A Gridiron Great
Fairfield Prep to the Super Bowl
Bob Skoronski, Green Bay’s offensive captain, congratulates Coach Lombardi following the Packers’ 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.
The 50th anniversary of pro football’s Super Bowl is on the horizon in February. Though not all of us can remember where we were when the first game in the series was played, Bob Skoronski does. This Connecticut native and 1951 graduate of Fairfield Prep was the offensive captain of the Green Bay Packers, who whipped the Kansas City Chiefs, 35 to 10, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in what was billed as the first NFL-AFL World Championship Game. Super Bowl I. The date was January 15, 1967.
“We knew the Chiefs were good football players. They were drafting some of the same players we were drafting,” Skoronski says, from his home in Middleton, Wisconsin. “We knew it would be a tough game.”
Skoronski, 81, who was the first Prep graduate to play a sport at the highest level, spent his entire 11-year National Football League career with the Packers, primarily as the starting offensive left tackle. Coach Vince Lombardi took note of his leadership qualities early on and appointed him offensive captain. The Ansonia-born, Derby-raised Skoronski played in one NFL Pro Bowl (1967) and was inducted into the Green Bay Hall of Fame in 1976.
Does he still follow the game? “Absolutely,” he says. “I still love the game. I still love Green Bay and my Packer teammates.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “My wife and I were looking at the numbers recently. Of the 41 Green Bay players in the first Super Bowl, only 25 are left.”
Bob and Ruth Ann, his wife of 59 years, met when they were undergraduates at Indiana University. Their union has produced four children—three boys and a girl—and four grandchildren. Their oldest son, Bobby David Skowronski (who retained the family’s original surname), was an All-Ivy League defensive tackle at Yale in 1978.
Conversely, Bob Skoronski’s introduction to organized football was a matter of happenstance. He commuted to Fairfield Prep from Derby each day with a friend who lived in Seymour. While waiting for his friend at football practice one afternoon, young Bob picked up a stray football and punted it. An assistant coach took note and suggested that he put on a uniform. Already a junior, Skoronski was assigned to the Jesuits’ junior varsity. But as a rangy 6-foot-3 senior, he was a major contributor to the varsity as a combination center/linebacker as Prep won six and tied one of its nine games.
“The head coach Fella Gintoff was the first real disciplinarian I had as a coach,” Skoronski says. “Joe Brosley, the assistant coach, did well as a head coach later, and we became good friends through the years.”
After a year at Admiral Billard Academy in New London, Skoronski enrolled at Indiana, where he was a starter all three seasons, a co-captain and MVP as a senior. The Packers were impressed enough to select him on the fifth round of the 1955 NFL draft. His signing bonus? $500. His first-year salary? $7,500.
Skoronski played on a losing Green Bay team in 1956 before spending the next two years in the U.S. Air Force. Upon his return, there was a new man at the helm—Vince Lombardi.
“He was the greatest thing that happened in pro football,” Skoronski says of the fiery coach who would direct the Packers to five NFL championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II during a seven-season span. “He was a tough driver and knew the business very well.”
The Packers followed up on their first Super Bowl win by defeating the Oakland Raiders, 33 to 14 in Super Bowl II.
Perhaps the team’s most memorable game, though, was their matchup with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game dubbed the “Ice Bowl.” Game-time temperature at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field was 13 degrees below zero.
“My brain was frozen,” recalls Skoronski, whose crushing block in the game’s closing seconds enabled fullback Chuck Mercein to gain eight yards to the three-yard line. This set the stage for quarterback Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak that gave the Packers a closer-than-it-looked 21-to-17 triumph.
Skoronski was quoted in David Maraniss’s 1999 biography of Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered. He reflected, “Usually players don’t realize what is happening to them when they are playing in a big game. They are in a daze. We realized everything. We were loose and focused at the same time.”
Lombardi directed the Packers to five NFL championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II.