A Brief History of the Super Bowl

History of Superbowl

In case you hadn’t heard, this Sunday, February 5th, will see the occasion of the 51st Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is a football game in which two teams, the respective winners of the AFC and NFC football conferences, vie for the title of overall champion of the NFL. If you’re already confused as to what differentiates the National Football League from the American Football Conference from the AFL-CIO, then perhaps you need a more fundamental education as to the basics of football.

If you’re more interested in the history of the Super Bowl itself as opposed to trying to understand the arcane rules and governing bodies and such that control American professional football, then you’re in the right place. Long story short, the Super Bowl is a game in which the New England Patriots beat the other football team by scoring more points. Ha! Just kidding. Sometimes the other team scores more points. But usually not. Super Bowl LI will be the Patriots ninth Super Bowl appearance and, should they win, will be their fifth victory. But in fact the Pittsburg Steelers have won six Big Game matches, and the 49ers are in the five victory club. But I digress…

Let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!)

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The first Super Bowl was played on January 15th, 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But no one even knew the first-ever Super Bowl had been played until well after that fateful day on which the Green Bay Packers crushed the Kansas City Chiefs, because the name “Super Bowl” was not applied to the game until later. (That’s what we call a neologism, folks.) Whereas these days broadcast rights to the Super Bowl are fiercely guarded, that game was shown on two networks –CBS and NBC — at the same time (there were only three major broadcasters at the time anyway. Poor ABC). An estimated 51 million people watched Super Bowl I, which is impressive, when you think about it, as that means more than a quarter of all Americans tuned in for the first of its kind event.

brief history super bowl 49ers


It’s not easy to be a fan of some NFL teams. The Washington Redskins are notorious for their ability to give up leads in the fourth quarter; the Detroit Lions have never been to a Super Bowl; and in 1989, the Denver Broncos became the most resoundingly defeated Super Bowl loser of all time. That year saw the Broncos face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV. Led by celebrated quarterback Joe Montana, and coming off a Super Bowl victory in the 1988 championship, the 49ers were heavily favored to win. But the wildly lopsided result was a surprise even to analysts of the day. The 49ers beat the Broncos 55 to 10, meaning a spread of 45 points. That still stings nearly three decades later.

brief history super bowl close loss


On the far side of the spectrum, we have Super Bowl XXV from 1991. In that storied contest, the New York Giants beat out the Buffalo Bills by ONE POINT. And amazingly, the game ended with the Bills losing after their kicker missed a field goal attempt by about two feet. The loss in Super Bowl XXV began an infamous precedent for the Buffalo Bills, who would go on to lose four Super Bowl games in a row. And no, the Bills have never won the Big Game. Sigh.

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It’s common knowledge that many people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, not to see the Patriots win yet again. During Super Bowl I, TV commercials cost $37,000 per half-minute of airtime. And that was a lot then, sure. But keep this in mind: adjusted for inflation, $37k in 1967 is about equivalent to $265,ooo today. Got it? Good. In 1974, ads first hit the $100,000+ per 30-second cost. This was during Super Bowl VIII, for the record. Between 1984 and 1985, the price of a Super Bowl commercial vaulted from around $370k per half minute all the way to $525k for the same amount of airtime. And by 1994, a 30-second Super Bowl ad cost more than one million dollars. In 2017, companies are shelling out around FIVE MILLION DOLLARS per half minute of broadcast real estate. Also known as $166,666 per second.

brief history super bowl halftime


Beyond the game itself and the beloved Big Game commercials, it’s the Super Bowl Halftime Show that draws in plenty of viewers. The mid-game performance has been headlined by everyone from Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones. And those acts all make sense. But let’s not forget that along with some great music, the Super Bowl Halftime show has also been the main stage for multiple notorious events, such as the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake “Wardrobe Malfunction” and the wonderful failings of “Left Shark.” The Super Bowl Halftime Show also serves as a veritable time capsule, helping us recall the way we really were as we reflect on certain past acts. Examples include 1991’s appearance by the New Kids on the Block and 1999’s turn by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Yes, seriously.

Now that you’ve got a little bit of background, go forth and more fully enjoy the game.