16-05 Segment 1: Super Bowl 50: A look back

 

Synopsis: Super Sunday is coming up, and football fans are planning their viewing parties. The first game between the Packers and the Chiefs was barely attended, but interest grew through the decades and now it’s the biggest American sporting event of the year. We take a look back at the game and some of its stars, coaches and dynasties.

Host: Gary Price. Guests: Kostya Kennedy, editor of the Sports Illustrated book, Super Bowl Gold: 50 Years of the Big Game.

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Super Bowl 50: A look back

Gary Price: It has almost become an American holiday, with the anticipation, the planning and the hoopla of Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July rolled into one. It’s the Super Bowl and this year marks the anniversary of that first game back in 1967. We thought we’d take a look back with Kostya Kennedy, editor of Sports Illustrated’s new book, Super Bowl Gold: 50 years of the Big Game, a coffee-table book chock full of photographs of the action and the stars, along with stats and interviews with the winners – and the losers – of all the championships. Kennedy says that today’s game is an event – a far cry from the first Super Bowl between the legendary Green Bay Packers of the National Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs of the upstart American Football league….

Kostya Kennedy: So Super Bowl One wasn’t actually even called the Super Bowl; it was called the “Championship Game between the AFL and the NFL.” And it was seen as a way to just get an extra game on the schedule. Nobody thought that the AFL at that time, the American Football League, could compete really with the National Football League. The National Football League was seen as much more superior, and it certainly was. The first Super Bowl, which was played in Los Angeles, was barely half full and the TV rating, there were two stations that showed it; there was not a lot of interest. There was some interest but not a lot. And the Packers of the NFL won easily. They won easily in the second Super Bowl as well, and then it was in the third game when the Jets from the AFL beat the Colts from the NFL in an absolute surprise. Nobody thought the Jets could beat the Colts and that sort of changed things and made this a legitimate game.

Price: The name, “Super Bowl” was a suggestion from Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Chiefs…

Kennedy: And he said it as sort of just a joke or just a riff on the fact that there were games like the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl and such and such in college football. And somehow the name stuck without a big proclamation or anything. It just started to be referred to and then officially called the Super Bowl.

Price: That Super Bowl Three that he mentioned, and its star “Broadway Joe Namath,” showed the football world that his Big Apple mouth and persona were backed up by solid talent…

Kennedy: His famous guarantee that they would win the game beforehand, he had a real big arm so he could make important throws. And he had complete confidence and that absolutely rubbed off. He went out and really had a plan and really delivered things. And he sort of made the Jets winners by what he decided to do and the way he did it. Joe rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but people on his team and the players on his team, it’s not question they fed off him and responded to him in a big way, and as did the city, as did the football world at large.

Price: Once the game took hold, Kennedy says there began to be dynasties that ruled football and appeared at Super Bowls year after year. Among those were the Cowboys and the Steelers…

Kennedy: When we move into the heart of the 70s and you have the Cowboys and the Steelers together, and they were sort of twin combatants. In some ways the Steelers were the real dynasty because they won four Super Bowls in that decade. But the Cowboys were right there and there were a lot of great personalities. So there was Roger Staubach, and Drew Pearson, Tony Dorsett on those Cowboys teams. And then you had the Steelers with Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, and “Mean” Joe Greene, and Jack Lambert, all these big names of people who had a lot of appeal to viewers and had personality on the field as well as being extremely, extremely good. I often think the Steelers’ and Cowboys’ twin reign there in the 70s has a big part in making the Super Bowl what it became and what it is. Certainly as a game on the field, it became clear that this was a real game that you had to watch and that it was a special game.

Price: Kennedy says that the players on the field did more than just execute plays and win games. They also changed the personality of the game in a way that appealed to a much broader audience than the diehard football fan…

Kennedy: You can relate to Joe Namath on the field and what he does. But what he did by being a personality – wearing his fur coat and swaggering around – that drew in the casual fan. And I think that that’s what somebody like Bradshaw did as well, and some of the other players did too. And it extended the game beyond just the male audience to a female audience and to the more casual fan because these were now stories and personalities you’re rooting for. Not just somebody executing on the football field.

Price: In the 1980s, the San Francisco 49-ers, Denver Broncos, and the Washington Redskins made multiple Super Bowl appearances in the Big Game. But on January 26, 1986, a team with few stars and not much glamor showed up in New Orleans to take it all…The Chicago Bears…

Kennedy: In some way that Bears team in 1985, of all the teams we talk about, in some ways they were the most compelling and drew people in more than anyone else. They did it with a great defense, a truly historic defense. You know they won the Super Bowl 44-3 over the Patriots. The Patriots actually led 3-0. And they came in with a really powerful plan of attack under their defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. They had a lot of swagger. Mike Ditka was the coach and he and Buddy Ryan both had a lot of arrogance.

Price: In addition to winning the game, and the hearts of many football fans with their Super Bowl Shuffle video, Kennedy says that the Bears started a new betting trend when they moved defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry into the backfield…

Kennedy: Mike Ditka began to use him as a running back and that was the first year we really saw a “specialty bet” in the Super Bowl where the odds-makers put out who’s going to bet on whether this guy, Refrigerator Perry, will score a touchdown. And people took that bet.

Price: As Kennedy said, there have been dynasties in football over the years, and it’s no accident. He says that even though any team can win on any given Sunday, those that consistently appear in the Big Game have something in common…

Kennedy: Usually there are two constants, which is the coach and the quarterback. And you look at Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw for Pittsburg, and Tom Landry and Roger Staubach for the Cowboys; and then you move into the ‘Niners and it was Bill Walsh is the coach and Joe Montana, of course, perhaps the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time. Now Steve Young did come on as the quarterback to win the last Super Bowl in that 49ers dynasty, but it was still with something that Montana built and certainly something that Bill Walsh created, although George Seifert then came and was the coach. And the most recent dynasty, or what one might call that, is, of course, the Patriots. And that has been the connection of Tom Brady and Belichick which, despite a lot of player turnover and this is true of the other dynasties too, has managed to get back time and time again over a long period of time. Those appear to be the things you need.

Price: These days, the Super Bowl wouldn’t be complete without a glitzy half-time show. In the beginning, half-time looked more like a college game with marching bands and baton twirlers rather than the big-name musical acts we’re used to now. Kennedy says that the change came in 1992…

Kennedy: When they got Michael Jackson to agree to perform. Before that it was absurd to think that somebody of that stature, with that kind of following would play in the Super Bowl. But Jackson recognized that this was a game going to be seen all over the world and people in countries that he would never get to and would never get to perform in would be able to now see him live. So he agreed to do it, and whether one was a big Michael Jackson fan or not, he was terrific. He really worked extremely hard. There are stories of him practicing late into the night before. He made it everything and he put his best people around it. It became this high, high-quality concert that you were getting in the middle of a football game. It was, quite simply, revolutionary.

Price: In addition to photos and interviews in the book, Kennedy says that they ranked the Super Bowl games from best to worst. You might not agree with their findings, but he says it was all done as objectively as possible…

Kennedy: We came up with a formula where we ranked each Super Bowl and assigned point values depending on how many lead changes there were, how close the 4th quarter was, whether the underdog pulled it off – the kind of things an objective fan would cotton to and like in a game. And by doing that we did rank every Super Bowl from number one to the very worst, number 49, and the best turned out to be the Giants beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It was a 17-14 game, tied all the way through. There was a great catch by David Tyree against his helmet, and that was the year where the Patriots were trying to finish an undefeated season, they had been unbeaten, so there was a lot of historical significance. All of that conspired, we put this in our formula, we list out exactly how we did it, to make it the best Super Bowl of all time. The Giants, incidentally, were also in what finished 49th in our list in the Super Bowl XXXV, which they lost to the Ravens 34-7. Just kind of a dud of a game without a lot of memorable plays or very much personality aside from Ray Lewis.

Price: The game has gotten bigger and better over the past 50 years, and it’s broadened its audience to include children, women and even non-football fans who just want to see the commercials. It’s also become more expensive to attend the game – by a lot! The face value of a Super Bowl One ticket was 10-dollars. Today it’s in the thousands – if you’re lucky to get one at all. You can relive all of the excitement of Super Bowls past in Sports Illustrated’s new book, Super Bowl Gold: 50 years of the Big Game, edited by Kostya Kennedy and available now in stores and online. To find out more about our guest, you can log onto his site at KostyaKennedy.com. You can also visit our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

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