The History of the Super Bowl
The abridged version for the history of the Super Bowl begins in 1960. Although the NFL started in 1920, the creation of the American Football League (AFL) by a handful of disgruntled would-be NFL owners in 1960 incited a nationwide push for a merger between the two leagues. In 1966, the two leagues agreed to a merger that would go into effect no later than 1970. The first Super Bowl, then referred to by the unwieldy name, “NFL-AFL Championship Game”, took place on January 15, 1967, with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers cruising to a 35-10 victory over the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Leading up to that first game, it was Chiefs’ owners Lamar Hunt (whose son now works on the Chiefs’ advisory board) proposed referring to the game as the “Super Bowl”. Needless to say, the name stuck.
Early in the game’s history, the AFL, which became the American Football Conference AFC after the merger, was decidedly outclassed by the established NFL teams. After Joe Namath’s New York Jets won the third Super Bowl, there was a short period of parity for the two conferences in the 1970s, when the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers established themselves as the best franchises of the decade, but the NFC dominated the 1980s and 1990s. The series now stands at 27-26 in favor of the NFC, largely thanks to Bill Belichick’s dynasty in New England. Over the years, the Super Bowl slowly morphed from just a generic championship game into the hyper-commercialized cultural phenomenon it is today. For the 2021 Super Bowl, it will again be one of the most-watched and most bet upon events of the year. Upper deck Super Bowl tickets now routinely sell for thousands of dollars and the game is annually the most-watched television broadcast in the world.
Super Bowl Winning Coaches
The Super Bowl has a proud history of showcasing coaching excellence. It birthed the legend of Vince Lombardi, for whom the game’s trophy is now named, when his Packers won the first two Super Bowl games ever played. It popularized the legend of Chuck Noll’s ‘Steel Curtain’ Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, setting a new standard for defensive excellence. Bill Walsh’s revolutionary ‘west coast’ passing attack led him to three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and paved the way for the modern NFL offense. Joe Gibbs became the only coach ever to win Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks. In 2007, Tony Dungy became the first black coach to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, followed shortly after by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in 2009. Bill Belichick earned his record fifth Super Bowl title in 2017 in epic comeback fashion, and added a sixth in 2019.
Super Bowl Winning Quarterbacks
There is a widespread belief in the NFL that elite quarterback play is a prerequisite for a Super Bowl title. That isn’t necessarily true, but the history of the game certainly supports that your odds of winning are drastically reduced without great quarterback play. The first eight quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl—Bart Starr (twice), Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Johnny Unitas Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler—are all enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you look back at any NFL team with a realistic claim to being a dynasty, you will find a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm, from Starr to Montana to Brady. There is an inescapable connection between elite quarterback play and Super Bowl success.
Defenses That Won the Super Bowl
There is an oft-repeated maxim in football that “defense wins championships”. It sounds like your average coachspeak platitude, but statistically, it’s true. Only 8 of 53 Super Bowl champions have had a defense that ranked outside the top third of the NFL, and 5 of those teams were led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Chuck Noll’s “Steel Curtain” Steelers, led by ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, cemented their place in NFL lore by winning the 1977 Super Bowl. The 1985 Bears’ defense was perhaps the most dominant of all time, cementing their legend in a 36-point Super Bowl win over the Patriots. The 2000 Ravens’ defense statistically outshined even the 1985 Bears and carried a mediocre offense to a resounding win against the Giants to end the year. The 2002 Buccaneers similarly rode a star-studded defense to the Lombardi Trophy, with two current Hall of Famers and three more who are finalists for the 2020 class. And in the 2014 Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense staked their own claim to greatness in a rout of the Broncos. Perhaps even more than quarterback play, a great defense is essential to postseason success in the NFL.