Super Bowl

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Super Bowl

The Super Bowl, the championship game of American football, is the most watched, written about, and talked about single sports event in the United States today. It has become a national ritual, and Super Bowl Sunday is akin to a national holiday—marked by gatherings of family and friends, food, drink, and betting on the outcome. The competitors are the winners of the National Football and American Football conferences of the National Football League playoffs.

An American Institution

First played in 1967, the Super Bowl is traditionally staged on a Sunday evening, and is seen by more than 130 million television viewers alone in the United States. Advertisers, who paid as little as $75,000 for a thirty-second commercial for the telecast of Super Bowl I, now pay $2.5 million for the same thirty second commercial. Apple Computers introduced its first ever line of Macintosh computers with a Super Bowl television advertisement in 1984.

The NFL estimates that in 2004 almost one billion people viewed part of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 229 different countries, and the game was broadcast in twenty-one different languages. Some 3,000 media credentials are typically assigned for a Super Bowl, including 400 to international journalists. The game’s number is traditionally referred to in roman numerals, although that practice did not start until the fifth Super Bowl.

The game is played at stadium site that is picked years in advance of the actual game date. No team has ever played a super bowl in its home stadium. Super Bowl games are usually awarded to stadiums in the southern part of the United States, to help insure good weather since the game is played in either late January or early February, although on a few occasions the games has been played in more northern locations that had a domed stadium. In all, eleven different cities in the United States have hosted a Super Bowl, with New Orleans hosting the most with nine. Cities are competitive in bidding to host the game, since the economic impact from just one Super Bowl can be as high as $250 million.

The day has become so popular—more pizzas are sold on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year in the United States—that some consider it a de facto holiday. In 2004, more than $81 million in bets were placed on the Super Bowl in the state of Nevada, where gambling on professional sports is legal. Privately, it is estimated that several billion dollars is actually wagered on the game illegally. Part of the Super Bowl tradition is the elaborate halftime show featuring top entertainers. The 2004 show was controversial when singer Janet Jackson’s breast was bared; the 2005 show featured former Beatle Paul McCartney and was much tamer. Commercials have become an integral part of the television broadcast as well, with major corporations vying to produce the most creative, innovative, or amusing commercials—which are then widely critiqued in the media on the day after the game.


The game was originally known as AFL-NFL World Championship Game, and came about because of competition between the two competing professional football leagues—the American Football League founded in 1960 and the National Football League founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association. It took the NFL name in 1922. The game didn’t actually become the “Super Bowl” until 1968, before the third championship game. Legend has it that the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, who’s team played in the first ever Super Bowl, came up with the event’s name after coming across one of his daughter’s favorite toys, a super ball. The game’s number is traditionally referred to in roman numerals, although that practice did not start until the fifth Super Bowl.

The Chiefs played the Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi considered one of the league’s most legendary coaches, in Super Bowl I, played 15 January 15 1967. Today, the trophy given out to winning team is called the Vince Lombardi trophy. The Pete Rozelle Trophy—named after the man who served as league commissioner for almost thirty years and is largely credited with spurring the growth and popularity of the National Football League—is given out to the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl.

Far from the popular event it is today the first Super Bowl only attracted 61,946 fans, almost 40,000 short of capacity at the Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum, although every game since has been a sell out. Green Bay won the first game, 35-10, led by quarterback Bart Starr and receiver Max McGee—who only saw action in the game because of an injury to starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler. For the entire season, McGee had caught only four passes for 91 yards, but in the newly created title game, he hauled in seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Each Packer received a “winner’s share”—a monetary reward for being on the victorious team—of $15,000 each, while each Chief earned $7,500. By comparison, the 2004 winning share for each member of the New England Patriots was $68,000, while the members of the losing Carolina Panthers each earned $36,500. The most inexpensive ticket to the first-ever Super Bowl was $6; the most inexpensive ticket price for the 2004 game was $350.

Seventeen teams have won the Super Bowl:

Dallas Cowboys 5

San Francisco 49ers 5

Pittsburgh Steelers 4

Green Bay Packers 3

New England Patriots 3

Oakland/LA Raiders 3

Washington Redskins 3

Denver Broncos 2

Miami Dolphins 2

New York Giants 2

Baltimore Colts 1

Baltimore Ravens 1

Chicago Bears 1

Kansas City Chiefs 1

New York Jets 1

St. Louis/LA Rams 1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1

The New England Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowls. This is considered a near-amazing achievement given efforts by the league to develop parity among teams. The most significant Super Bowl was the third when the New York Jets of the AFL beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts of the NFL y the score of 16-7. The victory had been publicly guaranteed by Jet’s quarterback Joe Namath three days before the game. The victory made the AFL the equal of the NFL, and the next year the leagues merged.

Brian Ackley and David Levinson

Further Reading

Bayless, S. (1993). The boys. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Green, J. (1991). Super bowl chronicles: A sportswriter reflects on the first 25 years of America’s game. Masters Press.

Konner, B. (2003) The super bowl of advertising: how the commercials won the game. Bloomberg Press.

Weiss, D., & C. Day (2002). The making of the super bowl: the inside story of the world’s greatest sporting event. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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