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The Difference Between The First Super Bowl And The Super Bowl Of Today

We all know what the modern-day Super Bowl looks like. A inexplicable amount of money spent on commercials and a ton of hype for the halftime show performance. Not to mention the ratings the big game gets. It’s practically a national holiday in the United States.

But in 1967, when the first Super Bowl took place, it was little more than a simple showdown between the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers and the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Between then and now, the Super Bowl has become larger-than-life; its current form is a reality check on just how far the game of football has come, and how bloated American sports have forever changed the way we look at games and the athletes that play in them.


The Original Super Bowl By Any Other Name…

It wasn’t always known as the “Super Bowl.” In the beginning, disagreement abounded about what to call the game. Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, was inspired by one of his children’s toys, the Super Ball, and decided to call the matchup the Super Bowl.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle wasn’t a fan of the name, however, and felt it didn’t sufficiently convey the gravitas of the league’s biggest event. He preferred the name “Pro Bowl,” which would eventually be put to use for the NFL equivalent of the All-Star game. Ultimately, the title “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” was agreed upon, but the media felt it was far too word and decided to go with Hunt’s “Super Bowl” option.


Not Really Catching On

Today’s Super Bowls attract mega celebrities who not only clamor to attend the game  but also to perform in the halftime show, affording them front-and-center exposure to millions of people. The original Super Bowl wasn’t nearly such a big deal. The game headliners in ’67? The Anaheim High School drill team. The University of Arizona and Grambling College marching bands. And – hold on to your hats – two unknown guys in jet packs. Adding to the wild festivities:  The release of hundreds of pigeons and 10,000 balloons. Apparently no one was thinking about the well-being of the birds, or the fact that 10,000 plastic balloons floating around and eventually falling to earth  isn’t such a good idea for the environment.

Despite repeated attempts by both the NFL and AFL to ratchet up interest in the event, more than 22,000 seats remained empty as of game time. It seemed that tickets selling for $12 was a steep ask, and left people feeling apathetic about attending the game. Apparently a thief who emptied the Kansas City Chiefs’ safe the night before the Super Bowl felt the same way:  He stole all the cash in the safe, but left behind more than 2,000 game tickets. Some of the obvious disinterest in the Super Bowl was attributed to the fact that the location of the game had been decided just a few weeks before. According to author Harvey Frommer, “The big game was a thrown-together affair, hastily organized. It was, in some ways, an afterthought to the merger agreement.”

In a strange-but-true moment, the lack of interest in the game might have saved the lives of some spectators. Shortly after kick-off, a giant iron hand fell from the scoreboard, plunged five stories, and destroyed a number of empty seats. Had tickets for those particular seats been sold, the falling scoreboard piece might have resulted in several deaths.


The End Result

In truth, the first Super Bowl itself was a bit boring. Following a relatively close first half, the Packers reigned supreme. In the end they won by 25 points, easily outstripping the 13.5 point spread.

Thanks to the long-forgotten (and now unimaginable) black-out rules for television, roughly 15 million people in the Los Angeles area were blocked from viewing the Super Bowl. Those intent on watching the game were forced to erect makeshift aerial antennas out of broomsticks and coat hangers if they wanted to catch the action.

In contrast, the Super Bowl is now known as one of the most highly-watched television events of the year. Millions of viewers tune in to catch the action, the over-the-top halftime show with today’s (and sometimes yesterday’s) hottest celebs, and the commercials. But back when it all started, the first Super Bowl  netted only $75,000 to $85,000 (adjusted for inflation, that’s about $600,000 to $700,000). Today, a 30-second ad in the Super Bowl can run an advertiser around $5.6 million.

Now that’s a number that can bowl you over.