Super Bowl History
The Super Bowl is one of the most popular annual sporting events in the world, as each year, around 100 million people watch the big game. The contest itself goes back many years and wasn’t always the culmination of the NFL season. Read below to learn about the history of the Super Bowl.
NFL Championships before the Super Bowl
The first National Football League (NFL) season was held in 1920 but was then known as the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The league name was changed to the NFL in 1922. From 1920 to 1932, the overall winner of the NFL was determined by win-loss percentage during the regular season. The first NFL champion was the Akron Pros, who went 8-0-3.
In 1933, the NFL created two separate divisions. From then until 1949, these divisions were the Western Division and the Eastern Division. From 1950 to 1952 it was the American Conference and the National Conference, and, from 1953 to 1969, it was the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Regardless, the winner of each division or conference would then play in the NFL Championship. The Chicago Bears beat the New York Giants 23-21 in that first division-based Championship.
Despite its success, the NFL faced a stiff competitor throughout the 1960s. The American Football League (AFL) was founded by Lamar Hunt in July of 1959 and challenged NFL supremacy. The league featured eight teams, three of which were in NFL cities. The AFL also had enough financial support to grab top college athletes like Joe Namath in 1965. Due to the league’s growing success, the NFL and AFL agreed to hold an NFL-AFL Championship for the 1966 football season, which would become known as the “Super Bowl.”
The First Super Bowl
The Green Bay Packers of the NFL won the first two official Super Bowls in blowout fashion over their AFL competition. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl on January 15, 1967, and then they took down the Oakland Raiders 33-14 the following year.
The AFL-related fate of the Super Bowl was changed by Super Bowl III. The 1969 Super Bowl featured the AFL’s New York Jets and NFL’s Baltimore Colts. Baltimore was 13-1 during the regular season, had league MVP Earl Morrall, and was expected to dominate its AFL counterpart just like the two years prior. In fact, the Colts were 18-point favorites against the Jets. However, then New York quarterback Joe Namath famously guaranteed his team would win the ball game.
On January 12, 1969, the Jets pulled off arguably the greatest upset in American sports history, defeating the Colts 16-7. New York thus became the first AFL team to win the Super Bowl and thus proved the league could be just as good, if not better, than the NFL. Then the following season, the AFL’s Chiefs defeated the NFL’s Vikings. As a result, the AFL and NFL officially merged into one league for the 1970 season. To this day, the Super Bowl features the winner of the AFC versus the winner of the NFC.
The Super Bowl Today
The Super Bowl has evolved from just a normal game to the biggest annual American sporting event. The first Super Bowl didn’t even sell out, and since the game was played in Los Angeles, the game was blacked out in the L.A. area per league rules. The average price of a ticket for the first Super Bowl was $12. For Super Bowl LVI between the L.A. Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, the average cost was $10,000.
Nowadays, the championship game is shown on one network, but for only the first Super Bowl, the contest was featured on both NBC and CBS, combining for around 50 million TV viewers. The game’s ratings have also gone up steadily over time, peaking with over 114 million people watching Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.
Super Bowl Key Facts and Timeline
- 1920: First NFL season
- 1933: The Chicago Bears beat the New York Giants in the first NFL Championship
- 1960: First AFL season
- 1966: Super Bowl is created, pitting the NFL champion vs. the AFL champion
- 1967: The NFL’s Green Bay Packers beat the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl
- 1969: The game is officially called the “Super Bowl,” and Roman numerals are first used
- 1969: The AFL’s New York Jets beat the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III
- 1970: The AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs beat the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV
- 1970: NFL and AFL officially merge; the Super Bowl becomes NFC vs. AFC
- 1980: The Pittsburgh Steelers win their fourth Super Bowl of the decade
- 2002: Tom Brady wins his first Super Bowl
- 2017: The New England Patriots comeback from 25 points down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime in Super Bowl history
When Was The First Super Bowl?
The first Super Bowl was held on January 15, 1967 between the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers started slow but ended up destroying the Chiefs 35-10. Green Bay Quarterback Bart Starr was named the game’s MVP with 250 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
How Many Super Bowls Have There Been?
There have been 56 Super Bowls to date. The 57th game is scheduled to take place on February 12, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are both tied for the NFL record of six Super Bowl wins.