Skip to main content

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Willie Wood died on Monday in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

Wood, a member of the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s, was part of five NFL championship teams and two Super Bowl winners. Perhaps the biggest play of his career was his interception against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I. He returned the ball to the Chiefs’ 5-yard line to set up a touchdown, a key moment that turned a 14-10 game into a 35-10 romp.

“We played well in the first half and at the start of the second half,” Chiefs coach Hank Stram said after the game. “But that interception by Wood changed the complexion of the game.”

Said Vince Lombardi: “That was the steal of the game. Willie Wood at his finest.”

It was one of 48 career interceptions for Wood – and one he didn’t remember. According to the team, Wood had been confined to assisted living facilities for roughly 13 years. He had been suffering from dementia for about a decade. The New York Times told his story in 2016.

Wood likes to wear a green Packers cap most days now as he sits in his sunny room listening to jazz and 1950s doo-wop. Wordlessly and impassively, he will point to the logo on the cap as if he knows it has some shadowy meaning in his life. But specifics elude him.

When asked about various photographs on the walls next to him — pictures of his wedding or the day in 1989 when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Wood stares vacantly.

“Do you remember going into the Hall of Fame, Willie?” Dee Dee Daniels, an assistant living coordinator at the center where Wood lives, asked one morning last month.

Wood cast his eyes downward and shook his head side to side: no.

“You were the best of the best,” Daniels said.

Wood, who sometimes goes days without speaking, suddenly looked up, his eyes glistening as he raised an eyebrow as if to say, “I was?”



Week 13 Composite Power Rankings: Cardinals, Packers Lead Way

The Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers swept the eight first-place votes in our eight-panel power rankings.


NFL Flexes Packers-Ravens Game in Week 15

Their Week 15 showdown is a potential Super Bowl preview featuring 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson vs. 2020 MVP Aaron Rodgers.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame flag on the museum’s campus in Canton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in Wood’s memory.

“The game has lost a true legend with the passing of Willie Wood,” Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. “He had an unbelievable football career which helped transform Green Bay, Wisconsin, into Titletown, U.S.A. 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.”

A quarterback at USC, Wood turned into a feared member of the Lombardi defenses. In Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay” book, the Hall of Fame lineman wrote: “Next to Lombardi, Wood scares his own teammates more than anybody else does. Wood even scares Ray Nitschke. ‘I hate to miss a tackle,’ Ray says, ‘‘cause if I do, I know I’m gonna get a dirty look from Willie. He’ll kill you with that look.’”

The 83-year-old Wood played for the Packers from 1960 through 1971.

“The Green Bay Packers Family lost a legend today with the passing of Willie Wood,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “Willie’s success story, rising from an undrafted rookie free agent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is an inspiration to generations of football fans. While his health challenges kept him from returning to Lambeau Field in recent years, his alumni weekend visits were cherished by both Willie and our fans. We extend our deepest condolences to Willie’s family and friends.”

Wood incredibly went undrafted out of USC in 1960. Famously, he sent postcards to several NFL teams asking for a tryout. The Packers signed him, and Wood ultimately earned five consecutive All-Pro honors from 1964 through 1968. An eight-time Pro Bowler, Wood was named to the NFL’s 1960s all-1960s team.

Wood was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 – he is one of only 16 undrafted players enshrined – and was one of two safeties chosen on the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team in 1990.

“Determination probably was my trademark,” Wood once said. “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.”

Wood led the NFL with nine interceptions in 1962 and in punt returns with a 16.1-yard average in 1961. With 52, only Bobby Dillon, who was selected for the Hall of Fame last month, has more interceptions in Packers history than Wood.

Video: Butler discusses falling short of Hall of Fame