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Super Bowl
Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Steven A. Riess. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2013. p1068-1071.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2013 M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
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Page 1068

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL), first held in 1967, shortly after beginning the process of its merger with the American Football League that was only fully completed in 1970. It is the biggest sporting event in North America, and the annual spectacle, from the game to the advertisements, has become an unofficial national holiday. The Super Bowl has been won six times by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and five times by the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. The game almost always draws the largest TV audience, sponsored by the most expensive and most anticipated advertisements of the year. It annually is the single biggest legal gambling event, with a record $94.5 million bet on the 2006 Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks, not to mention the more than $6 billion bet illegally on Super Sunday.

Early on, the Super Bowl surpassed New Year's Eve as the most popular occasion for Americans to hold parties in their homes. Having become an American tradition, Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving as the day of the year with the highest food consumption in the United States.

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The Vince Lombardi Trophy, a regulation-size football made of sterling silver, is awarded annually to the winner of the NFL's Super Bowl. The trophy is named for the revered coach of the Green Bay Packers (1959–1967). A new one is made

The Vince Lombardi Trophy, a regulation-size football made of sterling silver, is awarded annually to the winner of the NFL's Super Bowl. The trophy is named for the revered coach of the Green Bay Packers (1959–1967). A new one is made each year. (Jonathon Daniel/Getty Images)


Since the inception of the NFL (originally called the American Professional Football Association) in 1920, a championship game has been held at the end of each season beginning in 1932. Throughout the NFL's early years, rival professional football leagues sprung up, but they rarely stayed afloat for more than a couple of years. In 1959, after unsuccessful attempts to buy the Chicago Cardinals, Lamar Hunt, a Texas businessman, decided to form a second professional football league. Hunt named his league the American Football League (AFL) and enlisted eight cities to host teams, with play beginning in 1960. The AFL posed a serious problem for the NFL, because the two leagues vied for the same players. The NFL hoped that the AFL would fold like previous challengers, but after six years of fighting for players, the NFL realized that an AFL collapse was unlikely.

Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the NFL, initially opposed a merger between the NFL and AFL, hoping that the rival league would go under on its own. In April 1966, kicker Pete Gogolak became the first player to jump from the AFL and sign with the NFL. Owners in the NFL saw that players in the AFL were of equal talent, and they sought to avoid an all-out war between the leagues. A group of influential NFL teams pushed for a merger and succeeded in convincing Rozelle. He presented the proposal to AFL founder Hunt, who agreed.

The NFL-AFL merger was announced on June 8, 1966, at the Warwick Hotel in New York. A key stipulation of the agreement was that after the upcoming season, the two leagues would play a world championship game, matching the season's NFL champion team against the AFL champion team.

The First Super Bowl

The first Super Bowl in 1967 was called the AFL-NFL World Championship of Professional Football, but it has become known retrospectively as Super Bowl I. Hunt came up with the name “Super Bowl” while he was watching Page 1070  |  Top of Articlehis daughter play with the popular toy Superball. The game officially became known as the Super Bowl in 1969 (Super Bowl III). That was the year quarterback Joe Namath of the underdog New York Jets of the AFL famously promised a victory over the favorite Baltimore Colts of the NFL—the Jets won 16–7.

From the beginning, Rozelle predicted that the Super Bowl would become the “sporting event of the century.” For that to happen, Rozelle would need the venue of the century, a neutral site (one that was neither team's home venue). Although the norm for college bowl games, Super Bowl I marked the first time that a neutral playing site was used in American professional team sports history Rozelle originally wanted the game played at the Rose Bowl, but when rejected by the city of Pasadena's Rose Bowl board of directors, he settled on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum instead.

Difficult decisions were necessary to determine how the game would be played. There were three referees from each league. The first head referee was Norm Schachter from the NFL (the head referee would come from the AFL the following season). A special uniform was created for the referees with elements of both. In addition, each league used slightly different balls; the NFL's “Duke,” manufactured by Wilson, was especially suited for kicking, whereas the AFL's “JV-5,” by Spalding, was better suited for passing. Each team got to use its own ball while on offense; thus, Super Bowl I was played with two different types of balls. In addition, it was unclear which television network would air the game, since the NFL had a multiyear agreement with CBS, while the AFL had a deal with NBC. The solution was to give both television networks the broadcasting rights. It was the first and only time that two networks aired a major sports championship.

The first Super Bowl pitted the Kansas City Chiefs against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 15, 1967. The Packers won 35–10, and the winning team received the $20,000 sterling silver World Professional Football Championship trophy designed by Oscar Riedener of Tiffany. (It was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1970.) The combined television ratings for both networks proved that the program was a success. However, only 61,946 out of 93,000 available seats in the stadium were filled because of high ticket prices, a television blackout in Los Angeles (no one within 75 miles/120 kilometers of the venue could watch the game on television), Los Angeles sports fans’ lack of interest in the AFL, the lack of time to promote and generate interest in the game, and the predictable outcome of the game, considering Green Bay's dominance on the gridiron. As a result, Rozelle did not bring the Super Bowl back to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum until 1973 (Super Bowl VII).

Television Success

The Super Bowl quickly became the most widely viewed television event in the United States. According to Nielsen Media Research, creator of the Nielsen rating, five of the six most watched shows in television history have been Super Bowls. The 2011 game, won by the Green Bay Packers, 31–25, over the Pittsburgh Steelers, drew more than 111 million viewers, making it the most-watched telecast in American history. Its Nielsen rating was 46 percent, a rating surpassed by 1982 Super Bowl XVI, between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals, which has the all-time highest Nielsen rating for a sporting event at 49.1 percent. (Out of the top ten all-time highest-rated sporting events, the 1994 Winter Olympics figure skating competition featuring Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding is the only non–Super Bowl on the list.)

Because of the Super Bowl's immense audience, advertising has become an important part of the spectacle. For Super Bowl I in 1967, advertisers paid $42,500 to run a 30-second commercial, an unheard of fee at the time. For Super Bowl XLV in 2011, advertisers paid $3 million for a 30-second commercial slot, up from $2.8 million the year before, often to unveil new products to the huge audience.

The Halftime Show

For the first ten Super Bowls, the halftime show featured some of the best marching bands in America. While the bands were excellent, they were not unique to the Super Bowl, and the NFL wanted to create a halftime performance that was as impressive as the rest of the program. In 1977 (Super Bowl XI), Disney produced a spectacular halftime show that included the entire crowd's participation in a massive card show. The result was Page 1071  |  Top of Articlephenomenal.

From then on, the Super Bowl halftime show became a blockbuster event featuring headline performers. The first to perform solo at halftime was Michael Jackson in 1993 at Super Bowl XXVII. Since then, other performers have included Gloria Estefan, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, James Brown, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, U2, Prince, and The Who. A battery of stars also appear during the pregame show, with the national anthem performed by such notable pop stars as Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston, Garth Brooks, and Cher.

The Super Bowl is played in late January or early February in a neutral location, chosen years in advance. The venues typically are outdoor stadiums in warm-weather locations (led by 11 in California and ten in Miami, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana) or domed or covered stadiums (15) not subject to weather constraints (the Louisiana Superdome has hosted seven). The 2014 Super Bowl, however, will be in the open-air new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.

Jenika Heim

Further Reading

MacCambridge, Michael. America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation. New York: Random House, 2004.

Oriard, Michael. Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Patton, Phil. Razzle Dazzle: The Curious Marriage of Television and Football. Garden City, NY: Dial, 1984.

Weiss, Don, and Chuck Day. The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World's Greatest Sporting Event. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003.

Wenner, Lawrence A. “The Super Bowl Pregame Show: Cultural Fantasies and Political Subtext.” In Media, Sports, and Society, ed. Lawrence A. Wenner. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1989.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Heim, Jenika. "Super Bowl." Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century: An Encyclopedia, edited by Steven A. Riess, Sharpe Reference, 2013, pp. 1068-1071. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX7037400352