The Super Bowl – Not Always So Super

It was officially called the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” when the Green Bay Packers met the Kansas City Chiefs on January 16, 1967 in Los Angeles, in the first year of what would become an annual tradition as American as Thanksgiving or the 4th of July. The term “Super Bowl” was coined by Chiefs’ owner Lamar Hunt, who assumed at the time that a better name would be thought of. (The term only became official with the Jets-Colts match two years later). The game was not a sell-out, with 61,000 souls in the roomy Coliseum. A couple of guys with jet-packs took from midfield for the opening ceremony, and a college marching band was the half time entertainment. Two networks (NBC and CBS) televised the game, the only time in Super Bowl history that this happened.

In the minds of NFL stalwarts like Packers coach Vince Lombardi, Green Bay had already won the pro football championship by winning the NFL title, and this was a mere post-season exhibition game. The two leagues had already agreed to merge, but the AFL, as the fledgling challenger, had much to prove, and was not yet taken entirely seriously by much of the pro football establishment. Chiefs gave the Packers a competitive game in the first half, but Willie Wood intercepted Len Dawson’s pass and ran for 50 yards to start the second half, and Kansas City never recovered. The final tally was 35-10, Green Bay. Bart Starr was the game’s MVP. The $15,000 per player collected by the winners in the first game was the largest single purse to date in the history of team sports. (The Chiefs each took home $7,500). In what was common practice at the time, the videotape of the game was erased, and no complete film of the first Super Bowl (retroactively dubbed “Super Bowl I”) exists.

.AFL legitimacy was achieved two years later, when an inebriated Joe Namath “guaranteed” a Jets victory over Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts, despite being an 18-point underdog, and proceeded to put his money where his (rather large) mouth was when he led the Jets to an improbable 16-7 victory. Of the four Super Bowls played before the merger, each league had won two, and the AFL had attained parity with the older league in a remarkably short period of time.


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