On January 15, 1967 the very first professional American football championship was played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was billed as the AFL -NFL 1967 World Championship. Game tickets sold for $ 6.00 to $ 12.00. The game failed to sell out. Professional football spectators were not quite fanatical at that point in the sport’s history, perhaps because they did not fully appreciate the potential of such an event. While the stated purpose was to determine the champion among two competing professional American football leagues, the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL), the Super Bowl has grown to represent so much more. It has become the ultimate symbol of America’s resolve to succeed against all odds.
On that faithful January day in 1967 the NFL, represented by its champion the Green Bay Packers, challenged the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. In a game played by the two best teams on Earth, made up of the best athletes on the planet, and viewed by professional football fans all over the country, Green Bay, led by the legendary Vince Lombardi, beat Hank Stram’s Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10.
When Green Bay returned the next year beating the AFL’s Los Angeles Raiders 33 to 14, many believed the AFL would never match up. All that changed in 1969 when New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath, made an off-the-cuff victory guarantee to a rowdy Colts fan during a Super Bowl press conference. In response to the heckling Colts fan, Namath said: “We’re gonna win; I guarantee it.” Namath’s Guarantee created a sensation as news agencies broadcast the story in every major news network in the Country. On January 12, 1969 Joe Namath and his underdog AFL team went out and won the Super Bowl.
In 1970 the two leagues merged into the NFL creating two conferences out of the two former leagues. All former NFL teams, except one, became National Football Conference members and all AFL teams became American Football Conference members. One team was needed to balance the schedule, so the Baltimore Colts switched from the NFC to the AFC. Consequently the great Super Bowl match-up of 1969 cannot be repeated between the Jets and the Colts as both teams are now members of the same conference.
In 1965, prior to the merger, the upstart AFL secured a thirty-six million dollar contract with NBC for broadcast rights, which gave the league financial stability. Many cities across the country, principally in the south and the west had no professional football teams to satisfy the growing demand for the sport. As the AFL grew to satisfy that demand it also grew in prominence and began to compete for the top draft choices from college programs around the country. The two leagues observed an unspoken rule that neither would attempt to sign a player under contract in the other’s league. However, when the New York Giants signed place kicker Pete Gogolak, who was under contract with the AFL’s Buffalo Bills, AFL commissioner, Al Davis, took off the gloves and the AFL aggressively pursued the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. With attractive salary offers, the AFL managed to lure 7 of the NFL’s most promising quarterbacks to the AFL in the 1965 season. Although the AFL later surrendered the contracts, the NFL recognized the threat the AFL posed by plundering their talent pool. Merger talks were conducted without the knowledge of NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle or the AFL’s commissioner, Al Davis. On June 8, 1966, the team owners of both leagues announced they had reached terms for a merger agreement. The actual merger would take four years to complete.
While league officials searched for a sensational name for the annual championship game, the Kansas City Chief’s owner, Lamar Hunt, proposed calling it the “Super Bowl”. Hunt, who was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League, came up with the name while watching his daughter play with a rubber ball that was a toy sensation in the mid sixties. Whamo marketed the toy as the “Super Ball”. Hunt’s suggestion was only intended to serve as a temporary name, until a more glorious moniker could be agreed upon. Having failed to find a more desirable or descriptive replacement, the name stuck.
More than 151.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the 44th Super Bowl in 2010. According to Neilson Ratings, the 2010 Super Bowl was the most watched television program of all time. It surpassed the long standing record set by the final episode of the popular television series M*A*S*H, which drew 121.6 million viewers on February 28, 1983. In many ways the Super Bowl has become a contest of numbers. In 2010 thirty seconds of commercial air time sold for 3 million dollars, which is a long way from the $ 37,500 charged by NBC for a 30 second spot during the first Super Bowl. Super Bowl wagers were estimated to exceed 10 billion dollars in 2010. The game was broadcast in 34 languages in 232 countries around the world. The 2010 Super Bowl added and estimated 400 million dollars to Miami’s economy as a result of the Colts and Saints challenge for the title. Fans spent an estimated 5.6 billion dollars on Super Bowl related items during the championship. The media, marketing, entertainment and background stories surrounding the Super Bowl have become every bit as sensational as the game itself.
As of 2010 only two cities north of the Mason Dixon Line have ever hosted a Super Bowl; Detroit in 1982 and 2006, and Minneapolis in 1992. That trend is about to change. Dallas will host the Super Bowl in 2011, Indianapolis in 2012, New Orleans in 2013, and New Jersey in 2014. The NFL has also given some consideration to playing a future Super Bowl in London, England.
There are many great stories that make up Super Bowl history. One such story reportedly took place during the very first championship game. According to the Orlando Sentinel, CBS and NBC both covered the first Super Bowl sharing the same televised footage, but each used its own sportscasters. The cameras missed the kick-off for the second half of the game, because sportscaster Charles Jones was busy interviewing Bob Hope. When the head referee ordered a re-kick, a CBS producer directed CBS reporter Pat Summerall to explain the mishap to Vince Lombardi, the Packer’s head coach. Pat Summerall, who played as a place kicker for the New York Giants under the legendary coach, refused to go anywhere near him. The story serves as anecdotal evidence of the terrorizing roar so often associated with Vince Lombardi, for whom the Championship Trophy is now named. Sadly, there is no known network coverage of the first Super Bowl. Reportedly, the only known tape was taped over to record a soap opera.
American radio broadcast personality Mark Champion is well known by basket ball fans as the voice of the Detroit Pistons. He is perhaps less well known as the off-screen voice who asks the Super Bowl MVP “You’ve just won the Super Bowl, what are you going to do next?” Since 1987, Disney has been an important part of the Super Bowl tradition with its “What’s Next” advertising campaign. The Walt Disney Company tapes two versions of the commercial, one promoting Disneyland in Anaheim, California and another for Disney World in Orlando, Florida and airs them in the markets geographically relevant to the two theme parks. Former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner credits his wife, Jane Eisner with the whole idea for the long running advertising campaign. In 1986, during Disney’s opening celebration for the Star Tours attraction at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the Eisner’s dined with Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (no relation to Chuck Yeager), who had just broken aviation history with their non-stop flight around the world in their specially designed Voyager aircraft. Jane Eisner reportedly asked the couple what they planned to do next and they replied “Well, we’re going to Disneyland.” She later suggested her husband use that as part of an advertising campaign to promote Disney’s theme parks. Since 1987 Disney has used what it refers to as the “What’s Next” advertising campaign every year (except 2006) to promote its theme parks during the post game celebration of the Super Bowl. The ads have become as much a part of the Super Bowl as the half time entertainment and the much anticipated Super Bowl commercials.
Each year millions of fans from around the world plan their schedules around American Football’s greatest event. The show stopping half-time talent, the knee slapping commercials, the galas, the background stories, and the hype are as much a part of the show as the amazing athletes that play and the brilliant strategists who stalk the sidelines. While basketball and baseball are played in other countries around the world, American football remains uniquely American. The Super Bowl is America’s Championship Game.
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