''The most fun thing was watching the development of the Super Bowl because the game is what it's all about. I really felt a high at every Super Bowl with all the glitz and the spectacular halftime shows.'' – Pete Rozelle
“The Super Bowl is an invention of American business. It is American business.” - Roger Angell
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 NFL’s Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers squared off against the AFL’s underdog Kansas City Chiefs coached by Hank Stram.
That first Super Bowl was played at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles before 61,946. Yes, there were empty seats – the first and only time the legendary event failed to sell out even with ticket prices that topped out at $12.
The contest was officially known as the AFL-NFL World Championship;however, its unofficial name - the Super Bowl - was used by media, fans and players. 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 appropriated from his youngster earlier in the day. Not too taken with the long and ordinary sounding suggestions for what would become professional football's ultimate game, Lamar Hunt 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.
The networks charged $42,000 for a 30 second commercial. Frank Gifford was a sidelines reporter for CBS. Ray Scott handled the CBS play-by play for the first half while Jack Whitaker took over in the second half. Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman handled the NBC telecast.
There were many oddities and talking points about that first game. Two jetpack pilots shook hands at the 50 yard line after landing there. Commercials for McDonald's (then boasting of "Over Two Billion Served") and Muriel cigars ("So much more cigar for just 10 cents") were all the rage.
According to NFL Films President Steve Sabol, Commissioner Pete Rozelle had wanted to call the game "The Big One." That never came to be. Neither did “Pro Bowl, another name the NFL head man favored.
From the start (but not in that first game) there were unique features to the Super Bowl including its designation with a Roman numeral rather than by a year - a move attributed to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to give the game class and continuity.
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 later. So McGee went out on the town the days (and nights) prior to the game. Curfews, it seems, were there for him to break. Then, the unimaginable happened. Dowler suffered a separated shoulder throwing a block on the opening series.
In came McGee who had caught only four passes all season. He snared 7 passes for 138 yards, hauling in the first touchdown in Super Bowl history—a 37-yard pass from Green Bay's Bart Starr. He caught another 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.
McGee stole the show and set a pattern 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, the right bounce for others.
Quarterback Bart Starr was the first Most Valuable Player leading the Packers to a 35-10 victory over KC. Starr completed 16-of-23 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Today more Americans watch the Super Bowl than vote in presidential elections. Municipalities vigorously and ruthlessly compete for the rights to host a game and then work with the NFL, advertising and talent agencies, merchandisers, security personnel, and celebrity party planners more than a year in advance fine tuning myriad details. A couple of million large-screen TVs are purchased weeks before the game.
The grandest and gaudiest annual one-day spectacle in American sports, Super Bowl Sunday has become an unofficial American holiday with bragging rights to millions of parties, betting pools, excessive consumption of food and drink. TV networks charge as much as $2.5 million for a 30-second spot. Many viewers do not even watch the game itself, content to partake of the elaborate pre-game or halftime entertainment. The 2012 Super Bowl drew a television viewership of 111.3 million.
It is all a mind boggling situation very different from 1967 when the Chiefs and the Packers clashed. And soon Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans will be upon us. Watch out.
(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. ****