The History of the Super Bowl
The History of the Super Bowl

The History of the Super Bowl

Larry Holzwarth - January 25, 2021

The History of the Super Bowl
Pregame hype covers several subjects and adds to urban myths about Super Bowl Sunday. WICS

10. Pregame publicity led to the creation of several urban myths

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Super Bowl grew in popularity in a steadily increasing path. What began as essentially an exhibition game between different leagues became the largest single-day sporting event in America. Pregame hype, by no means limited to football fans, became a part of the American landscape. Programs and articles dedicated to what foods to prepare and serve, beverages, what to wear for the game, what to watch for during the game, dominate the days leading up to the game itself. During the pregame phase many urban myths are repeated, often embellished from preceding years.

Among them are the games’ crippling impact on water systems, particularly during halftime, when more toilets are flushed (it’s false, as numerous municipal water systems have reported). Another is that more avocados are sold before the game than any other time in America, two-thirds of annual consumption (also false). However, Super Sunday does seem to be the day when Americans consume more chicken wings than any other. Since the turn of the century, the number of wings consumed has regularly exceeded 1 billion, and the count continues to rise every year. There is anecdotal evidence that more beer and soda is consumed in Super Bowl activities than any other event of the year as well.

The History of the Super Bowl
The Pontiac Silverdome, site of Super Bowl XVI, demolished in 2017-18. Wikimedia

11. Some stadiums which hosted a Super Bowl no longer exist

Tulane Stadium, unofficially known as the Sugar Bowl from 1935 onward, served as the home of the New Orleans Saints from 1967 to 1974. It also hosted three Super Bowls, the first in 1970. That was the last game played between the AFL and the NFL, won by the former. The two coldest Super Bowl games played occurred at Tulane, in 1972 (39°) and 1975 (46°). Tulane demolished the stadium in 1980. Six other stadiums which hosted Super Bowls have since been demolished. Among them were Tampa Stadium (two Super Bowls), Stanford Stadium (1) and the original Orange Bowl, where five Super Bowl games were played.

Three domed stadiums which hosted Super Bowls have also been demolished; the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit. Of the former stadiums, Stanford Stadium held the distinction of being one of two which never served as the home stadium for an NFL team, the other being the Rose Bowl. Stanford also had the distinction of being the only stadium to hold a Super Bowl in which the de facto home team, the San Francisco 49ers, won the game over the Miami Dolphins. Four years later Stanford did serve as the home for the NFL’s 49ers (1 game) after damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake prevented their using Candlestick Park.

The History of the Super Bowl
Miami’s Orange Bowl served as the host for five Super Bowls before being replaced and demolished. Wikimedia

12. Miami has hosted more Super Bowls than any other city

More than half of the Super Bowls to date have been played in just three metropolitan areas, Miami, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. Eleven Super Bowl games have been played in the environs of Miami, Florida, five in the now-defunct Orange Bowl, and six in the stadium which replaced it. The newer facility operated under several different names including among others Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, and currently Hard Rock Stadium. To date, the Orange Bowl was the only venue to host the game in consecutive years (1968, 1969). New Orleans comes next, with seven games played there, followed by the venerable Rose Bowl with five.

As noted, the two coldest Super Bowls were played in New Orleans, with the 2010 game in New Jersey ranking third (49°) on the field. On February 4, 2018, the Super Bowl returned to Minneapolis, where it was played in the U. S. Bank Stadium, a facility with a roof. The players and the fans in attendance enjoyed a controlled environment with the temperature of 70°. Outside, the temperature at game time was considerably less comfortable 2°. The game featured the famous “wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show, when Justin Timberlake inadvertently exposed Janet Jackson’s breast to the television audience and the fans in the stands.

The History of the Super Bowl
Several teams harbor superstitions about what color jerseys to wear during the game. ESPN

13. The home team selects the uniform colors to wear

For the Super Bowl, beginning with the first, the home team is designated by the last number of the year. NFC teams are home during odd-numbered years. Though it sounds insignificant since the game is played at a usually neutral site, it does have some bearing on the game. The team designated as the home team selects which color uniform jersey they will wear. Six different times in the game’s history, the home team has selected their white jerseys, normally worn (by most teams) on the road. The reason is simple superstition, with some teams considering their dark jerseys to be harbingers of bad luck. The Denver Broncos are a case in point.

The Broncos appeared in four Super Bowls wearing their orange jerseys, and lost all four. They were four of the worst defeats in the history of the game. In 1997 they returned, in white, and won. They repeated in 1998, also in white, and when they appeared in 2015, General Manager John Elway informed the press “We’ve had Super Bowl success in our white uniforms“, opting for that color. They won again. Strangely, there may be something to superstition. Teams appearing in white jerseys have won 63% of the Super Bowls played to date.

The History of the Super Bowl
Empty seats are clearly visible in this photo taken during Super Bowl I. Associated Press

14. Videotapes of the first Super Bowl were erased

As noted, the first Super Bowl was broadcast simultaneously by NBC (AFL) and CBS (NFL). CBS used broadcasters Ray Scott for first half play-by-play, Jack Whitaker for the second half, and Frank Gifford for “color commentary”. NBC countered with Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman. NBC claimed they had a contractual right to cover the game, since they covered AFL games throughout the season. CBS claimed they had the right to cover the game, since it was being played in an NFL city and venue (Los Angeles Coliseum). Tensions between the technical staff of both networks increased throughout the week, causing Pete Rozelle to intervene. Rozelle dictated that NBC could use their own announcers, but the game feed which went out over the network came from CBS.

The first Super Bowl did not receive overwhelming support from local fans. Ticket prices were considered high ($12, equivalent to about $90 today) and more than a third of the Coliseum seats went unsold. The broadcast was blacked out in the Los Angeles market. Following the game, the only Super Bowl broadcast by two networks simultaneously, both networks erased the tapes, a common cost-saving practice of the time. NFL Films recorded most of the game on film, and an audio broadcast by NBC Radio survived. Snippets of the NFL Films recording, along with short sections from multiple video sources, allowed for the game to be reconstructed on film, using the NBC radio broadcast for audio. The NFL Network displayed the resulting film on the game’s 49th anniversary in 2016.

The History of the Super Bowl
Vince Lombardi on the shoulder of Jerry Kramer after the Packers won Super Bowl II. Wikimedia

15. The NFL imposed local blackouts for the first seven Super Bowls

Even had the Los Angeles Coliseum sold out for the first Super Bowl, the NFL rules at the time imposed a local blackout of the game’s telecast. Such an event arose for the second Super Bowl, held in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The stadium sold out, but the NFL imposed its local blackout rule. CBS held the rights for the game, and as with its predecessor, chose to wipe the videotapes after broadcast. Nor did NFL Films record the entire game. Other than some highlights and still photographs taken during the game, no recording of the second Super Bowl is known to exist. During the broadcast, the last few minutes of the first half and several minutes of halftime coverage were blacked out from technical difficulties.

NBC returned to broadcast the third Super Bowl in Miami, again blacked out locally by the NFL despite the Orange Bowl again selling out for the game. NBC chose to retain the tapes for the game, in part because of the Jets’ upset over the heavily favored Colts. CBS broadcast the game the next year, which was locally blacked out in New Orleans, and erased the tapes following broadcast. The Canadian Broadcasting Company carried the feed for the game and opted to retain them, which is why a recording of the broadcast exists today. The NFL continued to impose local blackouts of the Super Bowl, regardless of whether the game sold out, until 1974, when the game was played in Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Since the second Super Bowl, all of the successive games have been sellouts.

The History of the Super Bowl
Baltimore’s Bubba Smith (78) bears down on Joe Namath during Super Bowl III. Wikimedia

16. The oddsmakers favored the old NFL teams for the first seven Super Bowls

By the time seven Super Bowls had been played, the former AFL claimed four wins. One of them however had been by the Baltimore Colts, a former NFL team. In general NFC teams approached the games as the favorite of the oddsmakers, though not necessarily of the fans. Not until the eighth Super Bowl, played at Rice Stadium between the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Vikings, did a former AFL team enter the game as the favorite. The game was the first held outside of Miami, Los Angeles, or New Orleans, and the first to feature back-to-back wins by an AFC team. It was also the last NFL game played (other than the Pro Bowl a week later) in which the goalposts stood on the goal line rather than at the back of the endzone.

Since the 1974 Super Bowl, each game has been broadcast without a local blackout being imposed by the NFL. The 1974 game was the last to be called by Ray Scott for CBS, though the network continued to alternate with NBC to air the games until 1985. Pat Summerall took over as CBS’s primary announcer in 1976. 1974 also marked a period of AFC dominance in the game, with the conference winning six of the next seven matchups. Four of those wins came from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a former NFL team. At this writing, both conferences have won 27 Super Bowls. The argument over NFL-AFL superiority has long since vanished into insignificance.

The History of the Super Bowl
Originally the AFL’s Boston Patriots, New England appeared in more Super Bowls than any other team. Wikimedia

17. The New England Patriots appeared in the most Super Bowls

New England, which played in the old AFL as the Boston Patriots, appeared in eleven Super Bowls, winning six. They are tied for the most wins with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who appeared in eight games, losing twice. The team which appeared in the most consecutive Super Bowls, the Buffalo Bills, suffered the unfortunate circumstance of losing them all. No team has ever won three in a row, though seven teams have achieved back-to-back wins. The Steelers are the only team to have done so twice. The only teams to have appeared in multiple Super Bowls without losing one are the Baltimore Ravens.

Numerous teams have gone many years without a Super Bowl appearance, let alone a victory. The New York Jets won the 1968 game and have yet to be back. The Buffalo Bills appeared in their fourth consecutive Super Bowl in January, 1994, and have failed to return since. Four NFL teams have never appeared in the Super Bowl, including the Cleveland Browns, which suspended play in 1995 when the team moved to Baltimore as the Ravens. The Browns returned to NFL play in 1999. The Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans have also never appeared in a Super Bowl.

The History of the Super Bowl
This Coca-Cola commercial featuring Mean Joe Greene actually aired months before the Super Bowl made it famous. Wikimedia

18. Advertising costs for the Super Bowl have increased every year

For the first Super Bowl, the cost of a thirty-second television advertising spot averaged $37,500 (about $292,000 today). By the first decade of the 21st century, the cost for a 30-second spot broadcast during the game exceeded $5 million. Those costs don’t include those for the production of the spots to be broadcast. At the same time, advertising costs for spots during regular season featured games, such as Sunday Night Football, were well below $1 million for a thirty-second spot. Clearly, the Super Bowl’s consistently high ratings, as well as the relatively newly developed habit of remaining in one’s seat in anticipation of a commercial’s entertainment value, allow for the high advertising rates.

There has been a pushback in more recent years, with several formerly highly visible advertisers abandoning the Super Bowl broadcast entirely. Among them were Pepsi (which later returned), General Motors, Dr. Pepper, and Apple Computer. Some advertisers shifted their focus to the extensive (some would say exhaustive) pregame coverage, which has driven up rates for those spots in recent years. Several companies which once advertised during the Super Bowl no longer exist, such as Plymouth and Pontiac, or barely exist, such as Radio Shack. RJ Reynolds advertised cigarettes during Super Bowls I and II, before cigarette advertising became banned from television.

The History of the Super Bowl
When the Green Bay Packers visited USS Nimitz in the Arabian Sea in 2011, they brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy with them, allowing sailors to pose for pictures. US Navy

19. The Vince Lombardi Trophy was designed on a cocktail napkin

In 1966, Oscar Riedner, the president of Tiffany and Company, had a lunch meeting with Pete Rozelle. During the meeting, Riedner sketched a trophy on a cocktail napkin, the design of which Rozelle instantly approved. The original trophy, awarded to Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi after his team won the first Super Bowl, was manufactured by Tiffany’s in Newark. The trophy has been manufactured by Tiffany and Company ever since, though at different facilities over the years. The early trophies included the words “World Professional Football Championship”. Lombardi won the first two. After his death in 1970, the NFL named the trophy in his honor. The first team to receive the newly named Lombardi Trophy was the Baltimore Colts, on January 17, 1971.

Since the late 1990s, the trophy has been awarded in a presentation following the game, with it being delivered to the owner of the winning team, usually accompanied by the head coach, the game’s Most Valuable Player, and other luminaries. That didn’t happen in 1971. The MVP for the game, in which the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys, was Chuck Howley. Howley represents the only time a member of the losing team won the MVP award in Super Bowl history. Howley refused to accept the award, though it was not redesignated for another player. It was the first time the Super Bowl MVP went to a defensive player as well.

The History of the Super Bowl
President Reagan did the coin toss for the 1985 Super Bowl via television from the White House. Wikimedia

20. Another network didn’t broadcast the Super Bowl until 1985

On January 20, 1985, ABC broke the long-standing grip of NBC and CBS on Super Bowl television broadcasts. The network had been airing professional football on its Monday Night Football broadcasts for fifteen years before it had the opportunity to do the Super Bowl. Frank Gifford did the play-by-play, supported by Don Meredith and Joe Theismann. During the pregame coverage, hosted by Al Michaels and Jim Lampley, O. J. Simpson provided analysis. Howard Cosell did not take part in the broadcasts, having largely retired. ABC provided closed captioning during the game, its first appearance in the annual event. The game took place in Stanford Stadium, giving a real home team advantage to the San Francisco 49ers.

Ronald Reagan was inaugurated for his second term in office the same day. Reagan took the oath in a private ceremony in the White House, since January 20th occurred on a Sunday. The following day, the traditional ceremonies and celebrations took place. After being inaugurated, Reagan appeared in a telecast from the White House and tossed the coin at the outset of the game. Presidential appearances at the Super Bowl have been a feature of the broadcast ever since, though in varying degrees. A television audience of such size is irresistible to politicians.

The History of the Super Bowl
Dallas won the 1994 Super Bowl, the last broadcasting assignment for NBC”s OJ Simpson. Wikimedia

21. The same network broadcast the Super Bowl two years in a row twice

CBS broadcast Super Bowl I and II in 1967 and 1968. In 1993 and 1994 NBC broadcast back-to-back games, as part of a resolution of a contract dispute. It was, to date, the only time the game has been broadcast by a single network for two consecutive years. It also marked the last appearance during a professional football game by O. J. Simpson, who worked it as a sideline reporter. Within months, Simpson faced charges of murdering his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. The game itself, between the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys, proved competitive during the first half. Buffalo led at halftime, but failed to score in the second half and lost 30-13.

Fox Sports displaced CBS in the rotation following the 1996 season. NBC lost broadcasting rights for a time, before reclaiming them, displacing ABC from the rotation. Since 2007, the game has alternated between CBS, NBC, and Fox. Regardless of which network the game is scheduled for in any given year, the upcoming Super Bowl is hyped during entertainment broadcasting, sports broadcasting, and by the local affiliates associated with each network. The Super Bowl is a cash cow for the broadcasters, and it is exploited to the maximum possible effect.

The History of the Super Bowl
All Super Bowl footballs are made by Wilson in Ada, Ohio. Associated Press

22. Super Bowl footballs are hand made by Wilson

For each team playing in the Super Bowl, 108 footballs are provided. Half of the footballs are intended for practice sessions, the other 54 for the game. Each are hand-crafted and stitched by workers at Wilson’s factory in Ada, Ohio, though some stitches are assisted by sewing machines. Laces are tied by hand. The attention to detail surrounding the Super Bowl is by no means limited to the balls used. Players are given perks throughout the week leading up to the game, including loaner cars (usually from local car dealers). Fans aren’t so lucky. The average ticket price for the Super Bowl has reached well over $4,000, and they continue to go up.

Family and friends of the players also receive numerous perks, including comped meals and hotel rooms, and access to exclusive events, away from the public. Corporate-sponsored parties allow some access to fans but at a cost of hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Even the coin used for the ceremonial pregame coin toss is specially minted, different for each game, by the Highland Mint. Replicas of the coin can be purchased online. Besides becoming a de facto part of the American holiday season, the Super Bowl over the years has become a clear representation of conspicuous consumption, whether of the bowl of guacamole or expensive champagne in a luxury suite at the stadium. All indications are the game’s popularity will continue to grow, with some speculation of it one day being played in London’s Wembley Stadium.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The History of the Super Bowl”. Robert Fleegler, The American Historian. Online

“Super Bowl Halftime Show Performances: A Timeline”. Elias Leight and Staff, Billboard Magazine. January 31, 2020

“The AFL-NFL Merger and the Birth of the Super Bowl”. Jim Weathersby, The Sports Historian. February 3, 2017. Online

“Jets Shock Colts in Super Bowl, 16-7”. Dave Brady, The Washington Post. January 13, 1969

“Mardi Gras parades will pause for Super Bowl XLVII”. Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune. February 7, 2012

“How ‘I’m going to Disney World!’ Began as post-Super Bowl Slogan”. Avianne Tan, ABC News. February 3, 2016

“A Brief History of Super Bowl Commercials”. Video, The Wall Street Journal. Online

“The History of Super Bowl Betting”. Jim Hall, Best US Casinos. January 1, 2021. Online

“Be careful with the phrase ‘Super Bowl’ in marketing; NFL has the trademark”. Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune. September 23, 2017

“Debunking those Super Bowl Myths”. Keely Brown, Summit Daily (Colorado). January 31, 2008

“Super Bowl Stadiums”. Article, Pro Football Hall of Fame. Online

“The Super Bowl’s Lucky White Uniforms”. Chris Creamer, February 2, 2020

“For the first time ever, Super Bowl I will be re-aired on television”. Announcement, NFL Communications. Online

“A Brief History of NFL Blackouts”. Al Yellon, SBNation. September 14, 2010. Online

“Ranking All 52 Super Bowls”. Elliot Harrison, Online

“Super Bowl Commercials 2020: How much does an ad cost for Super Bowl 54?” James Crabtree-Hannigan, The Sporting News. February 2, 2020

“Tiffany’s Timeless Super Bowl Trophy Design”. Anthony DeMarco, Forbes Magazine. January 29, 2017

“Reagan’s Second Inauguration”. Article, The White House Historical Society. Online

“Everything you need to know about the footballs that will be used in Super Bowl XLVIII”. Tim Newcomb, Sports Illustrated. January 27, 2014

“Should the NFL hold a Super Bowl in London?” Andrew Joseph, USA Today. May 1, 2018

“When the World Series brought America to a Standstill” Larry Holzwarth, History Collection. February 15, 2022