Soon Super Bowl XLVII will be upon us all.
The date: February 3, 2013.
The place: Mercedes-Benz Super Dome, New Orleans.
The U.S. TV audience to surpass 100 million.
An advertising slot during the break (30 seconds), a pricey almost $4 million.
All of the above boggles the mind. All of the above is true. And all of the above is a far, far, cry from January 15, 1967 - - the date of the first Super Bowl which was not even officially called “the Super Bowl.”
That first game had a TV viewership of 51 million Americans. A 30-second ad sold for just $42,000. Each winning player received $15,000,each loser $7,500.
In June 1966, the National Football League and the American Football League announced a merger ending for all intents and purposes a half dozen years of bickering and bad blood. The leagues also agreed to play a post-season game for pro football’s championship. The official name of the game was "World Championship Game, American Football League vs. National Football League." It was wordy and dull. Some fans and media members were already calling it “Super Bowl.”
Jackie Gleason, one of the celebrated comedians of that era, the evening before the big game ended his TV variety show the “Honeymooners” on CBS the usual way giving acknowledgment to his fellow stars Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph. Then the chubby comic exhorted his loyal and massive audience to be sure and tune in the next day and watch Green Bay and Kansas City compete in a championship gridiron game.
Gleason bellowed: “It’s gonna be murder!”
There were those who thought “the Great One” went a bit too far, that he was in the bag for his CBS network that carried the NFL broadcasts.
The game was staged at the gigantic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a sunny and beautiful southern Californian smog-free day. Top tickets were priced at $12.00 but could be gotten for two bucks on the street. More than 30,000 seats were empty as “just” 63,000 showed up. This, despite a 75-mile TV blackout in the Los Angeles area. NBC and CBS paid $9.5 million to televise the game.
The field’s west end zone had the word “Packers” spelled out in green on a gold background. On each side was the NFL insignia. The east zone showcased “Chiefs” in red on a gold background. On each side was the AFL insignia. A large brown football was painted at the 50-yard line. Capped with a gold crown, it sported the NFL insignia in blue and the AFL in red on each side.
Six officials, three representing the NFL and three from the AFL, were on hand. They were backed by six alternates. Two different footballs were used – an AFL model and an NFL one.
The entertainment was billed as “Super Sights and Sounds.” An icon of that era, jazz trumpeter Al Hirt, did his thing. In step were the University of Arizona and Grambling State University marching bands, the Anaheim High School Drill Team. A pair of "rocket men" sporting James Bond jet packs and the insignia of each league, flew a bit and landed at midfield. Halftime saw the release of 10,000 helium-filled balloons and 4,000 pigeons.
For the record, the favored (12-2) Packers coached by Vince Lombardi had bragging rights to four NFL titles in six years and 10 future Pro Football Hall of Famers on the roster. The (11-2-1) 18-point underdog Chiefs, led by Hank Stram, made a game of it in the first half. However, the “Pack” took over in the second half, winning big, 35-10. Bart Starr tossed two touchdown passes to Max McGee and won the MVP award and a trip to New York City to claim his red Corvette Sting Ray from Sport Magazine
That was many long years ago - -the “grand-daddy of them all”-- Super Bowl One. "Our goal,” former NFL Commisioner Pete Rozelle said,
“from the first was to make this more than a game, to make it an event."
(to be continued)
***Harvey Frommer is at work on REMEMBERING SUPER BOWL ONE: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY. He welcomes hearing from anyone with memories, perceptions, leads, memorabilia for his newest book. ****