Golden Super Bowl now grown up from modest beginning

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 30, 2016 2:16 PM

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - The stadium had 33,000 empty seats, tickets for the game went for a top price of $12 and college marching bands supplied most of the entertainment.

No, this was not some minor college football game.

This was the AFL-NFL World Championship, the 1967 origin of the Super Bowl, an event that has become a virtual national holiday in the United States and is celebrating its 50th anniversary game on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

It all began as a showdown between the National Football League and American Football League champions played in Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum, a site announced just six weeks before the Jan. 15 game.

The clash between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs was arranged after an agreement struck the previous June to merge the upstart AFL into the long-established NFL.

By its third installment, it officially became named the Super Bowl, sprung from a suggestion ahead of the first game by Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who got the idea from his children's high-bouncing Super Ball, a popular toy in the day.

The debut pitted the NFL champion Packers, coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi, whose name now graces the Super Bowl trophy, against the AFL-best Kansas City Chiefs, coached by Hank Stram.

Ten future Hall of Famers suited up for Green Bay and four for the Chiefs.

Chiefs linebacker Bobby Bell reflected back on that first Super Bowl, wondering at the time where it would all lead.

"I remember me and (team mate) Buck Buchanan sitting at the game and looking into the stands. Who is going to pay 12 bucks for a ticket?" he told KCTV of Kansas City.

That price tag, coming in at just over $80 in 2015 dollars adjusted for inflation, has risen to $1,200 in face value and an average of about $5,000 apiece for online shoppers.

FESTIVITIES

The new entry on the sporting calendar met with a so-so reaction. It was broadcast by both CBS and NBC, networks that covered the respective leagues, but neither broadcaster elected to save their tapes of the game.

Thirty-second TV ads went for $42,000. This year they cost advertisers $5 million hoping for even more than last year's 114 million U.S. viewers.

Now known for halftime extravaganzas featuring such pop stars as Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, U2 and Beyonce, the inaugural show operated on another level.

Fifty years ago the hoopla was helped along by the Los Angeles Ramettes, majorettes who performed at Rams games, who entertained during pregame festivities and after each quarter.

The halftime show featured trumpeter Al Hirt, marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling State University, the cutting loose of 300 pigeons and 10,000 balloons and a flying demonstration by hydrogen-peroxide propelled Bell Rocket Air Men in 20-second-long, futuristic individual flights.

UNLIKELY HERO

A far cry from the now familiar Media Day frenzy, reporters in 1967 set up interviews with players in their hotel rooms, just as a group of them gathered in Commissioner Pete Rozelle's suite for the first State of the NFL session, long-time sports writer Jerry Izenberg recalled.

Pressure was high on the Packers to prove the longstanding NFL's superiority over the seven-year-old AFL, said Izenberg, author of "Rozelle: A Biography" and one of just two daily newspaper journalists to have covered every Super Bowl.

"'Fellows, we gotta win this game, gotta win this game,' Lombardi barked at players in a meeting," Izenberg, 85, told Reuters, added that the coach underlined his point by setting a massive $10,000 fine for breaking curfew.

That did not deter back-up wide receiver Max McGee, described by Izenberg as "a world champion curfew breaker."

Fellow Packers receiver Bob Long told Milwaukee's FOX6 News that McGee walked into team breakfast on game day with bloodshot eyes.

"He closed the bar with these gals and then went to their place until 7:00 in the morning," former Milwaukee Sentinel reporter Bud Lea piped in.

Not figuring to get into the game, McGee found a spot on the bench and was dozing when receiver Boyd Dowler went down in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and Lombardi yelled for McGee to get into the game.

McGee promptly snared a ball thrown behind him by quarterback Bart Starr, reaching back with one hand to corral it on his way to the end zone for the first Super Bowl touchdown pass. McGee added another TD grab in Green Bay's 35-10 victory.

Long said McGee had left his helmet in the locker room and he lent his to the hungover receiver.

"So that first touchdown Max scored in Super Bowl history, he was wearing my helmet," bragged Long.

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)