January 2015

How the Super Bowl Got Its Name... And other stuff that may or may not be true

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr.

Ready for the big game? Super Bowl XLIX? That’s 49 to you and me. I’d really love to break down the matchup, because then I’d get to channel my inner Jon Gruden and say stuff like, “Offensively this team likes to line up in 82 protection double-A and run the solo left snug pass 94 punch blazer-Z corner two deep, unless the D drops out of Tampa 2 into man coverage, then the QB audibles for a spider 2, Z snag. If he reads a crossdog blitz coming they’ll run the basic 200 jet smoke” But I can’t do that because I’m writing three weeks before the end of the regular season, and we don’t even know who’s in the playoffs yet. I’ll go ahead and make some bold predictions though. First, the Jets will not participate in the Super Bowl…again. But then we knew that by Week 3…of last season. Second, Green Bay will beat New England in Super Bowl XLIX.

How do I know? Easy. This NFL season stinks. Who’s challenging Green Bay in the NFC, Philadelphia? Yeah right, that’s Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Arizona? Nah. Not with Drew Stanton. Dallas? I’ve got three words for you: Tony. Romo. December. Over in the AFC, it’s all New England and Denver (sorry Indy and Cincy, I’m just not feelin’ ya), and we’ve seen what happens to Denver when they play New England.

Audible: At Vegas sports books you can lay down bets on how many times Peyton Manning will shout, “Omaha!” at the line of scrimmage. The over/under was 27.5 in last year’s Super Bowl.

So there’s one guy’s opinion heading into Week 14. We’ll see how it plays out by the time you read this in January. Even if my calls all turn out wrong, you’ve got to agree that the season stunk. Have you ever seen so many lopsided blowouts in one season? How about eight teams with three wins or less in December? How about the NFC South where 5-7 is good enough for first place? Say it with me: C’mon Man! How can we call the championship game for a season like that the Super Bowl? Seems kind of SUPERfluous, don’t you think?

Speaking of that, did you know that the Super Bowl wasn’t supposed to be called the Super Bowl at all? It got the name by accident. In fact, the NFL didn’t officially recognize the name until Super Bowl IV in 1970, although some say it was Super Bowl III in 1969 (the one the Jets won!). The confusion might be due to the fact that “Super Bowl” didn’t show up on game tickets until number IV, but did make its first appearance on the official game program cover for number III (the one the Jets won!). It still wasn’t the official name of the game, though.

The thing is, everybody had been calling it the “Super Bowl” since the first game in 1967 anyway. So what was all the foofaraw about? Let me share with you a little story that may or may not be entirely true, but the NFL is sticking to it in one version or another. It’s a story about two guys who probably never met, but nevertheless remain inextricably linked by a football game, and who together elevated a children’s toy to immortalization in the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Their names are Norman Stingley and Lamar Hunt.

Audible: The face value on a ticket to Super Bowl I was $10. That’s $70.84 in 2014 dollars. The cheapest Super Bowl XLIX ticket costs over $2,000.

Norman Stingley worked for a California rubber company in the early 1960s. Messing around in the lab with materials of his trade, Stingley formed synthetic rubber into a sphere and produced an incredibly bouncy ball. His employers weren’t impressed, but the folks at the Wham-O company sure thought he was on to something. These are the guys who gave us Hula Hoops, Frisbees, Slip ’n’ Slides, Hacky Sacks and about a zillion other awesome toys, none of them electronic. Wham-O took Stingley’s bouncy ball to market, and by 1965, the Super Ball was the hottest toy in America. See where this is going?

Lamar Hunt gets credit for actually coining the name “Super Bowl” though, whether he meant to or not.

Nevertheless, it’s fitting that he’s credited with naming the Super Bowl because Hunt was largely responsible for the Super Bowl’s very existence. In the late 1950s, Hunt tried to secure an NFL franchise to put a team in Dallas. He didn’t get it. So he said, screw it, I’ll start my own league, and teamed up with some other entrepreneurs to form the American Football League (AFL). He also got his team, the Dallas Texans who later became the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL didn’t take kindly to the uppity AFL moving in on their turf, but fans loved it. This was real competition, and the NFL guys knew the only way these two kids were going to play nicely in the sandbox was to merge the two leagues into one. In the meantime, the two leagues agreed that their respective champions would meet for a showdown at the end of the season. See where this is going?

The inaugural game in 1967 was officially the “First AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” Nobody was particularly jazzed about that name except maybe NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Legend has it that Hunt blurted out the words “super bowl” in a planning meeting, later admitting, reportedly, that “Super Ball” had been…well…bouncing around in his head. You see, Hunt’s children were among the millions of kids obsessed with Norman Stingley’s brainchild, and Super Balls were probably whizzing about the Hunt household daily. Rozelle hated “Super Bowl,” though. He thought it undignified and goofy, and insisted on sticking with “World Championship Game.” Even Hunt is said to have told a reporter, “Kinda silly, isn’t it? I’m not proud of it. But nobody’s come up with anything better.”

More food is consumed in the U.S. on Super Bowl Sunday than any day except Thanksgiving.
League officials pondered and puzzled for three years trying to settle on a suitable name, but that game was over before it began. When Hunt uttered those words at that fateful meeting, other committee members picked up on it and bounced it around enough for the media to catch on, then the fans. “Super Bowl” gained momentum like a Super Ball thrown hard against a concrete wall. You’re not going to catch it, so you just get out of the way. Rozelle finally relented, and in 1970, the World Championship Game officially became the Super Bowl forevermore. Fittingly, Hunt’s own Kansas City Chiefs won that game.

In 1972 Lamar Hunt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He went on to a long career in sports as a team owner and promoter in soccer, basketball, hockey, and tennis as well as football until he passed away in 2006. I don’t know what became of Norman Stingley, but the Super Ball is on display at the Hall of Fame’s Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery to this day.

Audible: No Super Bowl game has ever gone to overtime. Neither did this article!

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