A tradition was born 55 years ago when Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt decided to host a game to crown the champion between the American Football League and the National Football League.
The Super Bowl is and has always been one of the most exciting nights on national television, with its vibrant advertisements, captivating halftime show and, of course, the legendary football faceoff.
Attracting over 100 million viewers every winter, the Super Bowl has become a national phenomenon. Beginning in 1967 with Super Bowl I, the game has evolved immensely over the years, contributing to the camaraderie of the event. Then again, even though the trend has changed over the last 55 years, it also remains loyal to its original traditions.
Here’s a look back at the history of the first Super Bowl, the evolution of the game and how Super Bowl I will compare to this year’s Super Bowl LVI.
When and where was the first Super Bowl?
The first Super Bowl in history took place at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 15, 1967. On this sunny, 72-degree afternoon in the middle of Southern California, the Green Bay Packers took on the Kansas City Chiefs in the first ever AFL-NFL World Championship, which would later be known as Super Bowl I. The Packers reigned victorious, beating the Chiefs 35-10.
How did the Super Bowl begin?
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The NFL was officially established in 1920 and the Super Bowl became a phenomenon 40 years later in 1960, with the first official game being played in 1967.
Super Bowl I was played by the Kansas City Chiefs, of the AFL, and the Green Bay Packers, of the NFL.
From 1960 to 1970, the American Football League stood on its own and rivaled with the NFL. However, in 1966, owners of the leagues negotiated an agreement to merge the leagues. By 1970, the American Football League merged with the National Football League and the two previously individual leagues separated into the AFC, American Football Conference, and the NFC, the National Football Conference, all underneath the NFL. Once the conferences split, the decision was made that the victors of each conference would play one another for the Super Bowl title of the National Football League.
Why is it called the Super Bowl?
The game was originally known as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” until Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt suggested the game be called the “Super Bowl.”
In fact, even before it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, names for the event were definitely under careful consideration. According to Time, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle suggested the “Big One” and “Pro Bowl,” which didn’t go over well, and then the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” which ended up sticking initially. Right before the 1967 faceoff between the Chiefs and Packers, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt was inspired by his son’s “Super Ball” toy, offering the name “Super Bowl” to the suggestion box.
And what do you know? It stuck.
What was the first Super Bowl like?
The Packers were definitely favored to win Super Bowl I, with the NFL having been fully established 40 years back in 1920. In 1960, a group of businessmen launched an alternative league to the NFL because they were denied entry into the league, but desired to own their own football franchises. Therefore, the Chiefs were deemed the underdogs as the AFL was unestablished until about the time of the Super Bowl in 1967.
The game went as expected as the Packers always stayed ahead of the Chiefs. The Chiefs held their own in the first half, entering halftime down 14-10. The only touchdown scored by the Chiefs came in the second quarter from Curtis McClinton. Shortly after their lone touchdown, Green Bay returned with two touchdowns from Elijah Pitts and one touchdown from Max McGee, eventually leading to the final score of 35-10 Packers.
Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr earned MVP after completing 16 of 23 passes that night.
“I think the Kansas City Chiefs are a tough football team. But I don't think the Chiefs compare to the teams in the NFL,” Packers coach Vince Lombardi said in a postgame press conference.
How has the Super Bowl changed over the years?
Prominent national spectacles like the Super Bowl might be described by two pivotal nouns: tradition and evolution.
Tradition: How did the Super Bowl stay the same over the years?
Something that has never changed since the mere beginnings of the national undertaking is the elements of the entire Super Bowl itself.
The game is more than just football. Each year, there are multiple performances held at the arena. First, a specific musician will perform the national anthem prior to kickoff, and second, there is another performance at halftime. Though halftime performances weren’t as big of a spectacle as they are today, halftimes were still present for every Super Bowl since the beginning.
National anthem performers have to be the best of the best, as the song is one of the most difficult to perfect. Halftime performances are known to be absolutely iconic, showcasing legendary chart-toppers from The Rolling Stones to Madonna all the way to Justin Timberlake.
And it’s not only the in-person performances that receive the bodacious buzz, but also the things you will see right on the screen of your television. The advertisements shown during the Super Bowl have always been a quintessential part of the showdown, exhibiting a plethora of new concepts and products from the most well-known companies. And this year will be no different.
Evolution: How did the Super Bowl change over the years?
The 2022 Super Bowl will be drastically different from its first predecessor in 1967 in regard to numbers. Prices have steadily increased over the past five decades. Super Bowl I’s ticket prices were a mere $12 and the event did not sell out. In fact, it was the only non-sellout Super Bowl to ever occur. Meanwhile, securing tickets today is almost unheard of. The average Super Bowl ticket for 2022 will cost between $4,000 and $5,000, with ticket and hotel bundles starting at approximately $6,990.
In addition to prices, the numbers will also immensely differ in terms of television viewers. In 1967, the number of television viewers for Super Bowl I was 24.43 million on NBC. Whereas in 2021, the total number of viewers landed at around 100.45 million on CBS. Super Bowl LVI is estimated to have similar if not more viewers, as each year seems to come with an increase in interest.
There were some other differences about the game too. Now, the NFL only uses Wilson’s “The Duke” football, but during the first Super Bowl, both leagues’ balls were used - when the Chiefs were on offense, an AFL Spalding J5V ball was used and when the Packers were on offense, an NFL Wilson football was used. Even the referees were a combination of officiators from the AFL and NFL, which of course we do not see today.
In terms of skills, Bart Starr completed a pass to Max McGee for a touchdown of 35 yards, which was record-breaking at the time. Meanwhile, the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history came many years later during Super Bowl XXXVII when Muhsin Muhammad of the Panthers grabbed a pass of 85 yards for a touchdown.
Additionally, athletes’ abilities have changed. In 1966, Packers Bart Starr averaged 161.2 passing yards per game, which placed him ninth in the league that season, despite being the MVP of the Super Bowl. According to ESPN, “Today, that might disqualify him from being an NFL starter.” This doesn’t even compare to Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin who threw 554 yards in a record-setting game in 1951.
How will Super Bowls evolve in the future?
Super Bowls will always evolve as teams draft new players with new talent, the halftime show showcases new pop culture trends and society changes as a whole. However, no matter what evolves for the event, the game itself hasn’t and won’t ever change. There are some key aspects of the Super Bowl that will remain stagnant forever, and that is why the tradition sits at the height of all national events and attracts the most television viewers of the year.