It’s funny, when one considers how carefully manipulated it is today, how much of the Super Bowl, at least in terms of being a cultural phenomenon, happened accidentally.
For instance, it wasn’t ever named the Super Bowl. It just happened because AFL-NFL Championship Game had to morph into something catchy, and Super Bowl, a term that in the late 1960s seemed like something out of a comic book, is what it became.
Lamar Hunt wasn’t exactly a marketing genius. He was a millionaire who owned the Kansas City Chiefs, who played the Green Bay Packers in the first game matching the American Football League against the National. He just tossed it out there – It’s bird, a plane, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, look, up in the sky, it’s a Super Bowl! – as a stopgap until one of the aforementioned marketing geniuses came along.
It was gaudy. It was simple. It was cartoonish. And it stuck.
Forty-six years later, it’s as garish as its name. Tickets that cost $12 in 1967 now cost $1,200, which is a nice, round 100 times higher. The first game – the Vince Lombardi-led Packers thumped the Hank Stram-led Chiefs, 35-10 – wasn’t sold out. What was too high ($12) in 1967 is now too low in 2013 because many who attend today have to buy tickets from middle men who charge considerably more than $1,200. In other words, the working-class fans won’t be represented much in the Superdome (it’s the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, fittingly) stands.
How the Super Bowl has changed. How the world has changed. In the first one, backup flanker Max McGee, who didn’t expect to play, stayed out drinking all night, played with a hangover because Boyd Dowler got hurt, and caught seven Bart Starr passes, two for touchdowns.
This year Ray Lewis allegedly treated his injury with a spray that inexplicably can be created from ground-up deer antlers. Carousing made McGee a legend. Now deer antlers are somehow emblematic of scandal. Go figure. Please tell me which of the stories is weirder. I’ll go with the latter. (I can’t help but think of an old Norm Van Brocklin fractured quote: “[These are not exaggerations.] These are truisms.”)
Once a year, everyone takes a Roman numeral refresher course. This is Super Bowl XLVII. I think. XLVII is the royal 47.
I’ve never been to a Super Bowl. I think it unlikely I ever will. As a junior in high school, three friends and I drove to New Orleans to attend the last Sugar Bowl played at Tulane Stadium. Every Sugar Bowl since has been at the Superdome. We stayed in a motel room in Gulfport, Miss. It’s the only time I’ve ever been to New Orleans. I passed up an opportunity last fall and spent the night in Baton Rouge instead. I regret that decision now. Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I could make a comparison to Max McGee, but at the time, none of us drank. Man, was that about to change.
Truth is, I don’t want to go to the Super Bowl. I’d rather watch on TV. Even if I had the money, I think I’d be wasting it. I suspect many NASCAR fans take the same attitude nowadays. They’d like to go to the race, but then they balance high prices and traffic against inviting a few friends over to fire up the grill and watch the race on high-definition TV. The track would be better, sure, but at what price? I don’t think all of it is the economy. I think a lot of it is that a NASCAR race has outdistanced the buying power of its fans, who now settle for two races a year where once they attended a dozen. The cost of attending most sporting events, not just the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, has increased at a far faster rate than inflation. Economic distress just magnifies it.
Merle Haggard was prescient. (God forbid that I should write a blog without at least one country music lyric.)
“The working man can’t get nowhere today.”