Imagine if instead of playing the Super Bowl to conclude each NFL season, they played something called the “Merger Bowl,” “The Game” or the uncreative “AFL-NFL Championship Game.” Would the global phenomenon that is the Super Bowl have become what it is today?
There’s no way to answer that, of course, unless someone out there has time travel and can go back to determine those alternate realities. Almost since the very beginning after the AFL and NFL merged in the 1960s, the NFL championship game has been known as the “Super Bowl.” The NFL itself held out for a couple years, but the league gave in by the third edition and hasn’t wavered in its naming ever since.
Something that feels so consequential and mighty now — say it to yourself in a slow voice with gravitas, the Super Bowl — doesn’t have some crazy origin story. There wasn’t any sort of fancy naming vote or nationwide poll. It was almost only by the power of suggestion that the Super Bowl name got started.
Why is it called the Super Bowl?
When the AFL and NFL merged, that meant they’d have a championship game between the two previously separate leagues. The first was slated for January 1967. At first, it was known just as the AFL-NFL Championship Game.
Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt is regarded as the first who began using the term Super Bowl. It’s got two pretty simples halves to its origin. The “bowl” part was already a popularly game nomenclature at the time for college football, with events like the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl already around for many years. Hunt said later that at the time, he likely got “super” because his kids were playing with a new toy, the Super Ball. Hunt wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1966, saying, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.”
The Kansas City Star newspaper quoted Hunt’s term of “Super Bowl” shortly thereafter, and other media began following suit. The NFL didn’t jump all over it, considering alternatives such as the “Merger Bowl” and simply “The Game,” but apparently no one liked those, either.
By the third Super Bowl, the NFL officially referred to it by that name, and it retroactively marked down the first two AFL-NFL Championship Games, both won by the Packers, as Super Bowls 1 and 2.
When did the Super Bowl start?
Retroactively, the first Super Bowl was played on Jan. 15, 1967. But that game, and the edition that followed in 1968, wasn’t officially known as a “Super Bowl.”
The first two championship games between the AFL and NFL champions were simply known as the “AFL-NFL Championship Game.” But Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt had begun using the term “Super Bowl,” and the media caught wind of it and started to write it, too.
Super Bowl gained enough popularity that by January 1969, the NFL officially called its title game the “Super Bowl.” So as it was happening, Joe Namath and the New York Jets pulled an upset in the “first” Super Bowl, although the league retroactively called the Packers’ titles the two prior years the first two Super Bowls.
Did the Super Bowl have other names?
The Super Bowl was known as the AFL-NFL Championship Game for its first two iterations, in 1967 and 1968. The NFL only began referring to it as the Super Bowl officially in 1969 for what is known retroactively as Super Bowl 3.
Since switching to the Super Bowl name, the NFL has stuck with it for more than 50 years. It’s obviously hugely popular now and would be near-impossible to change without totally baffling the public.
Before the Super Bowl name had fully caught on, the NFL also considered names like the “Merger Bowl” (referring to the AFL and NFL’s merger) and the simple name of “The Game.” Maybe “The Game” would’ve grown in popularity just like “Super Bowl,” but it’s probably best that the league didn’t go with “Merger Bowl.”
Super Bowl winners by year
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