On this day 49 years ago,
the Green Bay Packers met the Kansas City Chiefs in Los Angeles, California in a “new” contest that would later be known as the Super Bowl. The photo above is from the souvenir program of that game (©NFL). Here are some fun facts from Harvey Frommer’s 2015 book, When It Was Just A Game: Remembering The First Super Bowl.
- As this contest was the first between two separate leagues, these two teams had never played one another. The NFL was the much older, established league and the AFL, while successful in its own right, was considered by many to be the upstarts. Even though this game was part of the process of merging the two leagues into the NFL that we know today, there was intense pressure placed upon Lombardi by the football establishment to be sure his NFL Packers would defeat the AFL Chiefs.
- Before this game, CBS had the rights to broadcast NFL games and NBC covered the AFL games. For this broadcast, both networks broadcast the game separately (although NBC shared the CBS video feed of the game itself). There was intense pressure between the two networks just as there was between the teams.
- The two leagues used slightly different brands of footballs, and during this game, the officials had to remember to switch to the correct type of ball each time possession changed (the book didn’t mention if they had to re-inflate the balls).
- According to one source in the book, the Kansas City Chiefs were so nervous about meeting Green Bay that some of the players were throwing up and wetting their pants in the chute before they took the field.
- Over 30,000 seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum were empty for this game. People in Los Angeles didn’t know what to make of this contest, and while ticket prices seem cheap by todays’ standards ($12), they were much more expensive than an ordinary pro ball game.
- The folks in charge of putting on this game had less than three weeks to organize ticket sales, promote the event, arrange for officials, transportation, housing, souvenirs, entertainment, etc. Nowadays those plans are made over a couple years before each Super Bowl. Given that short timeframe, one source in the book describes how happy they were with the size of the crowd: final count was 63,036.
Vince Lombardi, legendary for instilling team discipline, kept the Packers in Santa Barbara — about two hours away from Los Angeles — in the days leading up to the game. He didn’t want them to be tainted in any way by whatever Hollywood media hullabaloo might be going on in Los Angeles.
- Celebrities at the game included Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Chuck Connors, Danny Thomas, Walter Cronkite, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson. Ten astronauts attended.
- Halftime show featured trumpeter Al Hirt and the Pride of Arizona marching band playing “The Sound Of Music.”
- Packers won, 35-10. While the attendance at the Coliseum wasn’t that great, it immediately became the most watched TV sporting event ever. Advertisers noticed.
In the summary chapter, Morrison writes: The Super Bowl has evolved into the grandest, grossest, gaudiest annual one-day spectacle in the annals of American sports and culture – incredibly spun off the game that was played on January 15, 1967, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — a game that, for a time, lacked a name, a venue, and an identity, and a game that didn’t even sell out.”
I’ve been ranting in this blog about the hype over the upcoming Super Bowl 50, and if you’ve read any of those posts you know that I don’t think of the Feb 7 game in San Francisco to be any more significant than any previous game. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that the first of these contests back in 1967, rough around the edges and all, has certainly changed the American sports and television industries. I’ll give ’em that.
Thanks for reading! I recommend this book.
Frommer, Harvey. Forward by Frank Gifford. When It Was Just A Game: Remembering The First Super Bowl. Taylor Trade Publishing. Lanham MD. © 2015. 301 pages.