Monday, January 24, 2011

From the Frommer vault - The First Super Bowl Was a Thrill

The very long National Football League season is now over. The losers and their fans look to the ultimate game - - and the winners and their fans rejoice in the big compettiion. Hype, hoopla, histrionics and sometimes a great game is the result of all the activity.

The merger of the American Football League and the National Football League led to the need for a championship game. The first contest was played on January 15, 1967 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 was not too taken with the long and ordinary sounding suggestions for what would become professional football's ultimate game.

Squeezing the ball, he 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 as he led 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.

Now in his 36th year of writing sports books, Harvey Frommer is a noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of hundreds of articles and 41 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 was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION (Abrams) is set for March 2011. He is available for speaking engagements.

Harvey Frommer/ "Dartmouth's own Mr. Baseball" Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

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