Super Bowl's Most Famous...

[From The Pittsburgh Channel]

Named After Toy, Super Bowl Has Grown
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 Hunt.

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 reputation.

"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."




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