Super Bowl's Most Famous...
The Pittsburgh Channel]
Named After Toy, Super Bowl Has
Event Draws 800 Million Viewers
Kim Forrest, Contributing Writer
POSTED: 12:33 p.m. EST January 27, 2004
UPDATED: 3:52 p.m. EST January 30, 2004
BOSTON -- For many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday is nothing less than a
national holiday -- one where sports fans settle back on their La-Z Boys,
guzzle a few beers and watch the biggest football game of the year. Who
could have predicted that an event that draws over 800 million viewers
worldwide was named after something as simple as a children's toy?
While there are many stories that
attempt to explain how the Super Bowl got its name, the one most sports
enthusiasts subscribe to gives credit to Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar
While watching his children play with the multicolored "Super Ball" toy in
1966, Hunt was inspired to give the same name to the upcoming championship
game between the top teams in the National Football League and the American
Football League, according to Pete Fierle, information services manager at
the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio,
"They wanted something real grandiose," Fierle said. "The word 'bowl' was a
takeoff on college games. They used the Roman numerals to make it more of a
formal type of title. Early on, it was known as the NFL-AFL Championship
game, but various newspapers still called it the 'Super Bowl.'"
Aptly enough, it was Lamar Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs, coached by Hank Stram,
who represented the AFL in that first Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers,
coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, were their opponent. The game was
played on Jan. 15, 1967 at Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, Green Bay defeated
the Chiefs 35-10.
Bill Wallace, a retired New York Times sports reporter who covered the first
Super Bowl, recalled that the two competing teams had very different styles
with the press. While Lombardi's Packers stayed at a hotel in far-away Santa
Barbara, Calif., the Chiefs were more accessible.
"Kansas City Chiefs were welcoming everybody as the underdogs, as the poor
little brethren of the NFL," Wallace said. "It was contrast between big,
gorilla Packers and the innocent babes, the Chiefs."
The Packers and the National Football League actually won the first two
Super Bowls. They triumphed over the Oakland Raiders at Super Bowl II 33-14.
The American Football League won Super Bowls III and IV, with the New York
Jets winning in 1969 and the Kansas City Chiefs prevailing in 1970. Now the
Super Bowl is played between the American and National football conferences.
"The first Super Bowl came about because at that time there was a 'war'
between the two leagues, the National Football League and a rival league
called the American Football League," Fierle explained. "There was a lot of
battling for players."
Looking at the numbers, things certainly have changed in the Super Bowl's
38-year history. Prime seating at Super Bowl I cost just $12, as compared to
the thousands of dollars avid fans spend today (although it should be noted
that face value for the best club seats is $600). Despite the relative
bargain price of the early tickets, there were more than 30,000 empty seats
at the Los Angeles stadium that first year. Wallace said this was because
the two teams playing were of no concern to Los Angeles fans.
"Green Bay and Kansas City were of no particular interest to the Los Angeles
football fans that had tunnel vision towards the Rams, their home team," he
said. "The two teams playing didn't have that much appeal to that ticket
base. It was a tremendous disappointment."
After that initial disappointing turnout, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made
it a goal to have the Super Bowl become a popular event.
"Pete Rozelle . . . vowed that we're never going to have anything less than
a sell-out," Wallace said. "We have to go to work on promotion. And there
has never been an empty seat since then."
So when did the Super Bowl start getting the attention it has today? Fierle
and Wallace agree that hoopla probably began at Super Bowl III in 1969. The
National Football League had won the first two Super Bowls, and the American
Football League's champion New York Jets were the underdog against the
heavily favored Baltimore Colts.
When asked if he thought the Jets would win, Namath said that they would. "I
guarantee it," he said. In shocking form, the Jets went on to beat the Colts
16-7. Wallace called it the Super Bowl "when the wrong team won."
"The expectation was the National League was much better than the upstart
league," he said. "That absolutely flipped when the Jets upset the Colts . .
. This gave the contest the credibility it did not have."
"That really gave [the Super Bowl] a lot of fame, but it continues to grow
bigger and bigger," Fierle said.
What makes the Super Bowl such a national event, Fierle said, is not just
the sporting event, but the entertainment value as well.
"It's world class entertainment. From the pre-game show to the national
anthem to the halftime show, even someone who doesn't even like football may
just watch the commercials . . . the game has global appeal," Fierle said.
A lot has changed in Super Bowl entertainment since Super Bowl I, when the
stars of the halftime show were the University of Arizona and the University
of Michigan marching bands. The bands also performed the national anthem.
Celebrities, in lieu of marching bands, started performing in the halftime
show when "Hello Dolly" star Carol Channing sang at Super Bowl IV in 1970.
Since then, such performers as Ella Fitzgerald (Super Bowl VI), The New Kids
on the Block (Super Bowl XXV), Michael Jackson (Super Bowl XXVII), U2 (Super
Bowl XXXVI) and this year's main act, Janet Jackson, have entertained with
fireworks and other special effects, heightening the glitz factor.
The group that has performed at the most Super Bowls is the singing group
"Up With People," which was the main act at Super Bowls X, XIV, XVI, and XX.
A favorite of "the great showman" Rozelle, Wallace described the group as a
"shiny, bright group" that presented quite a different atmosphere than the
"rock concerts" of today.
This year's Super Bowl halftime show is being produced by MTV, as was Super
Bowl XXXV's halftime show, which starred music groups 'NSYNC and Aerosmith
-- certainly a far cry from marching bands.
As for the national anthem, this year singer Beyonce Knowles will sing "The
Star Spangled Banner," but Cheryl Ladd, Barry Manilow, Garth Brooks, Cher,
and perhaps most famously, Whitney Houston,
have also performed at the game as well.
A little known fact is that a movie was once filmed at 1976's Super Bowl X
in Miami. The movie was "Black Sunday," a disaster movie in which there was
a terrorist plot to plant a bomb at the Super Bowl. It starred Robert Shaw
and Bruce Dern and was directed by John Frankenheimer.
Wallace said that while the NFL wanted no part in the filming of the movie,
"a lot of compromises were made." Since the movie cameras were disguised
television cameras, "a lot of fans didn't know what was going on."
The glitz, glamour and celebrity of the Super Bowl have contributed to the
international appeal of the game. The Super Bowl can be seen in 220
countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia, and in 11 languages. Most other
nations know "football" as the sport that Americans call "soccer," still,
the appeal of the Super Bowl crosses cultures.
"The number of countries that the Super Bowl is broadcast to is huge,"
Fierle said. "It has become, literally, a global event, just because unlike
any other sport . . . it has so many other factors, such as the
entertainment. The Super Bowl show is just so well produced, from an
entertainment standpoint that so many people tune in."
Wallace said it is the "great panorama" of the game that gives it such a
"I just would say that as the product of pro-football became increasingly
popular, the game just sort of sold itself," he said. "A lot of the games
just proved to be kind of duds, but because of the great promotional efforts
. . . it just got bigger and bigger and bigger."
30 JANUARY 2004