On January 15, 1967, the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Known retroactively as “Super Bowl I”, the game was born out of animosity between the rival AFL and NFL. Facing off were the NFL champion Green Bay Packers against the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, with the Packers ultimately winning 35-10. Curious to learn a bit more about this first Super Bowl? Let’s explore the history behind this celebrated game.
Related post: Why Are They Called the Green Bay Packers?
The NFL vs. AFL
In 1960, the American Football League (AFL) began its inaugural season. Initially, the older National Football League (NFL) paid little notice–they had fended off rival football leagues in the past. Many wrote the AFL off as nothing more than an “NFL reject” league. But to the surprise of many, the AFL not only survived but prospered throughout the 1960s, in part by finding success with overlooked NFL players hungry to prove themselves.
Soon, both the NFL and AFL found themselves bidding for some of the same free agents and prospects. Despite unwritten rules about signing players from other leagues, by 1966, both the AFL and NFL were doing just that.
The NFL eventually had enough and began to negotiate with the AFL. What resulted was the signing of a merger agreement on June 9, 1966. Both leagues would share a common draft to avoid future bidding wars, and both leagues would merge into one after the 1969 season. Furthermore, an AFL-NFL World Championship Game was established for the end of the 1966 season.
Los Angeles was selected as the site for this first championship game (a decision made just seven weeks prior to kickoff). At the time, there was still much bad blood between the two rival leagues, with each wanting to exert dominance over the other. For what it’s worth, most sports writers and fans believed the NFL to be the stronger of the two
Super Bowl I
The first Super Bowl featured much of the same pageantry that today’s game is known for, just much more scaled back. The Los Angeles Ramettes, the Rams dance team, served as the pregame and end-of-quarter entertainment. Pregame also featured the University of Arizona marching band, as well as the Anaheim High School drill team.
Since NBC had the rights to televise AFL games, and CBS held the rights to broadcast NFL games, Super Bowl I remains the only Super Bowl to have been simulcast in the US by two networks. And some 60 million people tuned in to watch the action.
Though the Green Bay Packers entered as heavy favorites, the Chiefs managed to keep the game close at halftime, trailing just 10-14. The Chiefs’ only touchdown came in the 2nd quarter, on a seven-yard pass from quarterback Len Dawson to Curtis McClinton.
Halftime featured a performance by trumpeter Al Hirt, as well as the marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling State University. The festivities also included an estimated 300 pigeons, 10,000 balloons, and even a hydrogen-peroxide-propelled jet-pack demonstration.
The Packers would go on to break the game open in the 2nd half, aided by a 50-yard Willie Wood interception return to set up a touchdown. Green Bay would score three 2nd half touchdowns in total while holding the Chiefs scoreless for the rest of the game.
Bart Starr, the famed Green Bay quarterback, would be named the game’s MVP, completing 16 of 23 passes for the day. After the game, Packers Coach Vince Lombardi echoed the common sentiment of the day–that even the best of the AFL “doesn’t compare with the top NFL teams.”
Of course, two years later, the AFL would prove itself worthy, quieting doubters when the AFL champion New York Jets, led by Joe Namath, defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
In 1970, the AFL and NFL would merge into one league. The AFL teams, plus the Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers, would form the American Football Conference (AFC) within the NFL. Since then, the Super Bowl has featured a match-up between the top team from the AFC and the top team from the National Football Conference (NFC), with the winner being crowned champion of the NFL.
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