Every day there are fewer and fewer people alive who can say they've been around for every Super Bowl, the 47th of which will kick off in a few hours. I'm happy to be one of them and, obviously, I hope I'm still able to say that when Super Bowl LXX rolls around.
The first Super Bowl wasn't even called the "Super Bowl." On January 15, 1967, the champions of the National Football League - Green Bay - and the champions of the American Football League - Kansas City - met in what was called "The AFL-NFL World Championship Game." In 1966, the two rival leagues had agreed to a merger, but the entity wouldn't become a single league until the start of the 1970 season. In the meantime, they would operate as separate leagues, but would each send a representative to this new-fangled "Championship Game."
(Some time later, the story goes, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's young daughter was playing with a toy known as a "Super Ball." Rozelle heard the name of the toy, and decided the championship game would be known as the "Super Bowl." If you go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, you can see young Ms. Rozelle's Super Ball on display.)
What I remember most is that the game was broadcast on two channels. CBS (Channel 4 in the Twin Cities) had the NFL broadcast rights, while NBC (at that time Channel 5) had the AFL rights. With no agreement in place, both networks decided to carry the game, and 10-year-old Tim Droogsma thought it was great fun to switch back and forth between channels and see the exact same thing happen from different camera angles. (Though I had to kneel in front of the TV and manually turn a knob to change the channel, remote controls having not yet been invented. Yes, kids, I'm THAT old.)
That sort of dual-track approach applied to a number of aspects to the game. When Kansas City had the ball, they used the AFL football, made by Spalding, and when the Packers had the ball, the NFL football, manufactured by Wilson, was put in play. The officiating crew was partly NFL refs, partly AFL.
It was close for a while, but the Packers eventually pulled away. Played at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the game wasn't even a sellout.
Over the years, of course, the NFL's popularity exploded, as did that of the Super Bowl, which grew to become the global event it is today. I can't say that I've watched every minute of every game, but I've certainly watched parts of every one. The only one I attended in person was Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, at the Metrodome. A friend arranged for me to work for UPI that week, so media credentials got me into good parties - I met both Donald Trump (with Marla Maples on his arm) and Jill Goodacre that week - and on Sunday I was assigned the job of writing the story on whomever was selected as the game's MVP. The Washington Redskins trounced Buffalo, and midway through the 3rd quarter Washington led 24-0 and it was obvious that Redskins QB Mark Rypien would be the MVP. The story practically wrote itself, and all I had to do was plug in a couple post-game quotes. The halftime show included Dorothy Hamill skating little circles on some synthetic ice, and Gloria Estefan doing some singing. I sometimes still wear my Super Bowl XXVI sweatshirt, much to my family's chagrin.
But what I've grown to love about the Super Bowl is not so much the game itself as it is the spectacle of it all. I see the Super Bowl as a celebration of everything American. Sure, other nations can compete with us in baseball or basketball or hockey, but football is the uniquely American game. And when the Super Bowl rolls around, 110 million or so of us sit down to watch in the closest thing we have to a communal national event. We eat tons of nachos, drink oceans of beer, wager millions of dollars and watch to enjoy the commercials as much as the game. It's the ultimate example of wretched American excess, and I love every minute of it.
Everything is overdone, from the multi-hour pre-game shows to the gaudy player introductions to the coin flip, and I take great joy in all of it. When they roll out the big flag, strike up the anthem and the flyover comes roaring by (the effect of which is somewhat diminished when the game is played in a dome, as it is this year), I'm not ashamed to say I choke up for a moment. The Super Bowl is America's moment, doggone it, and while the Chinese are buying up our economy, the Japanese and Koreans make better cars than Detroit and we still need to import most of our great hockey players from Canada and Europe, none of them have anything to compare to the Super Bowl. It's our day, our moment, and it trumps your World Cups, Grey Cups, Tours de France and everything else put together.