“Athletic competition clearly defines the unique power of our attitude.” – Bart Starr, Super Bowl 1 MVP
In 1920, the National Football League played its 1st official season, though it looked far different than the game we know and love today. The rules were completely different, the teams were an assortment of guys who like to get out for a while after work, and the idea a multi-million dollar contract was unheard of. Over it’s 100 years, the game has changed dramatically. Now, we get to watch 32 teams of professional athletes battle it out over the course of the regular season and playoffs in order to achieve Super Bowl stardom. With 53 Super Bowls played, anyone with a Grade 2 mathematics education can see that “The Big Game” wasn’t always a part of the sport. So the question is posed: How did we get our beloved “Super Bowl”?
The NFL’s biggest rival throughout its 40-year history of independence was a real contender. The American Football League had been impacting the league’s ratings, drawing money from fans and other revenue streams that the NFL relied on for it’s blossoming success in a new era of American entertainment. The popularity of the sport of American Football was beginning to surpass that of the Major League of Baseball, and if the NFL planned on becoming the highest level of the biggest sport in the continent, they had to secure a television deal. The TV was the next big thing, and televised sports were going to dominate entertainment for years to come: the race was on.
In 1960, the AFL got there first. The 5-year deal with ABC included the introduction of having players “miked up”, moving on-field cameras, and player names stitched into the jerseys. A year later, CBS and the NFL agreed on a deal of their own. As of 1965, the popularity of both leagues was swelling. Both sides were warring over prospects, and constantly biting into each other’s profit margins. On June 8th, 1966, the AFL and NFL agreed on a merger, though it wouldn’t be until the 1970 season that the 2 officially became 1.
The first condition of the merger was that the two leagues would meet in a competition of each champion (one from the AFL and one from the NFL), in the creatively-named AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The NFL had been widely considered the more competitive league at the time, and their representatives were under severe pressure to prove it. The first championship, played on January 15th, 1967, was a 35-10 walloping handed to the Kansas City Chiefs by the Bart Starr-led Green Bay Packers. The Big Game was a near-immediate success, with the best of the AFL and NFL meeting to prove which team (and conference) is the greatest in the world. It gave audiences a newer, higher level of competition to enjoy and a chance at glory for teams undiscovered in other North American sports. Later renamed the “Super Bowl”, this event gradually became the minor holiday it is today, featuring some of the greatest moments, both high highs and low lows, in the history of sports.