He was 83.
“The Green Bay Packers family lost a legend today with the passing of Willie Wood,” Packers President Mark Murphy said in a written statement. “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.”
In a 2007 interview at an assisted living facility on Riggs Road in Hyattsville, Md., where he then was staying, Wood said he was convinced that many of his health problems stemmed from playing football. Even so, he said he did not regret his career choice.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Wood said then. “I can’t say that. It’s like spitting on the thing you like the most.”
Wood played for the Packers between 1960 and 1971 and ranks second in team history with his 48 interceptions. He was a starting safety on all five of the Packers’ NFL championship teams coached by Vince Lombardi in the ‘60s, including those that won the first two Super Bowls. He was a standout in the Packers’ 35-10 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I, intercepting a pass by Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson and setting up a Green Bay touchdown with a 50-yard return.
Wood never missed a game in a dozen seasons, was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was named all-pro five times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
“The Game has lost a true Legend with the passing of Willie Wood,” Hall of Fame President David Baker said in a written 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.”
The Hall of Fame said the flag at the museum in Canton, Ohio, will be flown at half-staff in memory of Wood.
Wood, who graduated from Armstrong High in the District, played quarterback and defensive back in college at the University of Southern California but went undrafted by the NFL and the American Football League. Lombardi auditioned him at quarterback but put him on defense for good during Packers’ training camp in 1960, according to the team.
By the time of his 2007 interview, Wood was said by the NFL Players Association to qualify for benefits under a plan for former players with dementia. Wood also suffered at that time from diabetes and high blood pressure. He’d been unable to walk for months because of gout and was about to undergo replacement surgery on his left knee after previously having had his right knee and right hip replaced.
“Everything is going to be artificial on me pretty soon,” Wood said then.
He never made more than $98,000 in a year during his NFL career, and he said during that 2007 interview: “If I had it to do all over again, I’d do it the same way. Of course, I’d like to make more money.”
Wood is survived by two sons and a daughter, according to the Packers, and funeral arrangements were pending Monday.
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