It’s almost time for the latest edition of the Super Bowl, the NFL’s biggest game. And it’s the 58th game, to be precise, meaning there’s a long and storied history behind the franchise. But where did the Super Bowl get its name from? Turns out, it started as a joke.
To be clear, the game didn’t start as a joke – the name did. But it also took a couple of years to catch on, before the Super Bowl came to be known as the, well, Super Bowl.
Curious about the origins of the Big Game? Let’s get into it.
How did the Super Bowl start?
Way back in 1967, two football franchises – the NFL (National Football League) and AFL (American Football League) – were fully operational, but clearly competing for the same audiences. Because of that, they made the pretty smart decision to join forces and end their seasons in a competition, which they gave the extremely catchy name of: AFL–NFL World Championship Game.
Just kidding, they knew it wasn’t a catchy name, but struggled to come up with another suggestion they could all agree on. Other ideas thrown out there were “Big One” and “Pro Bowl,” though the AFL and NFL couldn’t agree on either. Hence, the annoyingly long but mutually agreed on AFL-NFL World Championship.
The first game was played that year by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, led by coach Vince Lombardi, and the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. The AFL team was trounced 35-10. Some other fun facts about the game: it didn’t sell out, because tickets were too pricey at a sky-high $10-$15; and they released 4,000 pigeons at the game, which proceeded to leave droppings everywhere. Complaining about ticket prices, and bizarre stunts? That’s consistent to this very day!
So why is it called the Super Bowl?
After the NFL continued to dominate in year two under Lombardi, in year three it was clear a change needed to be made. As the legend goes, back during the initial negotiations for the AFL-NFL merger, Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs had jokingly suggested they call the game the Super Bowl, after his children’s toy, the “Super Ball” in a letter to the board. In fact, Hunt was suggesting Super Bowl as the sort of name they should not call the game because he thought it was “far too corny.”
However, other accounts Hunt has told later vary slightly, with the owner recalling that he casually threw it out during an in-person meeting, while everyone was waiting to order lunch, and it had a less than overwhelming response.
Regardless of what actually happened, for the third championship in 1969 that’s exactly what they called it, renumbering as Super Bowl III. That year, probably coincidentally with the name change, the AFL won for the first time under the leadership of quarterback Joe Namath.
The following year, the AFL and NFL officially merged into one sports league, and the Super Bowl was launched into sports history! Along with 4,000 pigeons.
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