Willie Wood, 1936-2020

Willie Wood, 1936-2020

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Story updated: 2/4/20 at 12:00 PM

Pro Football Hall of Fame free safety Willie Wood (Class of 1989) passed away on Monday at the age of 83. Wood, a member of the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s, won five National Football League titles and the first two Super Bowl championships.  

“The Game has lost a true Legend with the passing of Willie Wood. He had an unbelievable football career which helped transform Green Bay, Wisconsin into Titletown U.S.A.,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker stated. “Willie was a rare player who always fought to be a great teammate and achieve success. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent and became one of the greatest to ever play the Game. The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations.”

William Vernell Wood was born in Washington, D. C. on December 23, 1936. He would become one of the many talented athletes who teamed up 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 NFL 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 won First- or Second-team All-NFL honors six times in a nine-year stretch from 1962 through the 1970 season. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl eight times (1963, 1965-1971).

In all, he  played in six NFL championship games in which the Packers won all but the first one in 1960.

Wood 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.

The Hall of Fame flag on the Museum’s campus will be flown at half-staff in Wood’s memory.

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