GUEST COLUMN ON SUPER BOWL'S 50th ANNIVERSARY: AN EVENT THAT'S SUPER IN MORE WAYS THAN l
By BERNIE FRATTO Special to Norm Clarke's Vegas Diary
It’s been over 120 years since German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined his famous phrase; “Out of chaos, comes order.” Clearly, he must have been talking about the National Football League and a particular Sunday that happens only once a year. And as anyone can tell you, it’s become an international event that is beyond Super…
It wasn’t always this way; in fact its origin is somewhat accidental if not unintentional.
The first ever AFL-NFL Championship game was played on Sunday January 15, 1967 -- 50 years ago today. The biggest concern was how badly Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers would whip the upstart Kansas City Chiefs. Lombardi had called the AFL a ‘Mickey Mouse League’ and fittingly, the inaugural game was played just down the road from Disneyland at the LA Coliseum.
Tickets were $12 apiece and they ended up giving away hordes of them just to beef up attendance. Unfortunately, even that effort was somewhat fruitless; there were still over 30,000 empty seats at game time!
The game wasn’t yet called The Super Bowl, in fact that name wouldn’t appear anywhere until Super Bowl IV. For the record 1970 was the first time they actually printed the words ‘Super Bowl’ on the game tickets.
FIRST, SOME HISTORY
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s take a trip down memory lane, all the way back to the early 1960’s.
The year was 1964 and a war was raging between the AFL and NFL. The newer sleeker AFL was bucking the long established stodgy NFL and in their quest for respect, they engaged in a bidding war for talent.
The war had been intense for the better part of four years, but it became more extreme when the AFL scored a victory as a court issued a ruling in favor of the Houston Oilers over the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. This was a case that required a legally binding final decision after both clubs had signed the highly touted Billy Cannon, the Heisman Trophy winner from LSU.
The AFL prevailed.
The stakes continued to elevate for college talent and sky-high bonuses became reality when the AFL’s New York Jets signed Alabama quarterback Joe Namath to a $400,000 contract in 1965!
Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Falcons doled out $600,000 to Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis and the Green Bay Packers ponied up $711,000 to Texas Tech running back Donny Anderson!
But the straw that broke the camel’s back happened when Buffalo placekicker Pete Gogolak signed with the New York Giants after playing out his option with the Buffalo Bills in 1965. The “no-tampering” code had officially been violated and the clash finally reached a pinnacle.
ENTER AL DAVIS
On April 7, 1966 AFL Commissioner Joe Foss, who had done his best to act as a peacemaker, resigned. Enter the ultimate Maverick and GM of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis. He assumed the reigns as commissioner of the AFL and his hawkish presence coupled with a clever game plan, would ultimately create history.
Al Davis organized an AFL War Chest and urged owners to start collaborating with the stated intent of raiding NFL stars. The NFL had always bragged of its superiority largely due to the number of star quarterbacks the league boasted, and Davis wanted a full-scale effort to sign those quarterbacks for the AFL.
True to form, his Raiders pilfered QB Roman Gabriel from the LA Rams, and the Houston Oilers got San Francisco 49er QB John Brodie to agree to a 5-year deal. Within days, eight NFL quarterbacks began dickering with the AFL to see what they could get!
By early June 1966, the NFL relented. Less than two months after he became commissioner, Al Davis got what he really wanted… a merger deal between the AFL and the NFL.
Although the actual merger wouldn’t consummate until 1971, there were many implementations that took place right away. A common draft was established in 1967, inter-league preseason play began that fall, and three years later, regular season contests combining the leagues, commenced.
But, most importantly, the immediate establishment of a championship game between the AFL and NFL was formed. It would be called the AFL-NFL Championship game.
A GAME WITH A NICE RING TO IT
The AFL-NFL Championship had a drab ring to it, and there is much conjecture as to how the actual name ‘Super Bowl’ was born. One popular story has to do with a high-level executive scratching his head at home one weekend while trying to come up with a catchy title, when he noticed his son bouncing a ‘Super Ball,’ a famous toy from the 60’s. Others dismiss this story as apocryphal.
Common belief is that an un-named sportswriter coined the moniker one day out of nowhere and it stuck.
Fortunately for professional football and its legion of fans, this is one story that has a very happy ending. Roman Gabriel never went to the Raiders. John Brodie never left the 49ers, but he did manage to procure a $1,000,000 dollar settlement. Meanwhile, Al Davis resigned as commissioner of the AFL 30 days after the merger.
And for the rest of us, the Super Bowl has become a happy event in almost every way. The parties, the stories, the office pools and the celebrations have combined to make Super Bowl Sunday a virtual National Holiday.
And of course there’s game itself!
Nietzsche was right. For one Sunday every year, The Super Bowl has become the order of the day.