I wrote about the NFL a few weeks ago, and normally I try to keep columns on the same general topic, especially nonpolitical subjects, pretty well spaced. But this is probably a good year to write about an annual American celebration not recognized in any of the list of formal holidays — Super Bowl Sunday.
I’m actually old enough to remember the first Super Bowl, or as it was formally known then, the NFL-AFL Championship Game, which, like this year’s game, took place in Los Angeles (but at the Coliseum), following the merger of the National Football League with its upstart rival, the American Football League.
Super Bowl I took place in January 1967 between the NFL’s heavily favored Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, and the
AFL contender, Hank Stram’s Kansas City Chiefs. Rather amazingly the inaugural Super Bowl was not a sellout and was broadcast by both CBS and NBC. While the Chiefs kept the halftime score close at 14-10, the Packers roared to an expected easy victory, 35-10.
Of course, the early Super Bowl game that is remembered in this area was in January 1969, when the New York Jets, who were 19 ½ point underdogs, convincingly defeated the Baltimore Colts in Miami by a 16-7 score. Famously, Jets quarterback Joe Namath had “guaranteed” victory by the Jets in an interview, and he was as good as his word. It also meant that the American Football League had achieved parity with its rival league.
Of course, there have been games played in every year since the first Super Bowl, The New York Giants have won four Super Bowls (1987, 1991, 2008 and 2012) in five appearances. Probably most remembered was the 2008 game, in which the Giants managed to defeat the New England Patriots, who came into the game with a 19-0 record in the regular season and playoffs. The Giants’ 17-14 victory featured a miraculous fourth quarter catch by David Tyree who managed to snare a pass by Eli Manning by pressing the ball against his helmet.
The Super Bowl has clearly gotten way beyond football. For example, a number of viewers are as interested in the commercials (some of which are first run) as the game itself. Super Bowl parties are ubiquitous, featuring such cuisines as chicken wings and chili. The halftime show features major performers (and occasional controversies, like the one involving Janet Jackson in 2004). Most office and many bars have “squares” betting pools, based on the last digit of the score at various points in the game.
A number of factors make this upcoming game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals particularly noteworthy, and in my view worth writing about. This goes beyond that the Bengals have an opportunity to win their first Super Bowl ever.
For one thing, this year’s game will be played before a full house (although masks in theory will be required), after a season that was only occasionally slowed down by the Covid virus, a welcome change from the previous year.
Second, this will also be the first year in many places, including New York State, where sports betting on handheld phones will be permitted, and many bettors will be trying their luck both on the games as well as on “proposition” bets like the team to win the opening coin toss.
Finally, the game is the culmination of what has to be the most exciting series of playoff games in the history of the NFL. The last two rounds had one game after another that went down to the last minute, and often to the last play. As an aside, fans of the Buffalo Bills will never understand why they didn’t execute a squib kick with 13 seconds to go.
In any event, Super Bowl Sunday is a wonderful American tradition, and I very much hope that the game lives up to the festive nature of the day.