Birthday Wishes to the Super Bowl

NFL Football - Richard CrepeauOn this date in 1967, an American institution—nay, the most sacred of secular holidays—was born. Super Bowl I pitted the Kansas City Chiefs, a team reared on red meat and jazz, against a Green Bay Packers franchise shaped by fried cheese curds and frostbite. Conventional wisdom considered the Chiefs, the AFL team, as the best team in a second-rate football league. Thus, the smart money went on the Packers, then an indomitable NFL powerhouse.

The rival leagues sat on a gold mine, a cultural tsunami. Yet, as Richard C. Crepeau explains in his acclaimed book NFL Football: A History of America’s New National Pastime, they did their best to fumble the ball:

The Merger Committee took up the matter of a championship game at their first meeting in the summer of 1966. Among considerations was a name for the game. Lamar Hunt used the term “Super Bowl” inadvertently during the discussions, a term that came to him after watching his children playing with a “Super Ball.” No one, including Hunt, cared for the name, and Rozelle had strong feelings against it. Lacking a catchy name, the first game would simply be the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. In the press, the electronic media, and on the street, the term “Super Bowl” came into use immediately. The words “Super Bowl” did not appear on game tickets until Super Bowl IV, which still carried the designation “Fourth World Championship Game.” Not until Super Bowl V was the designation World Championship Game dropped, and for the first time roman numerals appeared on the tickets. Hunt may have found it corny and Rozelle may not have liked it, but as is the way with language, common usage can trump all other considerations.

….As for television coverage, both networks were authorized to broadcast the game for a rights fee of $1 million each. Both networks promoted their coverage heavily in the weeks before the game. CBS charged $85,000 per minute for commercial time, while NBC offered one minute for $75,000. Attendance at the Los Angeles Coliseum was 63,036, which left more than thirty thousand empty seats. Television ratings were high, as sixty-five million tuned in, or about one-half of the televisions that were on in America for a game whose outcome was a foregone conclusion, and a game not available in the country’s second-largest television market.