Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2003 / 21 Shavat, 5763

Evan Weiner

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America's excuse for a party | America is a nation of local sports fans, but there is one sports event that captivates every community in the nation, from Maine to this year's host San Diego and all points in-between: the Super Bowl.

THE SUPER BOWL IS uniquely American. The Fourth of July is America's Birthday Party, but the Super Bowl is American's excuse for a party. Supermarkets have "Super Sales" for countless "Super" parties.

Super Bowl Sunday is the second-biggest day of food consumption, behind only Thanksgiving in the calendar year. The Super Bowl is the top at-home party event of the year, surpassing New Year's Eve.

According to the National Electronic Dealers Association, sales of large screen TV's increase 500 percent during Super Bowl week as the event creates an increase in demand for television sets to watch the "big game."

The Beer Institute has data that suggests the Super Bowl is one of the seven biggest sales days of the year only behind Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July.

Newspapers sell advertising for special Super Bowl sections. The Super Bowl is a moneymaker for supermarkets, department stores, bars, snack food makers, breweries and restaurants.

It also is the springboard for companies to start their annual television, radio and print advertising campaigns.

But it wasn't always like this. Back in 1967, it was the just "World Championship Game, AFL vs. NFL." The game was held in the 94,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum with tickets available for $12, $10 and $6 and roughly 33,000 seats went unsold. It was the last time a Super Bowl or the World Championship Game was not a sellout. Both CBS and NBC televised the game, each using the same television feed with different announcers and different advertisers.

Today, thanks in great part to Joe Namath and the New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts on Jan. 12, 1969 in the first "named" Super Bowl, it's no longer NFL vs. AFL, NFL advertisers vs. AFL advertisers, CBS vs. NBC. In fact, the Disney-owned ABC-TV network broadcasts the game every three years along with FOX and CBS, but in 1967, the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs were considered to be part of a "Mickey Mouse League" by Vince Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers and the NFL.

The name "Super Bowl," with its Roman numerals, wasn't a product of any focus groups or brainstorming sessions. Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, the man who founded the AFL because he could not get an NFL team in Dallas, thought up the name while he was watching his kids play with a crazy multi-colored ball.

"They each had a Super Ball that my wife had given to them, and they were always talking about them and I just used the expression Super Bowl and it was an accidental thing," Lamar said.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle didn't like the name, nor did NFL owners. Still, the game had no name and no one had suggested anything else.

Ironically, the Super Ball was a super dud in longevity. Wham-O began producing a ball made of Zectron in 1967, the same year that Super Bowl I was played between the Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers. After only a few years, Wham-O's competitors copied Zectron, and the Super Ball floundered was out of production by 1976.

"I don't know how much money the Super Bowls means," Hunt laughed. "But it's all from a child's toy ball."

Even Rozelle would eventually concede that the "Super" name probably played a major role in the event's success.

The event has become so successful that cities bid for the game that brings in some 50,000 visitors who spend about $300 million during the Super Bowl week festivities.

The Super Bowl will generate millions of dollars for the ailing airline industry, hotels and motels, rent-a-car agencies, and the food industry in San Diego. Across the country, the Super Bowl means money for other businesses.

The Fourth of July is America's birthday, but the Super Bowl is America's party.

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JWR contributor Evan Weiner is a radio commentator on "The Business of Sports" for Westwood One's Metro Networks. Comment on this column by clicking here.


01/22/03: Turning San Diego into an armed camp
01/22/03: Will San Diego lose on Sunday --- even if it wins?

© 2003, Evan Weiner