MOREHEAD CITY —
Super Bowl frenzy has its grip on America. The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs have “survived and advanced.” They clash on Sunday, Feb. 2. To the victor goes the esteemed Vince Lombardi Trophy as the NFL champion of Super Bowl LIV.
What was the most dramatic Super Bowl of all time? Probably the first one in 1967, because it charted new territory.
As background: Once, there were two pro football leagues. The National Football League (NFL) came first. Its roots date back to 1920. A rival American Football League (AFL) was founded in 1960. In 1966, the NFL and AFL agreed to merge.
Owners from each league voted to conduct a championship game, beginning in 1967, but still maintain separate regular-season schedules through 1969. They would effectively come together, forming one league in 1970 under the NFL umbrella, with two conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC).
Jay Serafino of the “Mental Floss” online magazine drilled a little deeper. He said there was a lot of debate about what to call the new title game in 1967. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle selected “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”
Serafino reported that Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, suggested “something punchier,” like the “Super Bowl.” Fans and the news media liked the term, but Rozelle bristled, saying it was “too gimmicky.” Hunt eventually convinced the other team owners to go along with his idea. The “Super Bowl” was adopted as the name of the game forevermore in 1970.
Contestants in that 1967 title game were the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. The game pitted the Packers’ coach-quarterback combination of Vince Lombardi-Bart Starr versus Hank Stram-Len Dawson of the Chiefs.
Serafino reported: “There was a bit of an issue televising the game. NBC had the rights to air AFL games, while CBS was the longtime rights holder for the NFL product. The first Super Bowl was the only one to be simulcast on two different networks.”
In the NBC booth were announcers Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman. CBS countered with Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker and Frank Gifford.
The 1967 game was the one and only Super Bowl that did not sell out. Serafino said about one-third of the seats in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were empty. “Some fans balked at the steep $12 ticket prices,” he said.
The highlight of the halftime show was the release of 4,000 pigeons as a gesture of “peace.” One “dropped a present on the typewriter of a young reporter, Brent Musburger,” Serafino wrote.
“When the second half of Super Bowl I began…NBC missed the kickoff because the network was airing an interview with Bob Hope,” Serafino said. “The kickoff had to be redone for the sake of nearly half the TV audience.”
The game itself was tight in the first half, but Green Bay wore down Kansas City after intermission, pulling away to win, 35-10.
Coach Lombardi brought the Packers back to appear in Super Bowl II, played in Miami, Fla., where the Packers disposed of the Oakland Raiders, 33-14.
This year’s Super Bowl returns to Miami, an AFC city. Of the 43 Super Bowls played, the NFC has won 27 times, while the AFC has recorded 26 wins.
The very, very best Super Bowl, however, is yet to be played. In my mind, it will feature two of the most anemic franchises of all-time, the only two “pre-merger” NFL teams that have never appeared in the Super Bowl – the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns.
In the 1950s, the Lions and the Browns ruled. The Lions crushed the Browns, 59-14, in the 1957 title game. That is Detroit’s most recent championship. The Browns last won the title in 1964, slamming the Baltimore Colts, 27-0.
Both Detroit and Cleveland fans attribute their pitiful and prolonged slumps to dreaded curses that have been placed on their franchises. In Detroit’s case, the abrupt trade of its popular quarterback Bobby Layne in 1958 brought on the curse. Cleveland is yet to recover from a curse inflicted by owner Art Modell, who moved the team to Baltimore in 1996.