The triumph of the New Orleans Saints over the Colts of Indianapolis in Super Bowl 44 was watched by more than 106 million people, the biggest audience for a television event – ever.
The hype, the hoopla, histrionics and the attendance and global village on parade all underscored just how far the event has come from what now seems like a modest start on January 15, 1967.
The merger of the American Football League and the National Football League led to the need for a championship game. The Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers squared off against the Kansas City Chiefs.
And, although the contest was officially known as the AFL-NFL World Championship, its unofficial name - the Super Bowl - was used in the media, the fans and the players, and the name stuck.
One theory for how the high flying name came about is that at an owner's meeting centered on what to call the game, one of the moguls had a "super ball" in his pocket that he had taken away from his youngster earlier in the day. The owner, not bemused enough by the long and ordinary sounding suggestions for what would become professional football's ultimate game, squeezed the bal and suggested the name Super Bowl. His suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm by the assembled group. Nevertheless, he mentioned the name to a reporter who loved it and, as they say, the rest is history.
The first Super Bowl witnessed the first dual-network, color-coverage simulcast of a sports event in history, and attracted the largest viewership to ever see a sporting event up to that time. The Nielsen rating indicated that 73 million fans watched all or part of the game on one of the two networks, CBS or NBC.
In actuality, the game was a contest between the two leagues and the two networks. CBS' allegiance was to the NFL. NBC's loyalty was to the AFL - a league it had virtually created with its network dollars.
From the start there were special features to the Super Bowl including its designation with a Roman numeral rather than by a year - a move on the part of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to give the contest a sense of class.
That first Super Bowl was played at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles before 61,946. Quarterback Bart Starr was the first Most Valuable Player, leading the Packers to a 35-10 victory over Kansas City. Starr completed 16-of-23 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Max McGee of the Packers became an interesting footnote to Super Bowl history. "I knew I wouldn't play unless (Boyd) Dowler got hurt," he said in later years.
So McGee went out on the town the days (and nights) prior to the game. Curfews, it seems, were there for him to break. He stayed out until 7:30 a.m. on the day of the game. Then, the unimaginable happened. Dowler suffered a separated shoulder throwing a block on the opening series.
In came the 11-year veteran McGee who had caught only four passes all season. He snared 7 passes for 138 yards. McGee and Starr hooked up in the first quarter for a 37-yard score, and again at the end of the third quarter for a 13-yard touchdown. Elijah Pitts ran for two other scores. The Chiefs' 10 points came in the second quarter, their only touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.
But Max McGee stole the show and set a pattern in that first Super Bowl that would be part of the ultimate game's history of unlikely heroes, strange twists of fate, footballs taking a wrong bounce for some teams and the right bounce for others. Witness what happened in Super Bowl last.
Harvey Frommer is his 34th consecutive year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 40 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work an oral and narrative history of Fenway Park will be published in 2010.
Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.
FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.