It’s the golden anniversary of the National Football League’s Super Bowl today. Fifty years of grid iron battles to claim the title of World Champion — a title that has only been held by 19 teams out of the current 32 in the league. It’s a title that has been dominated by 6 teams winning close to half of those championships in the last five decades. Today, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos face-off at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA for Super Bowl 50. As we load up the snack food, turn on the pre-game coverage, and prepare for the big game, let’s take a look at a little Super Bowl history.
Origins of the Super Bowl
Founded in the 1920’s, the NFL was the dominant football league in the country until the American Football League (AFL) was founded in the early 1960’s. As the rivalry for fans and players intensified, merger talks commenced between the two leagues. In 1966, they agreed to a merger that would take effect in the 1970 season. Part of that agreement was a championship game between the leagues starting with that ‘66 season. The AFL-NFL World Championship Game was founded. Subsequently, the two leagues have been re-designated as conferences, which is how we now have the AFC and NFC conference winners facing-off today.
Super Bowl Champion Team Leaders
There are currently six teams that have dominated the Super Bowl over the last half-century. The Pittsburgh Steelers remain atop the leader board with 6 wins. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are tied for second with 5 wins each. And then our beloved New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants share the third spot on the podium with each holding 4 wins. The Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers and Broncos are all tied for the number of appearances in the Super Bowl — 8 for each team — while the Buffalo Bills hold the unenviable title of most losses, 4 in a row from 1990 to 1993.
Super Bowl 50 — No Roman Numeral
This year’s Super Bowl 50 is unique in the sense that the traditional Roman numeral has been replaced with the number 50. All previous Super Bowls were designated by Roman numerals, counting them consecutively rather than designating champions by year — primarily because the game is played in the year following the season. (Today’s 2015 Champion will be crowned on February 7, 2016.) This is a one-time exception. Next year the ancient numerals will return as we watch Super Bowl LI.
The Super Bowl continues to set audience and viewing records. In 2010, the game finally unseated the final episode of M*A*S*H as the most-watched American television program — a record that had held for 27 years. Every year since, the audience numbers have continued to increase. The last game saw an average viewership of 144.4 million people; 71 percent of all households watching TV that day were watching that game. This high saturation rate of households across the country, and the world, are what have resulted in the exorbitant advertising rates networks charge. A 30-second ad will run a company $5 million today.
Besides the commercial spots that are talked about non-stop in the days following the game, the other significant appeal to viewers is the half-time show. Unlike the early Super Bowls with local high school and college marching bands performing, modern games spotlight some of the biggest entertainers in the world. Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 was the first to feature just a single performer, Michael Jackson. His performance is still considered one of the best ever, followed closely by U2’s in 2002 with its tributes to the 9/11 victims.