A Third Excerpt From the Book: “When It Was Just a Game”

By Harvey Frommer, Contributor
January 4, 2016 8:59 pm Last Updated: January 4, 2016 8:59 pm

With Number 50 – almost upon us, it seems like looking back on the mythic, epic, historic first one is in order. My latest labor of love When It Was Just a Game has been getting lots of exposure. Here for your reading enjoyment is just a piece of the action:

One of Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s suggestions for the name of the new game was “The Big One.” That name never caught on. “Pro Bowl” was another Rozelle idea. Had the name been adopted there would have been confusion, for that was the name used for the NFL’s All-Star Game. Another name floated was “World Series of Football,” which died quickly after being deemed too imitative of baseball’s Fall Classic.

There was no Super Bowl Committee, which some said was part of the problem. There was also a game that had no location and no name. That, too, was part of the problem.

It was Rozelle’s idea to call the contest the AFL–NFL World Championship Game. While the name was made official, it never took off . It was too cumbersome, a mouthful, no good for newspaper headlines.

BOYD DOWLER: We thought it was kind of funny they called it the Super Bowl; that was a feature of the media more than anybody else. But the AFL–NFL Championship Bowl Game, yeah, that’s a lot more words than necessary. Super Bowl is a lot more practical.

Vince Lombardi, coach of the NFL champions the Green Bay Packers worries his team through to a 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 2, 1967 in Green Bay. The Packers now move into the Super Bowl game against Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. (AP Photo)
Vince Lombardi, coach of the NFL champions the Green Bay Packers worries his team through to a 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 2, 1967 in Green Bay. The Packers now move into the Super Bowl game against Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. (AP Photo)

SHARON HUNT: The name AFL–NFL Championship Game was too unwieldy, hard to get straight.

Two days after the hullabaloo about the merger, New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley wrote about what the future had in store: the “new super duper football game for what amounts to the championship of the world.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on September 4, 1966, that the game was being “referred to by some as the Super Bowl.”

The New York Times sports section’s lead story that same day headlined, “NFL Set to Open Season That Will End in Super Bowl.”

A week later, the Washington Post reported, “The brash upstarts who will tackle Goliath in professional football’s ultimate production, a highly appealing ‘Super Bowl’ that promises extra pizzazz at seasons’ end.”

LAMAR HUNT JR: My parents got divorced, and my dad would come over and pick us up. And I remember showing him the Super Ball, the “Whammy” super ball, and saying, “Hey look, this will bounce over the house, this ball.”

You know my dad was not going to be preoccupied with toys that were given to children. You know, he might have bounced the ball. We just remember demonstrating it.

But then what happened going forward is my dad was in an owner’s meeting. They were trying to figure out what to call the last game, the championship game. I don’t know if he had the ball with him, as some reports suggest.

My dad said, “Well, we need to come up with a name, something like the “Super Bowl.”

And then he said, “Actually, that’s not a very good name. We can come up with something better.”

But “Super Bowl” stuck in the media and word of mouth. It kind of came out of my dad’s mouth. What do you want to call it? Power of suggestion or just an idea or whatever, it stuck. And the inspiration was that Super Ball. I feel blessed to be the son of guy who really came up with the name.

BILL MCNUTT III: I became very close friends with the Hunt children. We would go over to Dallas, and I would play with that ball with them. We were just amazed at this ball. It was the most popular toy of its day.

The Wham-O Super Ball was introduced in 1965. Invented by Norm Stingley, a chemical engineer at the Bettis Rubber Company in Whittier, California, the ball was made of Zectron. The “Super Ball” could bounce six times higher than any regular rubber ball. Millions were sold, and it remained a craze through the 1960s.

PAUL ZIMMERMAN: The National Football League hierarchy frowned on the term “Super Bowl,” but the fans and the media liked it and used it, and Super Bowl would become the name to represent professional football’s championship game.

SHARON HUNT: It was something else that a toy a child was playing with could have inspired the name.

JERRY IZENBERG: The afternoon of the merger, the switchboard rang at the NFL offices, and the guy said, “I want 20 tickets for the title game.”

They said, “We don’t even know where it’s going to be.”

And he said, “I don’t care, I want to buy it right now!”

(Autographed, mint, discounted copies of WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME are available direct from the author)

Written by acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an introduction by pro football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, When It Was Just a Game tells the fascinating story of the ground-breaking AFL–NFL World Championship Football game played on January 15, 1967: Packers vs. Chiefs. Filled with new insights, containing commentary from the unpublished memoir of Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram, featuring oral history from many who were at the game—media, players, coaches, fans—the book is mainly in the words of those who lived it and saw it go on to become the Super Bowl, the greatest sports attraction the world has ever known. Archival photographs and drawings help bring the event to life.

Dr. Harvey Frommer is in his 40th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 43 sports books including the classics: best-selling New York City Baseball, 1947-1957 and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. He also authored the acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park. The prolific Frommer is working on “the Ultimate Yankee book” to be published in 2017.