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First impressions

There was little to distinguish Super Bowl I from any other game, except the fact it was shown by two networks

February 01, 2007|David Davis | Special to the Times

"Incidentally, I hate that name -- Super Bowl.

I wish you guys would change it to THE Bowl."

-- Vince Lombardi

in the L.A. Times, Dec. 19, 1966


What if they played a Super Bowl and the nation shrugged?

That was the case 40 years ago, when the Green Bay Packers met the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in the game that became known as Super Bowl I. Although NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle instituted a television blackout throughout Southern California, the Coliseum didn't come close to selling out.

"The people in Los Angeles didn't attend because they didn't see it as a big game," said NFL Films President Steve Sabol, who was a cameraman that day. "Super Bowl I was considered a sideshow, an afterthought."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football: In Thursday's Sports section, a chart comparing Sunday's Super Bowl with the NFL-AFL championship game in 1967 carried a note indicating that the Super Bowl alternates among ESPN, CBS, NBC and Fox. ESPN does not air the Super Bowl.

As Vince Lombardi's Packers battled Hank Stram's Chiefs, another historic first was occurring at the Coliseum. Two national television networks, NBC and CBS, simultaneously broadcast the game -- the only time that has occurred at a major sports championship.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to compare and contrast the two networks' styles because neither preserved a full-length copy of the telecast. Highlights have survived, but no videotaped, kinescoped, or bootlegged version has ever been unearthed. Rumors that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who owned one of the earliest personal video-recording systems, had a private tape proved unfounded.

"It's a shame we don't have both telecasts," NBC announcer Charlie Jones said. "It would be great fun to go back and watch the game again."

Said CBS announcer Pat Summerall: "I still can't believe that no one has found a copy. That's what the networks and the NFL thought of the game -- they didn't think it was going to amount to anything."

Sports Illustrated has dubbed the broadcast one of sports' "25 Lost Treasures," and estimates its value at more than $1 million.

"It's the holy grail," said collector Doak Ewing, president of Naperville, Ill.-based Rare Sportsfilms. "It's the most desirable broadcast because it's the first Super Bowl."

TV and pro football

The ascendancy of professional football in the 1960s has long been attributed to television. Beginning with NBC's broadcast of the 1958 championship game between the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants, known as the "Greatest Game Ever Played," football and TV have been as well-matched as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, NBC's popular news-anchor team, were in the '60s.

"Football has something from the playground, from the chessboard, from the ballet, from combat," Sabol said. "It's a celebration of the things that form the pillars of our society -- entertainment, celebrity, noise, violence."

In 1960, the formation of the American Football League challenged the NFL's supremacy. To the old guard, the AFL was a pass-happy league with more flash than depth. Many pundits believed that the AFL's survival was due only to its lucrative TV contracts, first with ABC and then with NBC, which enabled the league to outbid the NFL for quarterback Joe Namath and other collegiate stars.

"Most people connected to the NFL didn't think too much of the AFL," Summerall said. "It was considered an outlaw league that wasn't any good."

In the era before YouTube and TiVo -- and before the ESPN-ification of sports media -- television and sports moved slowly into the modern age. Innovations such as slow-motion instant replay and satellite technology, however, began to allow for more sophisticated broadcasts. Sports properties such as the Olympics and pro football became valuable commodities for advertising and television executives alike.

In 1962, CBS outbid NBC for the broadcast rights to the NFL. In 1965, NBC paid a then-whopping $36.5 million to beat out ABC for the AFL.

In 1966, the seemingly unthinkable happened: The AFL and the NFL agreed to merge. The two leagues, which continued with separate schedules until 1970, decided to match their champions in a championship playoff game.

The offspring of the just-consummated merger needed a name, and Rozelle originally called it "The AFL-NFL World Championship Game." Later, Chiefs owner and AFL co-founder Lamar Hunt dubbed the game "the Super Bowl." Hunt's version prevailed with sportswriters and, eventually, the public and Rozelle.

Rozelle thought the game should be played at a neutral site with warm weather. As a graduate of Compton High and Compton Junior College -- and as the former general manager of the Los Angeles Rams -- Rozelle knew the Southern California market. The Rams were a popular draw -- the team held the NFL's single-game attendance record -- and the Coliseum, which could then seat more than 100,000, had long been the site of the Pro Bowl, the league's postseason All-Star game.

In early December, just weeks before kickoff, Rozelle announced that the championship game would be played Jan. 15 at the Coliseum (with the Pro Bowl scheduled the week after). Tickets were priced at $12, $10 and $6.

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