The Super Bowl remains the biggest sports day in the world. Regardless of if you enjoy watching the game of American football or not, most likely folks end up at somebody’s house for a Super Bowl party, a local sports bar or in some cities the game is shown on the big screen in movie theaters.
The game itself was born as part the merger agreement between two rival professional football leagues – the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL).
Each entity had problems with their player salaries going haywire, and so to end that the end result was to join forces where they could regulate costs more efficiently. They came to an agreement beginning in 1966 the two leagues would begin sharing some things such as a common draft and preseason, player contract regulations plus add a championship game between the two league’s champions.
The new game began in 1966 and was an additional championship with additional player bonuses to the winners and losers. That lasted four years until 1970 when the 16-team NFL and the 10-team AFL formed one huge league. The championship game continued, but this time only pitted the two conference champions against each other instead of the two league champs in a title situation.
A lot has changed since that the very first championship game.
For one, the first three installments were named the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” The fourth game and onwards to today were named the “Super Bowl.” Initially, the most expensive ticket was $12 as NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted to insure a good turnout; which didn’t happen since one-third of the stadium remained unsold. A 30-second television commercial then cost $37,500.
Even the players are different today. Hall of Fame offensive guard Forrest Gregg of the Green Bay Packers weighed just 249 pounds - a fullback or linebacker’s size today. Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Lenny Dawson, who started the first game, led the AFL is passer completions with 56.0% which today would place him behind every starting QB in the NFL.
Before Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Lady Gaga, New Kids on the Block, Gloria Estefan, Diana Ross, ZZ Top, Phil Collins or the Rolling Stones headlined the halftime show extravaganza, it was the Grambling State University Marching Band or the performing arts group Up with People.
How the Super Bowl became known as the Super Bowl
Even though the first three games were officially named the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” in 1966, 1967 and 1968, it was loosely called the “Super Bowl” by the media.
Because Major League Baseball (MLB) and college football were the current king of sports, a lot of what other sports leagues did paralleled MLB’s actions and traditions.
One of college football’s most important and cherished traditions are the season-ending bowl games. So, pro football just followed that trend with a season-ending bowl game of its own. Plus, there was the “Playoff Bowl” from 1961 to 1969 and of course the NFL’s all-star game is called the “Pro Bowl.”
Once the two leagues agreed in principal to merge as one league in 1970, along with commissioner Rozelle, a committee was formed that utilized three men from each of the two leagues. This committee’s function was to iron out all the details of the merger and construct an actual agreement. This took 18 months to complete.
But in the meanwhile, the long-awaited championship game between the two entities was being planned and set into motion.
One of the men on this committee was Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the founder of the AFL. In the summer of 1966 while in one of numerous committee meetings, the discussion circled around the planned championship game pitting the NFL Champs against the AFL Champs. Hunt inquired about whether there should be a one-week or two-week break between each league’s title game and the championship game.
A bit of confusion hushed over the room as Hunt was asked which championship game he was referring to - the league championship games or the new world championship.
“You know,” Hunt told them. “The last game...the final game. The, Super Bowl.”
Hunt had thought of the name while watching his children play with the Wham-O toy “Super Ball.”
The committee formally called the added game the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” But for all intended purposes, from that point on the committee began loosely referring to the final game as the “Super Bowl” in their discussions about which championship games they were discussing.
Rozelle, who would eventually become the commissioner of the newly-merged AFL-NFL union, didn’t like the term “super” as a reference to anything. His thinking was that it didn’t have any sophistication and was simply a catch phrase that was being thrown around loosely in those days used as a synonym for the words “very” or “extremely.” But one has to enlighten that in the 1960’s the word “super” meant the pinnacle of whatever the moniker preceded. Supermodel, superpower, Super Dome, Jesus Christ Superstar, super nova, supermarket, super weapons, super-organism, supersized, super heavy, super stocks, super-macho and Supershow suddenly became main stream usage.
Even “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was popularized.
To be factual, Rozelle hated the name “Super Bowl.”
In the meantime, pro football beat writers, commentators and even players began using the term “Super Bowl.” Whether or not Rozelle thought the moniker was grammatically correct or not, the name stuck.
Even though the added game was labeled the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game”, it had been suggested that the championship game needed a catchier name. After all, it didn’t exactly fit a newspaper headline very well with all those characters.
At first Rozelle’s suggestion was to rename the league’s all-star contest and then call this championship game the “Pro Bowl.” That received mix reviews and besides, that contest had used that appellation since 1951.
Since MLB was the reigning king of sports, another moniker that gained some traction was the “World Series of Football.” The issue with that, however, was the fact that this was a single game, not an actual series. Still, Rozelle was adamant that the title game to earth’s finest sports league should not be labeled something as simplistic as the word “super” attached to it.
Rozelle had a suggestion for the game’s designation instead. He suggested “The Big One.”
That idea obviously didn’t get any adhesive friction.
Finally, a game called the “Super Bowl”
Tickets for the first three games were labeled the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” And networks had already begun the term “Super Sunday” as those first years passed along. NFL Films were labeling all their film canisters with the name Super Bowl and TV commentators were already calling it that.
For the fourth installation the tickets read “Super Bowl.” It is by coincidence that in that fourth game the powerful and favored Minnesota Vikings played Hunt’s Chiefs to which Kansas City shocked the football world with a 23-7 victory despite the Vikings being 13.5 point favorites.
The Super Bowl decides the champion of the NFL, and also the champions of the advertising universe. Inasmuch as the Super Bowl has created a mass gathering either in sports bars or at household gatherings, this splendid festival generates just as much interest in the commercials as it does the actual game itself.
Basically, the Super Bowl is the most influential amphitheater in TV promotion. In the world of advertising it is viewed as judgment day. New ad campaigns often begin their kickoff airing during this game.
Three of the four networks that carry the NFL broadcasts - CBS, FOX and NBC - alternate as host of the Super Bowl each year and pay dearly for the rights. This season alone, NBC paid $3 billion for NFL rights, which included the 2022 Super Bowl.
NBC will broadcast Super Bowl 56 played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, and announced the cost for each 30-second commercial spot $6.5 million. Last year’s Super Bowl on CBS, the total ad revenue they brought in with pregame, in-game and post-game advertising was $482 million.
In the previous 54 Super Bowls, none of the cities that hosted the game had their home team as a participant. That changed last year when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the NFC Champions, and then won the game 31-9 in Tampa. This year it is a repeat as the NFC Champs Los Angeles Rams will be playing in their home stadium.
Why Roman numerals?
The Super Bowl is considered the showcase of American sports. Feeds are broadcast all over the world especially Armed Forces bases.
And yet, this American icon sports Roman numerals for each Super Bowl game to identify its grand event. Why? There isn’t another American sport that uses this archaic numbering system.
The first three games were called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” The fourth game was then changed officially to the “Super Bowl.” That was the final year as two separately operating pro football leagues. In 1970, they officially merged and became this 26-team entity with one schedule, two conferences, a common draft and equal profit-sharing.
The 1970 season was winding down with the new format and the playoffs looming. Plans were already being laid for that year’s Super Bowl to be played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, home of the Dolphins, formerly an AFL club.
On the ticket stub of Super Bowl 4, it just stated “Super Bowl” and the added verbiage “Fourth World Championship Game.”
This one was going to officially be identified with a number. It was to be called “Super Bowl 5.” Which in reality was really only the second game to be officially labeled the Super Bowl, but the first three were re-named to reflect the beginnings of this championship game.
Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt had coined the term “Super Bowl” which stuck. He had a lot of good ideas that were used such as the two-point conversion after a touchdown that the AFL got from college football in the 1950’s and the NFL later adopted.
And one of Hunt’s ideas was to place a Roman numeral attached to the Super Bowl. The game was to be the championship of the two leagues who had fought each other for many years, then came together as one cohesive unit. The championship of this new league had a name that Hunt coined, and he felt that it was his brainchild.
The first such game with all the clubs under the same umbrella was viewed as special and historic. And in Hunt’s view, Super Bowl 5 needed an historic identity.
The Roman numerals have been in place ever since without any expectations of changing it. Hunt, who passed in 2006, was particularly proud of suggesting these numerals for the Super Bowl. It does add to the mystique of the game.
In fact, it is kinda hip, timeless and has an important-sounding aura to it. Historically.