January 2007

The Super Bowl's SUPER Beginnings

Author: Craig Hysell

On January 15, 1967, the very first AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before 61,946 fans. Two Midwestern football teams minted the credibility of their sport in a contest as unique, as large and as loud as the United States, under the lights, cameras and action of L.A. What could be more fitting and more red-blooded than that?

Commanded by Vince Lombardi and helmed by quarterback and MVP, Bart Starr, the Green Bay Packers soundly defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first contest between the two leagues to determine who was best. Back then, the NFL as we know it today was divided into two separate entities, the American Football League and the National Football League. The powers that be were tired of having two champions. There could be (and should be) only one. It was time to settle it on the field.

While the AFL-NFL World Championship Game waited on the sidelines like two teams before a coin toss, there was one last issue: the name couldn’t have been more awkward. Lamar Hunt, AFL founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner, coined the term “Super Bowl” in a board meeting before the big game. The name of one of the largest sporting events in the world came to Mr. Hunt after watching his daughter play with a toy called a “Super Ball.” The phrase was immediately embraced by lazy journalists everywhere who despised typing “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” over and over again in their reports. The ball that spawned the name now resides on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame so that all may embrace the irony that a girl’s toy is credited for dubbing a man’s game.

Although Hunt is responsible for the name, Lombardi is responsible for the victory—and the victory after that the following year. When the two leagues merged in 1970 to form the NFL, the first Vince Lombardi Trophy was handed out to the Baltimore Colts, the winners of Super Bowl V. Unfortunately the old ball coach wasn’t around to see it. The man who epitomized football victory couldn’t beat the one game we are all destined to finish one day. He died on September 3, 1970. Each year Tiffany & Company, along with the NFL’s finest team, makes sure Lombardi’s legacy lives on at a cost of $25,000 per trophy (on the NFL’s tab) and the priceless commodities of all athletes: sweat and blood, tears and determination.

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Today it is easy for the Super Bowl to get lost in the rock star halftime performances, the fireworks and the advertising campaigns. It could be simple for the over 140 million viewers of last year’s Super Bowl to lose themselves in the pageantry and the hype, the picks and the bets. But that isn’t the American way. Is it?

Somehow the struggle to be the best at what we do still seeps its way into our psyche. In our hearts, the contest is still more important than what commercial we are going to see next. Somehow we still acknowledge that it’s not about hoisting a trophy, going to Disneyland or wearing a ring. It’s about proving to ourselves that we can achieve our dreams through hard work, sacrifice and teamwork. It’s about remembering how America was built.

That’s what Vince would have wanted. That’s the American Dream. Who’s your pick?

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