touchdowns. He won the NFL interception title in 1962 with nine steals. Doubling on the punt return team, Willie also won the league punt return championship with a 16.1-yard average in 1961. In 12 years, he carried back 187 punts for 1,391 yards and two touchdowns.
Willie Wood Enshrinement Speech of 1989
Presenter: Phil Bengston
Steeler fans and other fans it is a pleasure to be here to introduce Willie Wood. Willie Wood had a brilliant college career as a quarterback at a fine University of Southern California team. His athletic ability didn't attract the attention of NFL scouts and as a result he was not selected in the draft. The Green Bay Packers recognized his great potential and signed him as a free agent. During the next 12 years, Willie Wood went on to become a premier safety. Among his major career accomplishments, he was selected eight times for the pro bowl, he played in 6 NFL championship games and was on the winning team five of those times. He ranks second in all-time Packer history with 48 interceptions, winning the NFL title in 1962 with nine thefts. Willie captured the league's punt return crown in 1961 with a 16.1 average. Willie was a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I and II. In the third quarter of Super Bowl I, he intercepted a Len Dawson pass running it for 50 yards to the Kansas City 5 paving the way for a 35-10 victory.
In college and pro football Willie has been noticed for his tackling. The only time I can remember Coach Lombardi being critical about our defensive plan was when he asked why Willie the Safety man had to make so many tackles. Willie becomes only the sixth free agent to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As his former coach I am proud to present Willie for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, it goes without saying that I am indeed it is indeed a pleasure for me to be here. I am extremely pleased, and I am extremely excited about a very, very exciting weekend. This has been one remarkable experience for me.
Let me just go back and give you a little history for those who may or may not know that when Vince Lombardi stepped down as the head coach for the Green Bay Packers, he passed a baton on to Phil Bengston. When I was asked who was going to be my presenter, it was only fitting that Phil be that person. We had to pass the baton on to Phil, he is our senior spokesperson. It has also been told many times the tales of my upbringing how Willie Wood got involved in sports and athletics. Let me just spend a moment with you to reiterate some of those points.
I came up, grew up in Washington DC, home folks, they are all here folks .... under the Metropolitan Police Boys Club. I had prepared a speech that I want to kind of dedicate this time, this award to those people who helped Willie Wood some 30-40 years ago. And by my being here perhaps I can use this to set a standard for the kinds of programs that we have of that type throughout this country. We know that in all of our inter-cities as well as our country overall, there are some trouble times here for our young people. I would like to take this moment to appeal to some of our city fathers, some of those people who are in charge of programs of that type, who are in charge of funding of that type to reconsider some of their funding efforts and put monies into some of the programs like to the boy’s Clubs, the high schools, the boys and girls clubs that have you, whatever type of programs you have in your cities to see if we can redirect some of the trouble ways some of our young people are going. By doing this, there is no guarantee one of those people might end up a Hall of Famer one day, but we can guarantee that somehow, some way they can choose to have a full and complete life. I need to commend Mel Blount for his program and the things he is doing with young people, he needs to be commended for that and I am very proud of him.
As I walk back through my time, we talked about the kind of things I was to say here at this occasion and I just felt that it was fitting that I take the time to thank all the people who helped Willie Wood, going back to the days of the Boy’s Club, there were guys that Bill Butler, there were guys like Jabbo Kenner, there were guys like Herbert DiBois and Jullian White, dedicated men who spent endless hours, dollars out of their own pockets, dedicated themselves to helping people like Willie Wood. And these were not fly by night people, they were not guys who were just in it for the bucks, we are talking about programs that were going on when I was there some 40 years ago, when I was 10, 12, 13 years old and ladies and gentlemen, I need to tell you that those people, those men are still there, still doing the same things. We lost Mr. Jabbo Kenner about five years ago, he was like the father image to us all and I need to commend him, to thank him. Jabbo wherever you are, I sure do appreciate your efforts. And moving on to high school, I went to Armstrong High School in Washington DC, we have an alumni group from Armstrong in case you folks are wondering, there was a coach by the name of Ted McIntyre, a very tough and very dedicated man. He was a prototype of Vince Lombardi. Mac was a no-nonsense guy who preached and lead the proper way, the proper principals and proper values of life. I learned much from Mac and when he sent me on to college, I sort of felt that. going into Colingo Jr. College that I was well prepared for whatever endeavor simply because of those teachers and those experiences I had while at Armstrong. And I might take the time to say that there are a couple of my high school teammates here and I won't call their names out, but hey guys stand up over there, Ted, Noel, Joe Bell, Frazier McNight and Odell Wallie, guys who i were very good friends of mine and still are and we are very close.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank my Junior College Coach a guy by the name of Sam Boaks, Dr. Jerry Wanius his assistant coach who made a very difficult time for a kid coming out of Washington, DC going all the way out to California to San Jankeen valley believe me, that was a cultural change. I had to do a lot of growing up real quick and the folks in Colingo had to get used to me just as quick. They were tough times and they were trying times for those people but I want you to know that I am still recognized as I travel coming away even today and I understand they have a bust or something of me at the student union hall and I am very proud of that. And moving on to the University of Southern California, I was recruited very hardly, I guess you might say, by Al Davis who is now the Owner/Gen. Manager of the LA Raiders, at that time he was just a guy who had big ideas and we were very good friends and we were very close and hope to say that we still are. I would like to take the time to thank Don Clock and the rest of the staff who provided me the opportunity to demonstrate the skills I had in sports and athletics. We didn't always agree on things at SC. I wanted to throw it and they wanted to run it and that just didn't appeal to me. I always thought I had a creative mind and sometimes I wanted to throw those xx’s and oo’s on the ground and they didn’t play that at Southern California. They said if you didn't practice it, then don't call it.
But my real education, my real development, the real growing up, the real Willie Wood happened the day I stepped into the Green Bay Packers camp. I signed as a free agent and I won't go into that story because that has been told many times, but when I walked into that camp there was no doubt in my mind who was in charge. The first time I met Lombardi, it scared the hell out of me, and I have been shaking ever since. I feel very blessed because of that experience. I started off in Green Bay with just one thing in mind, that was to make the Green Bay Packers football team and, ladies and gentlemen, that's all I had in mind, that was it for me. I never dreamed, I never imagined, I never hallucinated to the extent that I would be standing here at this time addressing such a wonderful, wonderful audience as we celebrate the enshrinement of the Hall of Fame. The only thing I had in mind was to make the Green Bay Packers. And I have been blessed since then, playing on World champion teams, five of them, first two Super Bowls, making all-pros and things of that nature, that was just a blessing to me and I was extremely pleased and I want to take the time to let you know that the best thing that ever happened to me was playing with such wonderful people, such great teammates. Not only were they great individuals, they were great athletes. We have some of them here, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Don Anderson is out there somewhere, Fuzzy Thurston is sitting there, good friends, great friends, great, close personal friends and these people walked out of Green Bay expounding upon the teachings of Vince Lombardi. These guys walked out of Green Bay and stepped into other glory’s and have done extremely well in practice of their business in practice of whatever lifestyle they may have, but they have been extremely successful. We have a lot of guys who have made a lot of money who played ball with me, but I am not one of them, but I am still working on it, but it was indeed my biggest pleasure and my most pleasurable experience.
This morning they asked me as to how I got to become a Hall of Famer. I would have to attribute that to those men, those guys whose performance was of such excellence that I had to drive , I had to build myself up mentally and physically just to keep par with them, just to make a contribution as they go about their field of excellence. I am very pleased to have had that opportunity.
Who is the mother of the year in my heart? My sister Gladys, Delores and their families, my daughter Luane and her daughter Crystle, there all out here some place, my older son Andre and his family, Charlotte, Torrance and my youngest son Willie Jr. I love you all. I also would like to take the time to thank all of my friends, all of my very close friends, Gerald Johnson, Odell Wallie, Slim Grey, I would like to thank those guys for the support they provided for me for all of these years. About a year and a-half ago, the date of April 13, my dear and lovely wife passed away. She was a staunch supporter of mine, she was the one who always talked about the Hall of Fame, not me. She needs to know that we all love her and miss her very deeply. The guys behind us, the old-timers, we have a little corpus yesterday and they were making bets when the enshrinees were going to start crying and they have only won one bet so far, the least likely guy started crying. But I would like to say that it is indeed a pleasure for me to be part of this group. Many of those guys are very dear friends of mine, very close of course, some of those are my teammates and there are others that are idols of mine as I emulate myself as a youngster playing tackle ball or whatever I emulated many of those guys and it was an extreme pleasure for me to meet them, but now to be a part of them and I will honor that the rest of my life and I will live up to the expectations that you have set forth. Thank you very much guys.
And in closing I would like to thank all the people in the Hall of Fame. Tammy Owens, a person who I know was just doing here job, I know she was just doing her job, but she has done a hell of a job, she has made my family very welcome, she has been our contact here in Canton and she is to be thanked for that.
And at last and certainly not least, the Hall of Fame would just be a Hall of Fame if not for the fans. I don't care if you are a Pittsburgh Steeler tan, an Oakland Raiders fan, a LA Raiders fan, a Green Bay Packer fan, a New York Jets or whomever, the football players love you because it is you who pay those salaries and those guys make a lot of money and those tickets are going up and you are showing your appreciation and I want you to know that I certainly appreciate it and you are to be commended for your rousing support. Thank you very much and God Bless you all.