The Super Bowl is one of the largest, over-the-top spectacles in all of sports. The Super Bowl, otherwise known as "football's big game," is the title match that crowns the NFL's champion after a long season and playoffs. This year, the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs — participants of the first Super Bowl — and the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles have the honor of competing for the coveted Lombardi Trophy, named for the legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
Lifting the Lombardi Trophy isn't as easy as it sounds. National Football League franchises such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos have all achieved that goal, while other teams including the Detroit Lions and the Cincinnati Bengals are still waiting for "next year" to become "this year." While lifting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in the NBA or winning the College Football Playoff is a great honor, there's nothing like winning a Super Bowl.
But how did this mammoth game, the Super Bowl — which boasts an average of 112.3 million viewers and growing, stages multimillion-dollar star-studded halftime shows that rival most Grammy performances, and generates upward of $545 million in ad revenue — get its now-famous moniker?
Well, for that we have to go back to 1969 and what you know as Super Bowl III. Confused? Well, what you and I have come to know as Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II were called the first (and second, respectively) AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? And that was after ideas such as "The Big One," "The Pro Bowl" and "World Series of Football" fell through. "AFL-NFL World Championship Game" was too hard to say and bad for newspaper headlines. The game needed some rebranding.
Super Bowl I — using the retroactive name for it — between the Green Bay Packers (NFL) and the Kansas City Chiefs (AFL) failed to sell out and was even subjected to a broadcast blackout in the Los Angeles market.
The Super Bowl Gets Its Name
Desperately needing a name change ahead of 1969's "Third AFL-NFL Championship Game," Kansas City Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt — who owned the Chiefs from 1960 until his passing in 2006 — is credited with new moniker. Hunt was also credited with a host of other changes relating to the big game, such as having a two-week break before the game, and using Roman numerals to denote the game since it is played in a different calendar year than the majority of the league year, among other things. But the name the Super Bowl tops the list. Hunt Recalled in 1998:
"In one of these meetings, I said 'I think we ought to have two weeks until the championship game.' And one of the other committee members said 'What do you mean the championship game?' and I said, 'You know, the last game, the final game, the Super Bowl!' Everybody was looking at me. It was a totally spontaneous remark. And I think it probably came to me because my children had been given small rubber balls called a 'Super Ball' and it was very much like a golf ball except it was rubber and you could bounce it on concrete and it would go over a house."
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was against the name, instead favoring "the Pro Bowl" for the title of the big game, but "Super Bowl" is the moniker that stuck.
The Super Bowl was indeed a catchier name than AFL-NFL World Championship. But what helped it along was the first matchup to officially bear the name Super Bowl, which is still regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowls in the game's 57-year history.
It wasn't meant to be, though. It was intended to be a blowout down in Florida. The NFL's Baltimore Colts were meant to dispatch the AFL's New York Jets in short order. Colts wide receiver Alex Hawkins had this to say, looking back on that game:
"We never recognized the American Football League, never watched their games, I never watched Joe Namath throw a football until the warm-ups prior to that game. We didn't recognize them, that was just a semi-pro league that if you couldn't make it in the NFL that's where you went."
Joe Namath went on to say he guaranteed victory in a game the Jets were regarded as 19-point underdogs. Inciting the Colts players was something Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank asked the team not to do. But in the end, it did not matter. The Jets' defense intercepted Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times in the second quarter alone. Not even future Hall of Famer and two-time NFL champion Johnny Unitas, who had sat out most of the season with an injury, could right the ship.
The first officially named Super Bowl ended with a massive Jets upset of the heavily favored Colts, 16-7. Namath's "guarantee" became a thing of Super Bowl lore that lives on to this day.
The New York Times said after Super Bowl I that it might be some time before an American Football League team would be good enough to win. The Jets proved it wrong just two years later.
Nowadays, Super Bowl Sunday is treated almost as an American holiday. It's day to gather with friends and family, and eat a big meal or series of snacks. It's a day for casual fans and rabid fans alike. Even non-football fans find joy in the Super Bowl commercials and star-studded halftime shows.
The Super Bowl has showcased Tom Brady's greatest and taken us from Miami to California. It has decorated franchises such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. It's given us giant upsets and comebacks, and propelled men into the Hall of Fame. It's the first game most people think of when they think of a championship.
It's pro football's greatest game, and it could have easily fallen under the umbrella of a different name — had it not been for a small rubber ball, a Super Ball.
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