The First Super Bowl- Less Than Super
Officially called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game”, the first Super Bowl was less super and more scrimmage. The inaugural match took place on January 15, 1967 between the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs- Packers were favored by 13.5 points and eventually prevailed 35-10.
However, the spirit of the encounter was closer to a contest for league supremacy than that of two top teams chasing a coveted trophy. Seven months earlier, following years of waging bidding wars for players and competing for TV viewers, the established NFL and the upstart AFL agreed to merge- the deal included an annual championship game between the bitter foes.
Originally dismissed as another doomed league trying to nip at the heels of the entrenched NFL, the AFL took off in 1960 and actually succeeded in advancing its eight teams to the national spot light. Tensions ran high as celebrated coach Vince Lombardi and his dynastic Packers were under pressure by the NFL to outperform Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL and owner of the Chiefs.
The two teams had never played each other and even took to the field with different balls for their offensive lines- KC used the AFL’s more narrow and ¼ inch longer Spalding football that was said to throw better, while GB played with the NFL’s customary, fatter Wilson ball that was more kickable.
Both leagues were also followed by their respective broadcasters, a media rivalry in its own- CBS covered the NFL and NBC the AFL. On the ground, their TV trucks were even separated by a fence as they simultaneously telecast the event.
Almost as an after-thought, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was hastily picked six weeks earlier for the venue. Tickets ran $6 to $12 but only 2/3 of the stadium’s 93,000 seats were filled; more spectators showed up a month earlier to watch the Packers face off against their hometown LA Rams. A 75-mile radius TV blackout around Los Angeles also angered fans who found the top-tier tickets too expensive and refused to attend.
By the time it was all over, the NFL emerged triumphantly but the world was indifferent- both NBC and CBS lost or simply deleted their tape footages of the match, assigning little value to the game for posterity. It would take 49 years for all the available film fragments to be sourced and stitched to replay the epic match entirely on tape- an unimaginable concept today.
BASKETBALL November 28, 2009 The Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 130-97 at Golden State. The Lakers would wrap up the season with a 57-25 record and go on to defend their title at the NBA Championship by overtaking the Boston Celtics 4-3. Kobe Bryant, star player on the Lakers roster, played all 7 games, averaging 28.6 ppg and taking home the MVP award.
BOXING November 20, 1999 Junior middleweight fighter Stephan Johnson fights Paul Vaden in Atlantic City for a $10,000 purse. Johnson is knocked out with two punches in the 10th round and falls immediately into a coma. Despite hospital efforts, he never recovers and dies less than three weeks later on December 7th. The 154-pounder who lived and trained in New York City turned pro in 1987.
FOOTBALL November 26, 1989 The Saskatchewan Roughriders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 43-40 to win the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup. Finishing only 9-9 for the season, the Roughriders were underdogs going into the 77th annual Grey Cup championship. With the game tied at 40-40 and only 9 seconds left in the 4th quarter, they clinched the title with a 26-yard field goal.
BASEBALL November 19, 1979 Nolan Ryan signs a record 4-year, $4.5 Million contract with the Houston Astros. The gifted pitcher who hurled consistent throws at 100 mph and above remained a force on the mound into his 40’s. Ryan started off with the NY Mets where he won the World Series in 1969 before moving on to the Angels, Astros and Rangers. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.