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A brief history of the Super bowl

Updated on June 10, 2013

Super Bowl 1969

Super Bowl History

The Very first Super Bowl, played on January 16, 1967 was known not as the Super Bowl but the somewhat more cumbersome “First World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL.” The name Super Bowl actually originated from a joke made by Lamar Hunt, the Former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founding member of the American Football League (AFL). Mr. Hunt saw his children playing with a Super Ball and, unable to come up with a good name for the “First World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL” suggested the name “Super Bowl.”

The first two Super Bowls were therefore not known as the “Super Bowl” Officially. It was only after the name began resonating with the public that they began calling the game the “Super Bowl.” So Super Bowl III was the first one called as such, but the pages of history were re-written to identify the “World Championship Game: AFL Vs. NFL” as Super Bowls I and II.

For the first three years the Super Bowl was actually being played by teams from two entirely separate leagues which were actually owned by different heads as part of a merger agreement announced on June 8, 1966. In the first two years the Green Bay Packers trounced the AFL champions sent against them (the Kansas City Chiefs and then the Oakland Raiders) leading many to questions whether the AFL teams would be capable of competing with the more dominant NFL.

Super Bowl III however was a Win for the AFL. The New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16 to 7 and worries about the merger eased. So in 1970 the two leagues became one and went from being two “leagues “ to being two “conferences.” The Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join the AFL in order to even out the number of teams. Thus the AFC and NFC were created.

As it would turn out those rooting for the former AFL didn’t have much to worry about as the Super Bowl was dominated by the AFC throughout the 1970’s. In Fact only the NFC’s Dallas Cowboys managed to win any Super Bowls at all in this decade. We should note however that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Colts did win five of the Super Bowls in this decade for the AFC, but were NFL and not AFL franchises just years earlier. Also worth noting is that the during the 1970’s as many Super Bowls were won by the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers than all other teams combined. Miami Won Super Bowl’s Seven and eight (VII and VIII) and Pittsburgh won Super Bowl’s nine, ten, and thirteen(IX, X, and XII.) As far as Pittsburgh is concerned this is somewhat telling given that they have since become the team with the most super bowl wins and the second most appearances in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has appeared in Seven super bowls and won Six of them. Only The Dallas Cowboys have appeared in more, being in eight Super Bowl’s total, however, they have only managed five wins in the big game.

The eighties were a time of resurgence for the NFC. It was the San Francisco 49ers who blazed the trail winning four Super Bowls and in the 1984 season going 18-1. The eighties were also the time of the “Super Bowl Shuffle:” a song and dance routine preformed by the Chicago Bears prior to their appearance in Super Bowl XX. Apparently this was what they needed to put them over the edge because they smashed the New England Patriots 46 to 10. Leading at the half 23-3 with 239 yards of total offense compared to the Patriot’s -19, yes, negative 19.

The 1980’s was also when the Super Bowl really became a place for ads. To be sure, many companies put their best ads on during the big game before the eighties but they weren’t the kind of “high concept” ads that we see today. Everything really broke free in 1984 when Apple ran their “1984” ad (referencing the book.) In the ad an athletic looking blonde woman rushes towards a giant screen depicting images of “Big brother” chanting to his drones. The woman smashes the screen with a giant sledgehammer and message rocks the audience: “On January 24th Apple computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” This ad never showed the product for sale, it never talked about and yet, it conveyed something to people. From 1984 the Super Bowl increasingly became the spot for the best ads of the year.

The Super Bowl in the nineties remained largely the plaything of the NFC. The early nineties were a time dominated by the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers who together won five of the Super bowl’s of the decade. The Buffalo Bills were strong early on, making it into four of the first five Super bowls of the decade but did not manage to actually win one. Green bay also had a revival near the end of the nineties, rising in Super bowl XXXI to defeat the Patriots 35 to 21. However the next year they were beaten quite soundly by the Denver Broncos. The Broncos closed out the nineties with wins over Green Bay and then the Atlanta Falcons. In the nineties super bowl attendance rose slightly from 72,919 in 1990 to 74,803 in 1999. Viewership however went soaring up from about 110 million people in 1990 to nearly 130 million people by 1999. The cost of 30 seconds of commercial time also went up from about $700,000 in 1990 to $1,600,000 in 1999! The Super Bowl has always been a big game for Football fans, and now it was quickly becoming ripe ground for the kind of super witty, super expensive commercials we all know of today. For three million dollars a minute I would squeeze everything out of my ad guy’s brains too!

The new millennium opened with a boom when it comes to Super Bowls. Viewership for the game was over 134 million people in the USA and nearly 800 million people worldwide! Ad rates also leapt to 2,200,000! No wonder though, with nearly a billion people watching. The Saint Louis Rams had the privilege of beating the Tennessee Titans 23 to 16 in this groundbreaking game (that is, the price for an ad was groundbreaking!) The game itself ended on a dramatic note itself, with Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson just short of the one yard line as time ran out. A touchdown would have tied the game and lead to the first ever overtime in Super Bowl history. A dramatic end to an otherwise uneventful game. The Patriots began the forging of a dynasty in the 2000’s, appearing in four Super Bowl’s and winning three of them. The Patriots also nearly managed a 19-0 season in 2008 but were beaten in Super bowl XLII by the New York Giants. In games XL and XLIII the Steelers beat Seattle and Arizona respectively jettisoning them to more Super Bowl wins than any other team in football history.

Super Bowl XLIV, played 2-7-2010 was an exciting game. Not only did the underdog win, and by a lot, but the ratings were higher than they have been in 23 years! This game scored 46.4/68 (tvbythenumbers.com) in Neilson ratings, up 10% from last year. People tuned in to see New Orleans’ first ever super bowl victory. The game itself looked like it was going to be a fairly dull win for the colts. It was in the fourth quarter that the Saints, one point behind really broke the lead out. They managed a touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey followed by a 2-point conversion pass putting them up by seven. Next it looked like the Colts were going to tie it, having driven deep into Saints territory. However, Tracy Porter intercepted a pass by Peyton Manning and ran it back for a 74 yards for a Saints touchdown. The nail was in the coffin, the Saints were Super Champions for the first time ever.

As time passes, and the most recent game indicates the Super bowl seems to just keep growing. In 2009 the super had an average of 98.8 million people watching it at any given second. This game also featured ad space selling for over 3 million dollars. Each year the game seems to have more people tuning in just to watch the commercials as the game has become known for having some very “high concept” commercials. If they aren’t all “high concept” it can easily be agreed that they are however the funniest, wittiest and by far most expensive commercials of all time. What it comes down to is that the Super Bowl is a legend among Americans. Whether it’s the game, the commercials or just because it’s were the party is the viewership continues to grow and not shockingly, so does the money involved. There is simply no other event of this scale, airing with this regularity, drawing this much talent (athletes, advertisers, musicians, ect.) to even compete with the Super Bowl. As an example of this: In 1985 Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration was actually postponed to January 21st in deference to the big game. Making the Federal Government step back and wave you on? That is power.


UPDATE: Super Bowl XLVII, played in 2013, was a game to behold. Not only was it tremendously close and hard fought, game, but it pitched two brother coaches against one-another. Jim and John Harbaugh, head coaches of the 49ers and Ravens, respectively—coached against one another (there parents must be so proud!) earning it the nickname Harbaugh Bowl or The Harbowl. Another significant event was "the blackout." Baltimore took a 28–6 lead early in the third quarter before a partial power outage in the Superdome suspended play for 34 minutes (earning the game the nickname Blackout Bowl, an dfreaking out every last person watching it). After play resumed, San Francisco scored 17 unanswered third-quarter points to cut the Ravens' lead, 28–23, and continued to chip away in the fourth quarter. With the Ravens leading late in the game, 34–29, the 49ers advanced to the Baltimore 7-yard line just before the two-minute warning and turned over the ball on downs. The Ravens then took an intentional safety in the waning moments of the game to preserve the victory. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, was named Super Bowl MVP. Two brother coaches, a power outage and an intentional safety... these are the things of inspirational movies; but they all really happened. Hopefully next years game will be just as interesting!

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