Super Bowl 1: A Super Quick History

On January 15th, 1967, the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs went head to head in the first ever match up between two rival football leagues, the AFL and the NFL. In today’s video we’ll take a look back at how the championship game came together, and what would eventually become known as the first Super Bowl.

Rival Leagues

The Super Bowl, the NFL’s marquee matchup between the AFC champion and the NFC champion has become one of the biggest sporting events in the world, with over 100 million people watching annually  in the United States alone. But it didn’t start that way, in fact when the AFL started in 1960 as a rival league to the already established NFL, few thought the upstart AFL would last long enough to give the NFL much competition. Even the NFL themselves, who had successfully outlasted several other rival leagues, didn’t consider the AFL much of a threat… at least initially. However, the AFL teams managed to prosper by selecting castaway players from the NFL, who then went on to have great success in the AFL. Before long, the AFL had nearly caught up to the NFL in terms of on field quality, and the two leagues began bidding wars over high quality prospective college players, and free agents. Originally, there was an informal agreement between the two leagues that one league would not try to poach players already under contract by the other league. But it didn’t take long for this informal agreement to break down, when in early 1966 Pete Gogolak, a kicker for the AFL’s Buffalo Bills, was lured away by the NFL’s New York Giants even though Gogolak was already under contract with the Bills. The AFL owners were so angered by this, that several AFL teams immediately went out and signed under contract NFL players which included 8 top tier quarterbacks. Both sides eventually tired of the bidding wars, and decided to negotiate a formal agreement between the two leagues. What came out of it was a deal to have a shared draft order between both AFL and NFL teams, as well as the eventual merger of the two leagues by 1969, but before then they established an AFL-NFL Championship game that would be played at the end of both league’s seasons.

Road to the Super Bowl

The first ever AFL-NFL championship game was played after the 1966 season, and was held on January 15, 1967. The Kansas City Chiefs represented the AFL, and the Green Bay Packers represented the NFL. The Chiefs finished their season with 11 wins, 2 losses, and one tie, and had just beaten the Buffalo Bills in the AFL league championship game 31-7. Kansas City featured future hall of famers like quarterback Len Dawson, linebacker Bobby Bell, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, safety Johnny Robinson, and cornerback Emmit Thomas. The team was also led by future hall of fame head coach, the iconic Hank Stram, as well as hall of fame owner Lamar Hunt who fittingly was the main architect behind the AFL’s inception after having been rejected by the NFL as a potential franchise owner several years before. So there was a lot more riding on this game for Lamar Hunt than just bragging rights. Switching over to the Green Bay Packers, they came into the AFL-NFL championship game having won 12 games and only 2 losses. They defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL championship game in a close game two weeks before, 34-27. The Packers featured future hall of famers like quarterback Bart Starr, cornerback Herb Adderley , linebacker Ray Nitschke, running back Paul Hornung, who actually didn’t play in the Super Bowl due to a pinched nerve, The Packers were led by legendary head coach Vince Limbardi, who in just a couple of years of being hired turned the entire franchise around, and into perennial NFL championship winners.

The Super Bowl’s Origins

The official name for the championship game was the “First World Championship Game AFL vs NFL”. This was the name given by the NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. However, the name understandably was a mouthful to say and not easily marketable. It was actually Lamar Hunt, seen here after having lost a bet to the ball boy, who came up with the unofficial name “Super Bowl” after seeing his son playing with a toy called the “Super Ball”. According to Hunt’s son his father said we should use a name like “Super Bowl” but then quickly backtracked and said, “Actually that’s not a very good name, we can come up with something better.” Obviously the name stuck, and has been used officially for every Super Bowl since Super Bowl III in 1969. As for the site of the game, the Los Angeles Coliseum was selected just seven weeks before the game was to be held. Prior to the game starting, both sides were under intense pressure from their respective leagues to not just win the game but to crush the other side (to show how superior one league was over the other). Frank Gifford who was one of the broadcasters for the game said that in an interview before kickoff with Packers head coach Vince Limbardi, quote, “Lombardi was holding onto my arm, and shaking like a leaf, it was incredible!.” Kansas City appeared to be just as nervous, as Chiefs linebacker E.J. Houlb said that prior to taking the field “The Chiefs were scared, guys were in the tunnel throwing up”. I’m pretty sure that’s probably just water…probably. 

The Game

An interesting compromise was made involving the game balls that were used during the world championship game. Since the AFL and NFL used two different sized footballs, it was agreed that both teams could use their respective leagues when they were on offense. The AFL used a Spalding JV-5 ball, and the NFL used Wilson’s signature ball “The Duke”, which the NFL still uses to this day. The officiating crew was mixed as well, using referees from both leagues. At the start of the game, both teams traded punts on each of their first possessions. But the Packers took an early lead when they drove 80 yards down the field and scored on a touchdown pass by Bart Starr to Max McGee. The Chiefs would answer back early in the second quarter with a 66 yard drive, and touchdown pass by Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton, tying the game at 7 points a piece. The tie wouldn’t last long as the Packers once again drove down the field on the very next possession, scoring on Jim Taylor’s run into the endzone. After being sacked on the next drive, Chiefs quarterback Len Dawn completed four consecutive completions totaling 58 yards. This set up a field goal attempt for 31 yards, which Mike Mercer completed making it 14-10 Packers at half time. On the first drive of the second half, Len Dawson threw an interception that eventually led to the Packers scoring on a touchdown run after the turnover. Bart Starr said after the game that this was the biggest play of the game, as the Packers never looked back. The Packers would go on to shut out the Chiefs in the second half, while scoring twice more to win the game 35-10. And with that, Vince Lombardi became the first head coach to win what would eventually become known as the Super Bowl.

The Broadcast

The game was simulcast on two networks, CBS and NBC, this was due to CBS having the rights to broadcast NFL games and NBC having the rights to AFL games. While each network used their own announcers, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who by this point also had authority over the AFL, mandated that NBC couldn’t use their own camera and tech crew and had to use CBS broadcast feed instead. He felt since the game was being held at the Rams NFL home stadium, the LA Coliseum, it should operate as an NFL broadcast. The game was the first and only Super Bowl not to be sold out (with about a third of available seats empty) until the 2021 Super Bowl which will only have about 25 thousand fans in attendance due to the global pandemic, and due to local blackout rules the game was actually blacked out in the Los Angeles area. 

In a strange circumstance, the original game broadcast footage had actually been lost. It was common practice in the 1960s for TV networks to wipe old tapes and reuse them once an event or program had completed. Also, the cost of tapes was at the time extremely expensive, so many networks reused tapes to save money. No one foresaw at the time just how valuable saving the original tapes would become, but in recent years an effort was made by NFL films to stitch together all known existing footage of the game. On January 15, 2016, the 49th anniversary of the game, NFL films and the NFL Network debuted a restored version of the game complete with all 145 plays from the Super Bowl.

The first world championship game also faced criticism over what some felt was an overpriced ticket to get in. One ticket cost between 10 to 12 dollars, which would be roughly $94 in today’s money. If you think that’s bad, by comparison the average Super Bowl ticket today costs thousands of dollars, and upwards of 10 grand on the resellers market!

In-Game Entertainment 

And for those kinds of prices you’d expect to see amazing in game entertainment, but by comparison the first Super Bowl had extremely modest offerings. The game featured marching bands from Grambling State and University of Arizona, where they physically created the shape of the continental United States. Then the Anaheim high school drill team placed banners of each AFL and NFL team where their geographical location was. Other actus included trumpeter Al Hirt, and 300 pigeons and 10,000 balloons were released. But most famously, a jetpack demonstration was performed by the Bell Rocket Air men. 

Post the first Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs would return to the championship game for Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs would defeat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7, awarding head coach Hank Stram and owner Lamar Hunt their long awaited Super Bowl trophy. Speaking of which,, the Packers once again return to the Super Bowl the following year in 1968. They’d go on to defeat the Oakland Raiders 33-14, giving Vince Lombardi the first two Super Bowl wins. The NFL would later honor Lombardi by renaming the championship trophy the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1970. 

So what did you guys think about Super Bowl 1, and the TV networks erasing the tapes? Would you pay $10,000 to go to the Super Bowl today? Let me know in the comments!


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