With the 2017 Super Bowl almost upon us, how it all began is recounted in chapter and verse in my WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME: REMEMBERING THE FIRST SUPER BOWL, an oral history. Below follows just some of the fascinating things I learned.
Other rivals to the NFL through the decades had sprung up:
American Football League (1926), American Football League (1936–1937), American Football League (1940–1941), All-America Football Conference (1946–1949). None of them had the financial muscle and the organizational skills behind them that Lamar Hunt’s American Football League had.
One of Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s suggestions for the name of the new game was “The Big One.” That name never caught on. “Pro Bowl,” did not work. “World Series of Football.” That died quickly. It was deemed too imitative of baseball’s Fall Classic.
Quarterback Bart Starr of the Packers on Vince Lombardi: “It was a fabulous experience all of us had playing for him, being coached by him. I could hardly wait for the next morning to get into the meeting to start that day off. He made everything so exciting, so challenging. He was a brilliant teacher and because of it he was a fabulous coach.”
KC player Ed Lothamer said of Kansas City Coach Hank Stram: “There were times when he had practices and a band playing. If an entertainer or celebrity was in Kansas City, often they would call Hank, and Hank would invite them to come over and watch practice. People like Muhammad Ali, Jim Nabors, Al Hirt, Edie Gorme and Steve Lawrence, all watched us practice. You never knew who was going to pop up.”
Prior to that first Super Bowl Game on January 15, 1967 the Packers and the Chiefs had never played against each other. Actually, no NFL team had ever played against an AFL team—not even an exhibition game.
The Saturday night before the game even chubby Jackie Gleason, one of the famed comedians of that era, got into the act by ending his CBS television urging his huge audience to make sure to tune in the next day to CBS and watch the world championship football game.
“It’s gonna be murder!” Gleason bellowed
There were those who thought “The Great One” went a bit too far, that he was too much of a shill for his CBS network that carried the NFL broadcasts.
Some celebrities of the time at the game included: famed movie and TV stars Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Chuck Connors, Danny Thomas, CBS TV anchor Walter Cronkite, comedian and serious sports fan Bob Hope, late night TV host Johnny Carson.
Two different footballs were used in the game. When the NFL Packers were on offense, they used the NFL ball and when the AFL Chiefs were on offense, the AFL ball was used.
Two kick-offs incredibly took place to start the game’s second half because NBC-TV was in commercial for the first one and a “do over” was allowed.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s wish was that the game would one day surpass baseball’s World Series. It would do much more than that.
With that first game history – The Super Bowl has evolved into the grandest, grossest, gaudiest annual one-day spectacle in the annals of American sports and culture. All of this incredibly spun off the game that was played that January day in 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a game that for a time lacked a name, a venue, an identity, a game that didn’t even sell out.
Now available: http://frommerbooks.com/when-it-was-just-a-game.html
photo by Mike del Tufo