Before 1960, the National Football League (NFL) was the absolute dominant football league in the United States. So, when a small group of businessmen approached the league with hopes of starting new franchises and were turned away, the only thing they could do was start a league of their own. They launched the American Football League (AFL) in direct competition with the NFL. To the NFL’s surprise, the AFL not only stuck around but began to prosper. Six years later, the two leagues came together and formed an agreement to merge by 1970.
To increase awareness of the pending merger, the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” was played on January 15, 1967 pitting the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs against the NFL Champion and football juggernaut Green Bay Packers. After the game, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt coined the term “The Super Bowl” to describe future championship games.
In that inaugural Super Bowl game, the Packers clobbered the Chiefs 35-10 casting doubt upon whether or not the teams of the AFL would be competitive after the merger. The second Super Bowl also reflected badly on the AFL, as their 1968 champion Oakland Raiders got smashed again by Green Bay, losing 33-14. The merger plan was on the brink.
In 1969, Super Bowl III was pivotal for the formation of the league as we know it today, as well as the continued existence of the AFL. The game pitted the AFL Champion New York Jets against the NFL’s Baltimore Colts and their quarterback, Johnny Unitas. The Jets were big underdogs and when New York’s brash, young quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory, the majority of the populace scoffed. The Jets pulled out the upset 16-7 cementing Namath as a legend and the AFL teams as legitimate contenders. The two leagues would merge the next year and in the years that followed, the Super Bowl would become the most watched and anticipated sporting event worldwide.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, there is no doubting the appeal of the Super Bowl. And, although it has become a bit of a spectacle, the game has definitely made its mark on American and world culture.