American Football Database
Willie Wood
No. 24     
Personal information
Date of birth: (1936-12-23) December 23, 1936 (age 85)
Place of birth: Washington, D.C.
Career information
College: Southern California
Undrafted in 1960
No regular season or postseason appearances
Career history
 As player:
* Green Bay Packers ( 1960 1971)
 As coach:
* San Diego Chargers (assistant) ( 1971 1973)
Career highlights and awards
* 8× Pro Bowl (1962, 19641970)
Interceptions     48
Interception yards     699
Touchdowns     2
Stats at
Pro Football Hall of Fame

William Vernell Wood Sr. (born December 23, 1936) is a former American football safety for the Green Bay Packers in the National Football League (NFL), and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[1][2]

College career

After graduating from Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. in 1956,[3] Wood went west and played college football in southern California, playing his freshman year at Coalinga Junior College and was a junior college All-American.

He transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1957 and played for the Trojans under first-year head coach Don Clark.[4] While there he was the first African American quarterback in the history of the Pacific Coast Conference and its successor AAWU, now the Pac-12 Conference.

As a junior in 1958, he was sidelined with an injured shoulder,[5] and as a senior in 1959, he separated his right shoulder and missed several games.[6]

NFL career

Wood was not selected in the 1960 NFL draft, and wrote a letter to head coach Vince Lombardi to request a tryout;[7] the Packers signed him as a rookie free agent in 1960. After a few days with the quarterbacks, he requested a switch to defense and was recast as a free safety, and was a starter in the season. He started until his retirement in 1971.

Wood won All-NFL honors nine times in a nine-year stretch from 1962 through the 1971 season, participated in the Pro Bowl eight times, and played in six NFL championship games, winning all except the first in 1960.

Wood was the starting free safety for the Packers in Super Bowl I against the Kansas City Chiefs and Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders. In Super Bowl I, he recorded a key interception that helped the Packers put the game away in the second half.[8][9][10] In Super Bowl II, he returned five punts for 35 yards, including a 31-yard return that stood as the record for longest punt return in a Super Bowl until Darrell Green's 34-yard return in Super Bowl XVIII. He led the NFL in interceptions and punt return yards in 1962.

Wood finished his 12 NFL seasons with 48 interceptions, which he returned for 699 yards and two touchdowns. He also gained 1,391 yards and scored two touchdowns on 187 punt returns. He holds the record for the most consecutive starts by a safety in NFL history.

Wood retired as a player after the 1971 season;[11] he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989,[1][2][4] and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1977.[12]

Coaching career

After retiring as a player in January 1972,[11] Wood became the defensive backs coach for the San Diego Chargers. In 1975, he was the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League (WFL) and became the first African-American head coach in professional football of the modern era in late July, days before the first game of the season.[13] The Bell's season lasted only eleven games when the league folded in October.[12]

Wood was later an assistant coach for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League under Forrest Gregg, a Packer teammate. When Gregg left after the 1979 season for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL,[14] Wood became the first black head coach in the CFL, but after an 0–10 start in 1981, he was fired.[15][16]


His son, Willie Wood, Jr., played for (1992–1993) and later coached the Indiana Firebirds in the Arena Football League, after coaching at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. Wood Jr. also served as the wide receiver/defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.

Wood currently lives in Washington, D.C. and has had replacement knee surgery; he suffers from dementia and forgetfulness.[16][17][18]

In March 2012, a block of N Street NW in D.C. (Template:Coordinates) was named "Willie Wood Way."[19]

NFL career statistics

Year Games INT Yards TD
1960 12 0 0 0
1961 14 5 52 0
1962 14 9 132 0
1963 14 5 67 0
1964 14 3 73 1
1965 14 6 65 0
1966 14 3 38 1
1967 14 4 60 0
1968 14 2 54 0
1969 14 3 40 0
1970 14 7 110 0
1971 14 1 8 0
Totals 166 48 699 2

Wood was also a punt returner throughout his career, averaging 7.4 yards per return in 187 attempts and scoring two touchdowns, both in 1961. He also had three kickoff returns for 20 yards (6.7 average) and kicked twice, missing a field goal and converting an extra point.

See also

  • Most consecutive starts by a safety


  1. 1.0 1.1 Clines, Frank (August 3, 1989). "History wants him". Milwaukee Journal: p. 1C.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lea, Bud (August 5, 1989). "A dream is fulfilled for Wood". Milwaukee Sentinel: p. 1, part 2.
  3. "Southern Cal pins Rose Bowl hopes on D.C. quartereback". Baltimore Afro-American: p. 30. November 8, 1958.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Packers' Wood, Raiders' Shell in Hall of Fame's class of 89". Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania): p. C7. July 16, 1989.
  5. "Trojans to meet Tar Heels tonight". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Associated Press (Washington): p. 13. October 3, 1958.
  6. "Trojan QB injured; lost most of season". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press (Florida): p. 6C. October 2, 1959.
  7. Lea, Bud (January 27, 1989). "Wood's determination is rewarded". Milwaukee Sentinel: p. 1, part 2.
  8. Kuechle, Oliver E. (January 16, 1967). "Interception vital". Milwaukee Journal: p. 15, part 2.
  9. "Wood's steal changed our plans: Stram". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI: p. 1, part 2. January 16, 1967.
  10. Clines, Frank (August 3, 1989). "Wood shrugs off interception". Milwaukee Journal: p. 6C.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Packers' Willie Wood retires, looks to head pro coaching job". Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press (Alabama): p. 11. January 20, 1972.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lea, Bud (January 24, 1977). "Willie Wood deserved a better fate". Milwaukee Sentinel: p. 1, part 2.
  13. "Willie Wood named coach of the Bell". Bangor Daily News. Associated Press (Maine): p. 22. July 30, 1975.
  14. "Argonauts tab Wood". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press (Spokane, Washington): p. 26. January 4, 1980.
  15. "Toronto fires Willie Wood". Afro-American (Baltimore): p. 10. September 26, 1981.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Woods, Paul (January 30, 2013). "Paying homage to Super Bowl trailblazer Willie Wood". Toronto Sun (Canada). Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  17. Maske, Mark (March 16, 2007). "He's in need, but too proud to beg". Washington Post. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  18. Johnson, Greg (October 17, 2007). "They're lining up on his side". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  19. Stewart, Nikita (March 21, 2012). "NW block named for former NFL standout Willie Wood". Washington Post. Retrieved January 12, 2016.

External links