Book Excerpt: ‘When It Was Just a Game’
This is a well-executed retelling of the game and its surroundings from all points of view: officials, coaches, players, the media, and even fans. Among the narrative’s best parts are the late Stram’s detailed recollections from an unpublished manuscript made available to the author from Stram’s son. Verdict: Consistently fascinating, this book will appeal to all football fans.—Library Journal
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 was floated “World Series of Football.” That died quickly. It was deemed too imitative of baseball’s Fall Classic.
There was no Super Bowl Committee. That some said was part of the problem. There was also a game that had no location that had no name. That, too, was part of the problem.
That name for the game was official; however, 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.
SHARON HUNT: The name AFL-NFL championship game was too unwieldy, hard to get straight.
Two days after all the hullabaloo over the merger, New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley wrote about what the future held 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.”
The Washington Post a week later 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 who was the head of the American Football League 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 a guy who really came up with the name.
“Super Bowl” was probably inspired by his contact with the Super Ball.
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 6 times higher than any regular rubber ball. Millions of the balls 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 like 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!”
The championship game was not an afterthought to the merger. They were trying to get games played. Even in the merger they negotiated things like, “When will we play exhibition games against each other?”
By October with the 1966 pro football season at full throttle, a site for the staging of the AFL-NFL Championship Game scheduled for January 8, 1967 still had not been selected. There was agreement by all the members of the NFL site selection Committee that the game be played in a warm weather location.
Growing up in Southern California, Pete Rozelle knew January weather there was what could generally be counted on. He also knew that comfort for the crowd and a game that could televised well were crucial. The native Californian also knew that a field where players had solid footing would better showcase the talents of all who played in the game. His reasoning was that a Southern California venue would be fair to all on a field that was not frozen, not impacted by weather.
Arthur Daley of the New York Times agreed: “Under no conditions should this classic-to-be ever be entrusted to the whims of the weatherman. By mid-January, it’s possible that snow in Green Bay or Buffalo might be piled higher than the goalposts.”
Initial prospective sites for the game to be played at included: the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, the Astrodome, Rice Stadium in Houston, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A few other sites in Texas, Miami and New Orleans also came under consideration.
The Committee representing the Rose Bowl objected to its use for a professional football game. Their argument was that to do that would lessen the prestige of their long running enterprise. However, as time for the playing of that first world championship football game drew closer, Pasadena’s City Council tried to re-enter negotiations with the NFL. It was too late in the game. Anaheim Stadium came on the scene – -also too late.
On December 1, 1966, after much wrangling, false starts, and all kinds of jockeying about — the awarding of the game to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was announced. Two weeks later news broke that NBC and CBS had each signed a four year deal, a $9.5 million package to telecast the Super Bowl.
On November 7th, the Chiefs defeated the Chargers 24-14 giving them the fast lane to the AFL West crown. What made the game unique was that Pete Rozelle attended his first ever American Football League game.
The clinching of a deal to merge was not official until the NFL received a special antitrust exemption from Congress. Rozelle, driven and charming at the same time, pushed a bill through Congress making legal single-network contracts for pro sports leagues. There would now be a league-wide agreement replacing the individual TV packages of 12 NFL teams.
Some Washington, DC legislators had claimed merger would make for an NFL monopoly. There was much lobbying, promises made, and promises broken. Finally, helped by a critical vote by Louisiana Senator Russell, the NFL was given antitrust exemption. What clinched the deal was a promise by the NFL that its next expansion franchise would be located in Louisiana. That’s how the Saints came marching in.
All the scrambling and shuffling resulted in the creation of never-before-staged TV doubleheader on New Year’s Day. The AFL Championship Game from Buffalo was scheduled for 1 P.M, ET. The NFL Championship was slotted in to start at 4 P.M., ET, from Dallas.
It was not until the end of December that the league formally announced that the AFL-NFL World Championship game would be played at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The date of the game was changed from January 8th to January 15th.
HANK STRAM: The AFL had been lobbying for a championship game from the beginning since we had nothing to lose. The NFL had resisted that idea because they had everything to lose. But by 1966 the difference in quality of the two leagues had narrowed to the point where a playoff game became inevitable.
The name “Super Bowl” was not officially used until the third championship game. The first game in 1967 was officially known as “The NFL-AFL Championship Game.”
However, fans, media, players referred to the first and second games in 1967 and 1968 as the “Super Bowl.” And that it became.
Written by acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an intro 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 39th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium was published in 2008 and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park was published to acclaim in 2011.