The History of the Super Bowl

Before 1967, there wasn’t a Super Bowl, there was just the NFL Championship. A rival league to the NFL started in 1960 and was called the American Football League (AFL). The AFL became a major rival to the NFL with many fans across the country. It was decided that the two leagues should play in a championship game. The first Super Bowl was played in January 1967 and it wasn’t even a sellout. The two leagues merged and today the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in America.

Before The Super Bowl

Back in the 1940s, 1950s and up until 1967 there wasn’t a Super Bowl, there was only the NFL championship games.

In 1959 a new league known as the American Football League (AFL) formed and played its first games in 1960. The AFL started out with 8 original teams in Buffalo, New York, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Oakland and Los Angeles. In the early years the Dallas Texans moved and became the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chargers of Los Angeles moved to San Diego. The NFL pretty much laughed off this new league saying it wouldn’t last and certainly wouldn’t be any threat to the long established NFL. The AFL had a TV contract with ABC, which helped them to survive.

In 1965 the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL and the NY Jets of the AFL both drafted University of Alabama star quarterback Joe Namath. He decided to sign with the Jets, which caused a stir in the NFL who still didn’t believe the AFL was any threat to them.

The AFL attendance started to soar with this signing and in 1965 NBC signed a contract to broadcast the games and paid the AFL a large sum of money ensuring that the league would not fold anytime soon. More college players were surprisingly signing with the new league. In 1966 there was a breach of trust when the NFL signed a player who was already playing for the AFL. When in 1966 Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders became commissioner of the AFL and he began to step up the bidding war.

The increase in intense bidding led to merger talks and by the summer of 1966 they announced a merger agreement. By 1970 the two leagues merged and expanded to 28 total teams and was called the National Football League with two conferences, the National Conference and the American Conference [1].

The two leagues would continue their separate schedules until 1970. Though they did play inter-league pre-season games with the Denver Broncos being the first AFL team to ever beat an NFL team by beating the Detroit Lions in 1967 when Alex Karras made his famous quote “If the Broncos beat us, I’ll walk back to Detroit”. Denver won and Karris flew back anyway.

The first Super Bowl - January 15, 1967

While the leagues would continue to play their own schedules in their own leagues until the actual merger they agreed to play a championship game called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The first game was played between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs with the Packers winning 35-10.

This first game was broadcast at the same time by both networks. Lamar Hunt, the original owner of the Kansas City Chiefs is who coined the term Super Bowl and that’s what it has been called since about 1969. The price of tickets to Super Bowl I cost $6, $10 and $12. The game wasn’t a sellout, so the game was actually blacked out in Los Angeles where it was played.

Super Bowl III – January 12, 1969

The NFL also won Super Bowl II and by 1969, three years after the merger agreement, the NFL was still regarded as the superior league. Super Bowl III is famous for a couple of reasons.

For one, it was the first time the AFL won the Super Bowl, and it was the game where Joe Namath guaranteed that the N.Y. Jets would win the game, even though the Baltimore Colts were favored by 18 points, the Jets did win the game 16-7

Super Bowl IV – January 11, 1970

Another important milestone for the old AFL was when the Kansas City Chiefs easily beat the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings 23-7, putting to rest the thoughts that the NFL was superior to the AFL.

Super Bowl V – January 17, 1971

This was the first Super Bowl played after the merger became official, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Colts. Baltimore played in Super Bowl III as the NFL champions and this time they were playing as the American Football Conference (AFC) champions. Baltimore won the game 16–13.

The Super Bowl trophy

The trophy that is given out to the winner of the Super Bowl was originally called the World Championship trophy. In 1970 the trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi trophy, after Coach Vince Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers to the first two Super Bowl victories and passed away in 1970.

The Lombardi Trophy
Lombardi Trophy

The Super Bowl today

By the 1980s the Super Bowl had become a worldwide event, watched in many countries, including Japan, Russia, Mexico, England and Australia. The halftime shows are more like mini concerts and commercial spots are high priced and are sometimes more interesting than the game itself. It became such an event that cities tell viewers to spread out there halftime bathroom breaks so that water pressure wouldn’t fall so much. And it continues that way today in 2009.

Sam Montana © 2009 


[1] When the two leagues merged, three teams from the old NFL agreed to move to the American Football Conference after 1970. The teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts. This is why the NY Jets played the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III since the Colts were still a part of the NFL at that time.

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