Superbowl Sunday is less than a week away, and the hype couldn’t be more real. The Los Angeles Rams will host the game in their home stadium, becoming only the second team to ever do this since last year’s champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’ll go head to head with the Cincinnati Bengals, who upset the Kansas City Chiefs to go to their first Superbowl since 1988.
As the big game approaches, over ninety-six million Americans are preparing their Superbowl festivities, complete with good food, friends, and plenty of funny commercials. The game is also an international phenomenon, with an estimated thirty to fifty million international viewers tuning in.
With the Superbowl being such a cultural staple, it feels like something that’s always been with us. However, like all traditions, it has its own origin story that you may be surprised to learn about. Over fifty years ago, the first Superbowl started as a relatively obscure business venture. Now, it’s become one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
Back in 1967, the year of the first Superbowl, there were actually two professional football leagues in America. While the NFL existed, it was not as large & powerful as it is today. There weren’t as many teams in the league, and most of them were located in the nation’s urban hubs. At the time, the NFL had a rival league called the American Football League.
When the AFL started in 1960, the NFL had already been around for forty years. Initially, the NFL paid no mind to the AFL, simply thinking it would be a league full of less talented players. Despite this, the AFL’s eight teams soon gained strong followings, as well as being able to compete for top talent prospects out of college.
By the summer of 1966, the NFL decided it would be best to work on a merger with the AFL in order to share a draft instead of competing for college players. The two leagues also agreed to become one after the 1969 season. Most importantly for our purposes, the leagues decided they would play the first “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”
The first Superbowl put significant focus on the games leading up to it, as on New Year’s Day 1967, both the AFL & NFL championship games were broadcast as an unprecedented doubleheader. The winners of those games, the Chiefs & the Green Bay Packers, would face in the first Superbowl.
The first Superbowl
On January 15th, 1967, the Kansas City Chiefs faced the Green Bay Packers in the first-ever Superbowl. While the event was a momentous occasion filled with pomp & circumstance, there was still a fair amount of animosity between the two leagues. Both the AFL & NFL were pumping up their respective teams to win in order to show they had the better league.
The game was held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a venue that has hosted the Summer Olympics. Not only did the teams have their pride on the line, but there was also a substantial cash prize. Each of the players on the winning team were to be awarded fifteen-thousand dollars, opposed to $7,500 for the losers.
While most pundits favored the NFL’s Green Bay Packers to win the game, the Chiefs weren’t too shabby of an outfit. They’d recorded an 11-2-1 regular season record & had beaten the Buffalo Bills in the previous game 31-7. However, the Packers were a dynasty at that time. They’d won four NFL championships in the 60s after being a losing team in the 50s.
While it was a close game in the first half, the Packers went on to trounce the Chiefs thirty-five to ten. Packers quarterback Bart Starr was named the first Superbowl MVP, and head coach Vince Lombardi hoisted the championship trophy. As we know today, Lombardi’s legacy lives on, as he is the namesake for the current Superbowl trophy.
As we gear up for Superbowl fifty-six, it’s interesting to look at how far the spectacle has come since the first game. Do you think the Rams or the Bengals will win this year’s game? Let us know in the comments!