National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

American professional football held its first national championship game at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. The Super Bowl has since become not only the premier sporting event in the United States but also a major venue for marketing to targeted populations by debuting new, catchy television commercials, a popular cultural event in itself.

Summary of Event

The National Football League (NFL), formed in 1920, outlived several rival leagues before 1960, when the American Football League American Football League (AFL) began play. Competition for players, fans, and television audiences led to merger talks in 1966, a component of which was an inaugural world professional football championship game. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first American professional football championship game on January 15, 1967. Though not officially known as the Super Bowl for another two years, the game’s place in U.S. sports history and popular culture was secured despite rather humble beginnings. Super Bowl National Football League Football;professional Kansas City Chiefs Green Bay Packers [kw]National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl (Jan. 15, 1967) [kw]Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl, National (Jan. 15, 1967) [kw]Super Bowl, National Football League Holds Its First (Jan. 15, 1967) Super Bowl National Football League Football;professional Kansas City Chiefs Green Bay Packers [g]North America;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [g]United States;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [c]Sports;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [c]Radio and television;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [c]Organizations and institutions;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [c]Popular culture;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] [c]Marketing and advertising;Jan. 15, 1967: National Football League Holds Its First Super Bowl[09160] Hunt, Lamar Starr, Bart Lombardi, Vince Dawson, Len Stram, Hank Rozelle, Pete

AFL founder and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, inspired by watching his daughter play with a popular children’s toy known as the SuperBall, is credited with naming the championship game the Super Bowl. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had favored the name “the Big One,” but Hunt’s suggestion caught on instead.

Rozelle, however, came up with the idea of both the merger of the two leagues and the interleague championship game. The June 8, 1966, merger agreement called for a “world” championship game for American professional football, a championship that would begin with the best teams of the 1970 season. Until 1967, the two league champions had not met on the field of play. Much discussion and speculation had emerged among fans and sportswriters, with few doubting the athletic superiority of the NFL. The Super Bowl would demonstrate the differences, and the similarities, between the two leagues.

Kansas City had won the 1966 AFL championship over the Buffalo Bills by a score of 31-7 and entered the January, 1967, national championship game with a 12-2-1 season record. The Chiefs were clearly the class of the junior league. Green Bay had become an established NFL power under the leadership of now-legendary coach Vince Lombardi. The Packers had a record of 13-2 for the season, following a 34-27 league championship victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers had been NFL champions in 1961, 1962, 1965, and 1966, picking up the name “Titletown, UNITED STATES” for the relatively small Wisconsin city the team proudly called home.

The Chiefs boasted the AFL’s most potent scoring and rushing offense, with three running backs (Mike Garrett Garrett, Mike , Bert Coan Coan, Bert , and Curtis McClinton McClinton, Curtis ) among the AFL’s top ten rushers. With former NFL back up quarterback Len Dawson at the helm, they possessed the top-rated passer in the league (26 touchdown passes). All in all, the Chiefs placed six offensive players on the All-League team and had an outstanding defensive secondary whose top three players intercepted twenty-four passes during the season.

However, it was the Packers who represented the epitome of professional football achievement in much the same way as the New York Yankees had reached that pinnacle in baseball. Green Bay was led by the first Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, quarterback Bart Starr, whose top receivers were Carrol Dale Dale, Carrol and Boyd Dowler Dowler, Boyd . Jim Taylor Taylor, Jim led the team in rushing and Paul Hornung, though injured and not playing in the championship game, was replaced effectively by Elijah Pitts Pitts, Elijah . An offensive line led by Forrest Gregg Gregg, Forrest and Jerry Kramer Kramer, Jerry was a catalyst for the rushing game’s success. With Henry Jordan Jordan, Henry , Willie Davis Davis, Willie , and Lionel Aldridge Aldridge, Lionel on the defensive line, Ray Nitschke Nitschke, Ray at linebacker, and defensive backs Herb Adderley Adderley, Herb and Willie Wood Wood, Willie , the Packer defense comprised future Hall-of-Famers and household-name players. The Packers were considered by many to be the best team ever fielded in NFL history.

The game itself was not particularly memorable (except as the first Super Bowl), but it was memorable for being the only Super Bowl to have been broadcast simultaneously by two television networks. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had held broadcast rights to NFL games and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had the rights for the AFL games. It also was the only Super Bowl not to have been a sellout, drawing just under 62,000 fans to the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Halftime entertainment by trumpeter Al Hirt and the marching bands of the universities of Arizona and Michigan was simple and even lackluster by contemporary standards.

Green Bay scored on its second possession of the opening quarter on a 37-yard pass from Starr to Max McGee McGee, Max . The Chiefs moved the ball at the end of the quarter to the Green Bay 33-yard line but failed to score when kicker Mike Mercer Mercer, Mike missed a field-goal attempt. The second quarter saw Kansas City score on a 7-yard pass from Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton, following a six-play, 66-yard drive. The Packers countered with a long drive of their own, scoring on a Jim Taylor 14-yard run and a point after touchdown. Mercer’s 31-yard field goal closed the scoring, and Green Bay’s 14-10 halftime lead surprised many. The Chiefs led in yards gained and first downs, but not on the scoreboard.

The second half momentum appeared to shift to the Chiefs as they took the kickoff and gained to midfield. However, the Packers’ strategy to hurry Dawson on his passes resulted in an interception return of 50 yards by Willie Wood, leading to an Elijah Pitts touchdown and a 21-10 Green Bay lead early in the third quarter. The game had essentially turned after that interception and change of possession; the Chiefs would get across midfield only one time in the final half and Dawson’s passing efficiency dropped noticeably. Chiefs’ coach Hank Stram and Dawson both recounted the importance of that interception to changing their strategy for the remainder of the game. The Chiefs’ strategy then changed and focused more on passing and play catch-up, which helped the veteran Packer defense.

Green Bay scored two more times in the game: In the third quarter, Starr passed to McGee for a 13-yard touchdown and a fourth quarter 80-yard drive culminated in a 1-yard diving touchdown by Pitts. For his efforts, Starr was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. The 35-10 margin validated the superiority of the NFL and Green Bay’s dynasty. Members of the winning team won $15,000, while the Chiefs received $7,500 for their efforts.

Significance

The Super Bowl has progressed from mediation between rival leagues into an event of worldwide note. Since 1971, the winning team has received the Lombardi Trophy Lombardi Trophy , named for the winning coach of the first two games. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, architect of the league’s growth following the NFL-AFL merger, would become one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the twentieth century. Lamar Hunt, credited with naming the event after being inspired by his daughter’s toy, had a hand in the entertainment and business sides of sports by creating both a professional tennis tour and Major League Soccer.

In 1969, the brash, Joe Namath Namath, Joe -led New York Jets New York Jets of the AFL defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts Baltimore Colts in a game that etched the now-official Super Bowl into the heart and mind of the American people. Eventually, Super Bowl activities led to “Super Bowl Sunday” coverage and “Super Week” events. The added television viewing audience became a marketing opportunity for business to place their newest products and services before a captivated television audience. Also, Super Bowl Sunday has become a day when many viewers want to watch the commercials as much as the game, treating them as a form of entertainment in and of themselves. Finally, the game’s halftime show has featured spectacular and memorable entertainment, including some events that have upstaged the game itself.

Despite the general rise in cultural interest in sport throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, few events can rival the Super Bowl in satisfying America’s appetites for sports and for the spectacular. For the world, the “culture” of the Super Bowl, and Super Bowl Sunday, explains why American football has such a compelling hold on this country’s sporting interests: The game is both a sporting event and popular entertainment. Super Bowl National Football League Football;professional Kansas City Chiefs Green Bay Packers

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coenen, Craig R. From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005. A thorough history of the National Football League, from its origins in the small towns and cities of the United States to its first championship game in 1967. Includes the following appendixes: “National Football League Franchises, 1920-2004” and “Franchises in Rival Pro Football Leagues, 1926-1985.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fulks, M., ed. Super Bowl Sunday: The Day America Stops. Lenexa, Kans.: Addax, 2000. Discusses what makes the Super Bowl a distinctively American form of popular culture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kanner, Bernice. The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game. Princeton, N.J.: Bloomberg Press, 2004. Provides a look at the business aspects of corporate America’s sponsorship of the Super Bowl.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphy, A., ed. Sports Illustrated—The Super Bowl: Sport’s Greatest Championship. New York: Time-Life Books, 1998. Coverage of the Super Bowl through the lens of a leading sports periodical.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Patton, Phil. Razzle Dazzle: The Curious Marriage of Television and Professional Football. Garden City, N.Y.: Dial Press, 1984. Interesting, easy-to-read chronicle of television, football, and the people involved in the development of the two enterprises.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, D., and C. Day. The Making of the Super Bowl: The Inside Story of the World’s Greatest Sporting Event. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003. Details the rise of the Super Bowl as an entertainment and sporting spectacle.

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