Wednesday, February 1, 2017

From the First to Super Bowl 51 - By Harvey Frommer

From the First to Super Bowl 51

By Harvey Frommer

The very long National Football League season is now over.  Now we all

look ahead to “the ultimate game.”  Hype, hoopla, histrionics and sometimes a

great game is the result of all the activity.

The Super Bowl is America at its best and also America at its worst. American

conspicuous consumption. American grossness. American fandom, American

power. American marketing. American ingenuity. American skills and talent. All

are on parade, all turned up, tuned in at the same time for the same event. All of

that is the greatest power and the greatest weakness of the big game.

Played in the dead of winter in the United States across various time zones,

the “Super Bowl” on “Super Sunday” has become a de facto American holiday,

right up there with Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of

July. For many, better.

How it all came to be is in many ways more fascinating than

whatit has become. The merger of the American Football League and the

National Football League led to the need for a championship game. The first

contest was played on January 15, 1967 The Vince Lombardi Green Bay

Packers squared off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

And, although the contest was officially known as the AFL-NFL World

Championship, its unofficial name - the Super Bowl - was used in the media,

the fans and the players, and the name stuck.

One theory for how the high flying name came about is that at an

owner's meeting centered on what to call the game, owner Lamar Hunt had a

"super ball" in his pocket that he had taken away from his youngster earlier

in the day. Hunt was not too taken with the long and ordinary sounding

suggestions for what would become professional football's ultimate game.

As the story goes, squeezing the ball, he suggested the name “Super

Bowl.” His suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm by the

assembled group. Nevertheless, he mentioned the name to a reporter who

loved it and, as they say, the rest is history.

That first game witnessed the first dual-network, color-coverage

simulcast of a sports event in history, and attracted the largest viewership to

ever see a sporting event up to that time. The Nielsen rating indicated that 73

million fans watched all or part of the game on one of the two networks,


In actuality, the game was a contest between the two leagues and the two

networks. CBS' allegiance was to the NFL. NBC's loyalty was to the AFL - a

league it had virtually created with its network dollars.

From the start there were special features to the Super Bowl including its

designation with a Roman numeral rather than by a year - a move on the part

of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to give the contest a sense of class.

That first Super Bowl was played at the Memorial Coliseum in Los

Angeles before 61,946. Quarterback Bart Starr was the first Most Valuable

Player as he led the Packers to a 35-10 victory over Kansas City. Starr

completed 16-of- 23 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

Max McGee of the Packers became an interesting footnote to Super

Bowl history.

"I knew I wouldn't play unless (Boyd) Dowler got hurt," he said in later


So McGee went out on the town the days (and nights) prior to the game.

Curfews, it seems, were there for him to break. He stayed out until 7:30 a.m.

on the day of the game. Then, the unimaginable happened. Dowler suffered

a separated shoulder throwing a block on the opening series.

In came the 11-year veteran McGee who had caught only four passes all

season. He snared 7 passes for 138 yards. McGee and Starr hooked up in the

first quarter for a 37-yard score, and again at the end of the third quarter for

a 13-yard touchdown. Elijah Pitts ran for two other scores. The Chiefs' 10

points came in the second quarter, their only touchdown on a 7-yard pass

from Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.

But Max McGee stole the show and set a pattern in that first Super

Bowl that would be part of the ultimate game's history of unlikely heroes,

strange twists of fate, footballs taking a wrong bounce for some teams and

the right bounce for others.

Who knows what history holds in store for 2017’s Super Bowl?

Dr. Harvey Frommer, a professor at Dartmouth College in the MALS program, is in his 4ist year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, he is the author of 43 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,as well as his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park. His highly praised When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl was published last fall.

A link to purchase autographed copies of Frommer Sports Books is at:

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