No other sporting event in this nation qualifies as a national holiday. No other one sparks watch parties or want-to-be-watched parties in so many cities completely unconnected to the event.
The following day might be American businesses’ least productive, considering the time given over to discussing the game, the halftime show, the commercials, and not necessarily in that order.
But the Super Bowl wasn’t always super-sized nor always here. What follows are the seven key moments in the creation and growth of that child into the gargantuan event it is today.
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@BR Body bold Lede colon:SUPER BOWL III, Jan. 12, 1969, Miami’s Orange Bowl: With two boring Super Bowls preceding it, the anticipation of league champions dueling had faded. So much so, that at Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s state of the game address before Super Bowl III, he admitted the possibility of restructuring the playoff system to assure a better Super Bowl.
Then a few days before the game, Jets quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath, arguably the best passer and certainly the most famous capricious bachelor in either league, received an award from the Miami Touchdown Club as the outstanding professional football player of 1968. In accepting the award, Namath thanked several people before saying the line:
“And we’re going to win Sunday — I guarantee it.”
General Motors issued guarantees. Athletes, other than Muhammad Ali, certainly didn’t.
That Sunday, the Jets made Namath a prophet with a 16-7 win.
@BR Body bold Lede colon:APPLE’S ‘1984,’ Jan. 22, 1984: Before a blond woman in white runner’s tank top and orange shorts, legs bulging with each powerful stride, raced out of bleakness to hurl a sledgehammer through Big Brother’s face on a giant screen, Super Bowl commercials just had been expensive to air. In composition, they were identical to your average commercial.
That changed while the Raiders finished putting a 38-9 whipping on Washington in the second half of Super Bowl XVIII. For the first time, a commercial sparked more postgame conversation than the game itself.
To introduce Apple’s MacIntosh and take a shot at personal computer-leader IBM, advertising agency Chiat/Day wanted to make a reference to George Orwell’s 1984. The agency got Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to direct the $400,000 commercial. Apple higher ups didn’t like it. They changed their tune when 72,000 Macs were bought in the first 100 days after the Jan. 24 release.
Whitney and war
@BR Body bold Lede colon:PREGAME SUPER BOWL XXV, Jan. 27, 1991, Tampa Stadium: Around Super Bowl week functions, it’s not a stretch to say sometimes you better bring your credential to use the nearest restroom. Early this Super Bowl week, the NFL held a news conference to announce security measures for Super Sunday, publicizing what would and wouldn’t be allowed, as well as advising early arrival.
The trend started that way 19 years ago as The Gulf War prompted a rise in both terrorism fears and patriotism.
For the first time, the extensive security at each Super Bowl was blatant. Anti-terrorism police patrolled the roof of Tampa Stadium.
Great performers had sung the national anthem previously.
But when Whitney Houston’s stirring rendition swelled hearts around the nation, it made the anthem truly part of the event.
@BR Body bold Lede colon:MICHAEL JACKSON, HALFTIME, Jan. 31, 1993, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.: Florida A&M Band, Grambling University Band, Up With People, Southern University Band, Los Angeles Super Drill Team, Up With People, Chubby Checker, New Kids on the Block ...
Super Bowl halftime shows tended to lack true superstar power before Michael Jackson and his stage took over the field at Super Bowl XXVII. During those 11 minutes, Jackson performed Billie Jean and Heal the World incorporated 3,500 kids (pre-child molestation charges) and the entire Rose Bowl crowd in the show.
NBC’s ratings actually went up for halftime over the game, which Dallas was leading 28-10 over serial Super Bowl loser Buffalo.
Since then, the NFL’s gone for big names. Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” with Justin Timberlake in 2004 — did you see it live or on TiVo slo-mo? — during an MTV-produced halftime turned the NFL gun-shy on current popular acts.
When it became an event
@BR Body bold Lede colon:SUPER BOWL IV, Jan. 11, 1970, New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium: NFL Films President Steve Sabol, who has been to every Super Bowl and maybe seen more NFL game film than anyone, picks Super Bowl IV as “when the Super Bowl became the Super Bowl.”
First, Sabol points to the result, Kansas City squashing 13-point favorite Minnesota, 23-7. The Chiefs dispelled notions of the AFL being a finesse league by knocking tough Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp out of the game.
“In the public’s mind, (the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III) was a fluke,” Sabol said. “In the public’s mind, there still wasn’t parity. This game was a whipping. Not only were the Chiefs a better team, but they were so much bigger.”
New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt played the national anthem and Carol Channing did the halftime show before a restaging of the Battle of 1812.
“There was so much more, event-wise,” Sabol said. “It was the beginning of the excess we now associate with the Super Bowl.”
Steelers vs. Cowboys
@BR Body bold Lede colon:SUPER BOWL X, Jan. 18, 1976, Miami’s Orange Bowl: CBS expanded its pregame show to 90 minutes, an eternal pregame show for the time and a precursor of today’s day-long pregame marathons. Hollywood made an appearance as cameramen working for movie director John Frankenheimer captured scenes for the Super Bowl-set action thriller Black Sunday. Blimps abounded.
But you can only sell the sizzle for so long. After nine Super Bowls, the steak stunk.
Then, came Pittsburgh and Dallas.
The NFL’s two most popular teams by almost every tangible measure meshed as star-studded, perfectly opposite rivals. Blue-collar Pittsburgh came in as defending Super Bowl champions while corporate suit Dallas, supposedly rebuilding after years as an established power, upset its way into the game.
The game ended with Pittsburgh up 21-17 and Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, Captain Comeback, throwing two Hail Marys into the end zone, the second of which was tipped into a Glen Edwards interception.
The start of it all
@BR Body bold Lede colon:DETENTE IN DALLAS, April 6, 1966: Lamar Hunt owned the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, an AFL 1960 charter franchise that entered the league as the Dallas Texans. Tex Schramm was the general manager of the NFL franchise installed in Dallas to fight the AFL. The two Dallas-based men held the first of secret peace talks at Love Field on April 6, 1966. Each represented a faction in his league that wanted an end to the bidding war for players that bloodied bottom lines.
Two months later, on June 8, the leagues announced a coming merger with all teams under the NFL shield and Rozelle as commissioner.
There would be a common draft, etc. And, at the end of each season, there would be a game matching the champions of each league.