NPF: RISE OF THE SUPERB OWL

Don't skip this if you hate sports. There's trivia you can use to regale strangers at Super Bowl parties.

The proliferation of ads online and on TV referring to "The Big Game" reflect the NFL's ruthless enforcement on its copyright of the phrase "Super Bowl." The game has become a billion-dollar industry all by itself, the most popular spectacle of an already wildly popular league. Americans mistakenly believe it's the most-watched annual TV event (that honor actually belongs to the UEFA Champions League soccer match, and the audience for the World Cup men's final easily dwarfs both) but there's no doubt that it is an American institution at this point. When even the commercial breaks get saturation media coverage it's safe to say that the game has secured its place in our society for better or worse. I've had the good fortune to attend a Super Bowl, and even the spectacle on television is nothing compared to the live experience.

If we told them about the amount of money and attention devoted to the modern Super Bowl, the people who came up with the idea would think us insane. It's hard to believe that they weren't sure this "Super Bowl" thing would catch on – or that it almost didn't. Here are some quick facts about Super Bowl I at the end of the 1966 season.

1. It didn't sell out. They couldn't even give away the unsold tickets. Look at the stands in this live shot:

SB1 Stands

Part of the problem was that the location of the game, Los Angeles, was not decided until six weeks (!!!) before the game. Today it is awarded years in advance and cities fight like dogs for the honor to host it.

2. It was broadcast on two different networks simultaneously. The game pitted the champions of the AFL and NFL against one another (the leagues merged and became the AFC/NFC conferences in 1970) and the CBS had an ironclad contract to broadcast all NFL games. NBC had the same deal with the AFL. So the game organizers solved the problem but letting both broadcast it. The ratings were poor and a 30-second commercial cost $40,000.

3. The halftime show was a smattering of high school and college marching bands. They put no thought into it and certainly didn't consider paying a celebrity to perform.

4. Neither network thought enough of the game to keep a tape for its archives. No complete video footage of the game exists.

The game was part of an AFL-NFL merger agreement signed in 1966 (it mandated an "AFL-NFL World Championship Game", and the name "Super Bowl" wasn't applied until Super Bowl III in 1969) but the leagues remained separate entities for a few more seasons. As such there were some compromises that had to be made in order to bring the two together for one game. Neither league would agree to let the other's referee crews officiate the game, so a hybrid six-man crew – 3 NFL, 3 AFL – was adopted. Since the leagues' officials wore different uniforms, a new "neutral" uniform was whipped up (note: the AFL ref uniforms were simply amazing). Each league had its own equipment contract, so the Chiefs used the Spalding AFL football and when the Packers offense took the field, the NFL Wilson ball was used. The entire game was played under NFL rules, although the only major rule difference was the AFL's use of the two-point conversion (which the NFL did not adopt until 1994).

Oh, there was also a game. Part of the reason for the low interest was the widespread assumption among the media and fans that champions of the older, established league – the NFL – would crush the rag-tag AFL squads, the league having been founded just six years earlier. And that's exactly what happened. The Kansas City Chiefs squad loaded with all-time greats was destroyed 35-10 by Vince Lombardi's Packers team that happened to be even more loaded with all-time greats. The same Packers squad crushed the AFL champion Raiders the next year in Super Bowl II, and it is highly likely that the game might have slid into obscurity had the AFL not rallied to win Super Bowls III (the infamous Joe Namath-led Jets win over the Baltimore Colts) and IV (the same Chiefs squad walloped the Minnesota Vikings). Only when the viewing public became convinced that the matchup would be competitive did the game really take off, a process facilitated by the full merger of the leagues in 1970 (which shifted some NFL stalwarts like the Colts and Chiefs to the AFC).

As difficult as it is to imagine today with the global TV audience of 100,000,000 and the multimillion dollar ad spots, the people who devised the idea of a game between the league champions actually had serious and legitimate doubts about whether anybody would care. Finally they convinced themselves that by golly, this "Super Bowl" thing might just catch on.

That's how people talked in 1966, right?

Be Sociable, Share!

25 Responses to “NPF: RISE OF THE SUPERB OWL”

  1. abject funk Says:

    Weren't the Chiefs always ALF/AFC?

  2. Xynzee Says:

    As this is Seattle v Denver shouldn't this be the inaugeral "Smoke-a-Bowl"?

  3. c u n d gulag Says:

    Xynsee wins the intertubes for the day!

    I can't top that – and won't even try.

    Have a nice football-less weekend, all!

  4. FMguru Says:

    Favorite bit of Super Bowl trivia: Why they're named after roman numerals – it's because football has the weird schedule of its regular season and its playoffs being in different calendar years. You say "1995 Super Bowl" and its unclear if you mean the game played in early 1995 or the game that followed the 1995 season. But if you say "Super Bowl XXIX", you can only be referring to the January 1995 asskicking handed out the the San Diego Chargers by Steve Young's San Francisco Giants.

  5. freeportguy Says:

    Maybe if given a chance, the Affordable Care Act similarly has a bright future after all, no matter what naysayers are saying!

  6. Alex Says:

    I am a sports-hater and I was promised interesting facts. I want my money back.

  7. Blakenator Says:

    It was the Steelers who went from NFL to AFC, not the Chiefs. If you are going to be a trivia master, you got to get it right.

  8. Rich Says:

    The Browns, who won the last regular NFL championship before Super Bowl I also went from NFL to AFC. they've never been in a Super Bowl.

  9. Sally's Dad Says:

    @Xynzee – That would make a great T-shirt

  10. Jesus Fish Tramp Stamp Says:

    Ed, the title reads "NPF: Rise of the Superb Owl"

  11. PattyP Says:

    "Rise of the Superb Owl" – take the 'b' off of Superb and add it to the front of the next word.

    I love it as a way to get around the fact that you can't call your party a "Super Bowl Party" – definitely stealing this and referring to the game as the Superb Owl from now on.

  12. mothra Says:

    The Superb Owl is of interest to me only because that is the day I resrerve to eat potato chips and dip and other junk food–if I am invited to someone's house for a Superb Owl party, that is. One year I had to throw my own Superb Owl party because no one I knew was throwing one. All of my friends were stunned–I am the opposite of a football fan–as are most of my friends.

    This year I may be invited to my friends' house–but after last year's jingoism (everyone stood up, put their hands over their hearts and sang along with the nat'l anthem) and the criticism of Beyonce's "fat" thighs, I think I may just go to the movies instead.

  13. mothra Says:

    "resrerve?" Jeez. "reserve."

  14. chautauqua Says:

    Well, at last the Bowl is good for something: generating trivia.

  15. ninja3000 Says:

    As is shown in the photo above, the first Super Bowl was a Sunday afternoon affair. Don't recall how long that tradition lasted before prime time beckoned. We were all at a home HS basketball game that day, and a few of the punters watched on TV in the snack bar, but nobody really cared much…

  16. HeidiB Says:

    Prime time? Many of us live so far west that regular season games start before noon! The 6:30 EST game time gives us a chance to wake up, shower and put on our face paint (or neon green nail polish, as the case may be).

  17. Jono Says:

    Watch it with this crazy talk. Next thing you know women will want the right to vote. Amazing how a few years can change things.

  18. Elle Says:

    Last year I learned that it's "Super Bowl" and not "Superbowl". This year my thirst for Super Bowl knowledge compels me to ask whether or not the US has ever considered having a national stadium for this sport?

  19. Jerry Vinokurov Says:

    But if you say "Super Bowl XXIX", you can only be referring to the January 1995 asskicking handed out the the San Diego Chargers by Steve Young's San Francisco Giants.

    They did the what to the who now?!

  20. Death Panel Truck Says:

    The Baltimore Colts were also placed in the AFC when the leagues merged.

    Regarding Superb Owl III – I downloaded the entire game from YouTube. The pregame show was 30 minutes long. No hype, no predictions by the legendary Curt Gowdy, although as a longtime AFL broadcaster and defender of the younger league, I'm sure he favored the Jets.

    No yellow line of scrimmage, no blue first down line, and if you wanted to know the score, you had to wait for the commercial break to see it in primitive graphics onscreen.

  21. Robert Says:

    Wait, there's more than one pro football league?

  22. jazzbumpa Says:

    The San Fransisco Giants will never appear in another Superb Owl.

    I have never made a sports prediction in which I have more confidence.

    And I've made 48.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  23. Bitter Scribe Says:

    The days when the NFL and AFL were truly separate leagues constituted the first time football players (the top ones, anyway) had leverage in salary negotiations. The two leagues conducted separate drafts and competed for the best players. These players often made the AFL team and the NFL team that had drafted them compete in contract offers.

  24. revrick Says:

    I know they're easy to forget, but three NFL teams were shifted to the AFC: the aforementioned Baltimore Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cleveland Browns. The NFL bemoaned having to give two of their premier teams: the Colts and the Browns to the weaker league, but unloaded the hapless Steelers, preserving the established rivalries. How that worm turned!

  25. ruviana Says:

    I was a kid in LA during the first Super Bowl (such as it was) and it was going to be blacked out there. So one enterprising rock station (the late and great KRLA) gave away instructions for making rabbit ears out of a coat hanger to pull in the game.

    Yes, it was a long time ago.

Leave a Reply