How to aptly summarise the Super Bowl without exhausting the long list of synonyms for “huge”? Pretty much everyone has heard of it– even if they’re not entirely sure exactly how it works. It’s been America’s single biggest sporting event for decades, attracting hundreds of thousands to the site at which it’s played, not to mention the millions who tune in on television to watch the game unfold.
It’s something that the vast majority of Americans watch religiously year on year, regardless of whether they adore the NFL or couldn’t tell you who Peyton Manning was. Families use it as the perfect excuse to get together. Friends use it as an opportunity to have a reunion. It’s a moment in the year where all eyes in America are fixated on one thing. The Super Bowl is something else – an event unlike any other in the entire world.
“Fine!” we hear you cry, “The Super Bowl is big, I get it!” But what’s the reason for the sheer magnitude and immense popularity of the Super Bowl? Plenty of other American Football matches are played throughout the year, so what precisely makes this one so much more important than the rest of them?
Well, you’re about to find out.
Here we break down the Super Bowl for you into bite-sized chunks, including its history, what it stands for, what happens during the game, and why it has developed into the gigantic event it is today.
So, What is the Super Bowl?
First, we need to establish exactly what the Super Bowl is. Simply put – it is the game that determines the winner of the National Football League (NFL): American Football’s biggest competition.
To get to the Super Bowl, teams must first qualify for the playoffs, and then make their way through the playoffs to the Conference Championship game (essentially the NFL semi-finals). The winner of each Conference Championship game goes into the Super Bowl, and will forever have their names scrawled into NFL history. This is the match that NFL franchises exist to be a part of. The winner is never forgotten.
How Did It Start?
(Lamar Hunt / Wikipedia.org)
The NFL didn’t begin until the early 1920’s, and up until 1932, it was the team who performed best throughout the season (finishing up with the finest record) that was awarded the title. In 1933, a playoff system was introduced. Teams would attempt to progress through the playoffs (in a similar fashion as they do today) in order to reach the NFL Championship Game. Whoever won this match was awarded the Super Bowl title.
By 1966, the American Football League (a direct rival competition) had gained significant momentum, attention and popularity. Relationships between the NFL and the AFL became increasingly strained, as teams from each organisation attempted to poach players from the other. Ultimately, the organisations decided they could settle their differences on the field of play instead. At the end of the 1966 season, a game was hosted that pitted the winner of the AFL against the winner of the NFL. This was named “The Super Bowl” – a moniker thought up by Kansas City Chiefs' owner, Lamar Hunt. Despite a slow start (Super Bowl I didn’t even have a sell-out crowd) the game grew in popularity and approbation with every passing year. When the NFL and AFL merged together to create one big league in 1970, the Super Bowl began to blossom into the almighty showpiece it is today.
The Green Bay Packers are officially the most successful NFL team in history in terms of overall championship wins, so it seems fitting that they were the first to win the Super Bowl. The inaugural big game took place in Los Angeles in January, 1967, and saw the Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 -10. Bart Starr was the first ever Super Bowl MVP (Most Valuable Player, the American equivalent to “Man of the Match”) and also won it the year after too, when the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33 – 14 in Miami.
What Makes the Super Bowl So Important?
The Super Bowl is regarded by many Americans as one of the big events of the year and is played on a Sunday evening – famously known as 'Super Bowl Sunday' – to maximise the television audience, which now annually tops 100 million.
Host cities for the Super Bowl are selected years in advance – giving the respective councils enough time to prepare for the thousands of people who will descend upon the region when the week of the big game rolls around. The Miami Metropolitan area has proven to be the most popular choice for the Super Bowl over the years, and this is the region where the game has taken part most regularly. New Orleans and Los Angeles have also hosted several Super Bowls. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some readers that the region of New York has only ever hosted a single Super Bowl – and that was as recently as 2014.
Actually getting into the stadium itself on Super Bowl game day requires one of two things: a willingness to spend a staggering amount of money on a ticket, or the good fortune to know someone involved on the NFL/sport/celebrity circuit. The Super Bowl is the hottest ticket in town, regardless of where the event is being held, and gaining access to the host stadium requires some considerable good fortune. There aren’t a huge amount of die-hard football fans who attend every single game in the NFL, but those that do have mixed feelings about the Super Bowl and resent the exclusion zone around it.
The Super Bowl is so exclusive in fact that the NFL actually go to great lengths to protect its title. Any corporations who aren’t directly or indirectly involved with the Super Bowl are forced to refer to it as “The Big Game”, “The Ultimate Game” etc in order to prevent the NFL from taking legal action against them.
What Happens During a Typical Super Bowl?
Typical Super Bowl party food
The week leading up to the Super Bowl is one of great anticipation. Sports fans from all over the country will flock to the host city several days in advance of the kick off, whilst bars, restaurants and other public places showing the game are forced to implement restriction policies in order to prevent overpopulation. Many fans will set up tailgates – where food and drink are enjoyed out the back of vehicles in a parking lot – whereas others will simply use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to host a party in their homes.
The winning team at the Super Bowl is awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy – a prize named after the late and great Green Bay Packers coach who guided his team to a remarkable series of victories during his tenure. Each member of the winning team (including the coaches) is also presented with their own individual Super Bowl Ring. These tend to vary in design and are often wildly flashy.
What’s the Hype Around the Half-Time Show All About?
Madonna performing the Halftime Show, Super Bowl XLVI
(Stephen Luke / Flickr.com)
Like the Super Bowl commercials (which we’ll explore in a little more detail a bit later on), the Super Bowl halftime show has become just as popular as the game itself.
Those who don’t ordinarily consider themselves to be fans of American Football often sit down to watch the halftime show, which has steadily seen more money pumped into its production values since it first began. Every year something noteworthy happens during the halftime show – either explosive, controversial or a little bit of both depending on who is performing.
To understand just how big the Super Bowl halftime show is, all you need do is cast your eye over the list of acts below who have performed in previous years:
- Michael Jackson
- Janet Jackson – a particularly infamous performance given her wince-inducing wardrobe malfunction (that many maintain to this day was a purposeful publicity stunt)
- The Rolling Stones
- Lenny Kravitz
- Katy Perry
- The Who
- Bruce Springsteen
- Stevie Wonder
- Diana Ross
What’s The Deal with the Commercials?
The Super Bowl is the most viewed event on television pretty much every single year. In 2014, the NBC broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX was officially the most watched television program in history – with 115.2 MILLION viewers. Needless to say, grabbing some advertising space on the Super Bowl offers terrific exposure for brands…but also costs them a pretty penny. Brands use the Super Bowl as an opportunity to advertise their products in unique and exciting ways, and often spend weeks, months, or even years coming up with the perfect advertisement that they hope the millions of viewers won’t be able to forget. Believe it or not, some Americans purposely tune in to the Super Bowl just to watch the commercials that run in between the breaks in play.
There have been a wide variety of memorable commercials during the years. Some of the most popular are listed below:
- Apple 1984 – This commercial in the theme of George Orwell’s 1984 was manned by famous film director Ridley Scott, airing just once during the Super Bowl and becoming forever etched into NFL history.
- The Budweiser Frogs – A 1995 commercial for Budweiser which saw three frogs croaking out each respective syllable of the American beer. BUD-WEIS-ER!
- Pepsi Thief – A 1996 commercial for Pepsi where a man stacking Coke in a supermarket attempts to steal a can of Pepsi instead.
- Budweiser 9/11 – This originally aired in 2002 to honour the victims of 9/11 and proved to be a powerful watch.
- Snickers Betty White – This 2010 commercial saw actress Betty White take part in a game of American Football and left viewers all over the country in stitches.
Who Are the Most Successful Super Bowl Teams?
The Pittsburgh Steelers (Joy Fera / Shutterstock.com)
The most successful in team in Super Bowl history are the Pittsburgh Steelers. This franchise have won the NFL’s most prestigious prize on no less than 6 occasions, and have been runners-up 3 other times. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t far behind, though – with 5 Super Bowl wins to their name and 8 appearances. San Francisco 49ers have also won 5 Super Bowls in 6 attempts. The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants all have 4 Super Bowls.
Despite 3 wins, the Denver Broncos can perhaps be considered the most unfortunate Super Bowl side – having lost more matches than they’ve won (5). The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills, however, have both appeared at the Super Bowl on 4 separate occasions and never won.
The current holders of the Super Bowl are the Denver Broncos, who defeated the Carolina Panthers by 24 points to 10 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in February 2016. This game marked the fiftieth year of the Super Bowl.
So that’s it. All the essential facts you ever needed to know about the Super Bowl, from its origins right up to the modern day. When America’s biggest sporting event finally rolls around for another year, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to follow it every step of the way. Who knows, you may even venture out to the States to immerse yourself in the action in true American style.