The Kick-Off: The History of the Super Bowl and the NFL

In honour of Super Bowl Sunday, we're sharing everything you need to know about the game, the league and how this head-bashing sport got its start.
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The Kick-Off: The History of the Super Bowl and the NFL

In honour of Super Bowl Sunday, we're sharing everything you need to know about the game, the league and how this head-bashing sport got its start.
Facebook
Twitter
The History of the Super Bowl The Bullet

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THE BACKGROUND

The first Sunday in February is the day football fans around the world have been waiting for: the Super Bowl.

This year, in Super Bowl LIII (which is 53 for those who aren’t up on their Roman numerals), the New England Patriots face off against the Los Angeles Rams.

It’s also the day when it’s socially acceptable to chug a beer mid-afternoon, forget all about your “new year, new you” diet resolutions and pig out on nachos and wings.

For most of us, the Super Bowl has been around our entire lives, and we take pride in this distinctly North American event. But aside from tuning in to the halftime show to see which wacky performance will be trending on Twitter, or using the Super Bowl as an excuse to get together with old college roommates and gather en masse in our local sports bars, how many of us actually know the ins and outs of North America’s biggest annual sporting event?

THE ROCKET’S RED GLARE

Sure, football is America’s sport — but its similarities to rugby and its stolen namehaven’t escaped anyone’s notice. Back in the day, there was rugby (or rugby football), a vicious contact sport as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans, where players score points by completing touchdowns or by successfully kicking the rugby ball between the two opposing team’s goal posts; and then, to make this more confusing, there’s football (what we call soccer), a light-contact sport wherein two teams try to kick a spherical ball into the opposition’s net without touching it with their hands (the goalie being the exception).

Essentially, the U.S. merged these two sports into what has become a much slower longer American pastime.

The first match was more than 130 years ago in 1869 when college teams from Rutgers and Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey) faced off on the gridiron using “association football” (soccer) rules. At the time, that meant that the players weren’t allowed to carry or throw the ball. (So, essentially, they were just playing a game of soccer…) Rutgers won, and the Princeton students were chased out of town.

The rules of the game have changed a little since then — those of us just along for the nachos and beer can find a handy gameplay breakdown here — but one thing’s stayed the same: America’s cult-like devotion to the sport. 

THE HISTORY OF SUPER BOWL SUNDAY

The first Super Bowl was held on Jan. 15, 1967 and symbolized the merger of the National Football League and the American Football League, which were rival leagues at the time. A lot of bad blood flowed between the NFL — which had previously successfully squashed all other rival leagues in the U.S. — and the AFL, which wouldn’t back down and prospered by signing a bunch of NFL rejects who were actually very talented players. Eventually, the two leagues called a truce of sorts, which took the form of an AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Two years later, that game was rebranded as the Super Bowl.

Nowadays, professional-level football is comprised of two leagues: the National Football League (NFL) and the Canadian Football League (CFL). Within the NFL are two “conferences,” the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The 32 NFL teams are divided up between the two conferences, while the CFL focuses solely on football in Canada. The CFL was briefly involved with the NFL from 1993–1996, when a handful of American teams were admitted to compete against CFL teams for Canada’s Grey Cup. (The CFL has since decided to scrap that idea.)

But why Sunday? Sure, minister Norman Vincent Peale may have joked that “[i]f Jesus Christ were alive…he’d be at the Super Bowl,” and we’re sure there are some football fanatics out there who treat Super Bowl Sunday like it’s a religious holiday. But the reality? It’s the day that worked best for both leagues’ schedules. *shrugs*

IN IT TO WIN IT

This year’s Super Bowl marked the second time the Patriots and the Rams faced off in the championship game in less than 20 years. The Patriots were always the favourite to win it all — not surprising, considering the Rams’ position in the final has been up for debate since their win in the NFC championship against the New Orleans Saints, thanks to a botched call. Since that game, some have even called for a change in the rules to allow coaches to challenge calls (made or missed) by game officials.

The winning team takes home the Vince Lombardi trophy. The shiny silver award is made by Tiffany & Co and named for the Green Bay Packers coach that led the team to two wins in the first two Super Bowl playoffs. A trophy’s not all the winning team gets, however. The players can each expect a prize in the form of cash money at the impressive sum of $107,000, while the losers get $53,000 each. (Is that all?)

THE OTHER NON-SPORTS STUFF

The Super Bowl is typically the most-watched television program in North America (and the most expensive sporting event to attend).

A 30-second commercial slot during today’s Super Bowl is costing advertisers a whopping $5 million, but rest assured that the cost isn’t holding any of your favourites back. (You can get a sneak peek of some of the commercials here.)

Among the splashy ad spots, expect to see Pepsi and Coke go head to head (but, with Pepsi pulling in big names like Steve Carell, Lil John, and Cardi B, we know they’re going to win, okurrr?). Budweiser is returning (thus ensuring that all three Super Bowl beverage options are covered), and dating app Bumble is pulling out the big guns with a commercial featuring tennis star Serena Williams. Also expect star-studded ads like Doritos featuring Chance the Rapper and the return of the Backstreet Boys; Bubly starring Canadian cutie Michael Bublé; Kristen Chenoweth gets some puppy love with Avocados from Mexico; and Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges will “Change Up the Usual” with Stella Artois.

Headlining this year’s halftime show along with Travis Scott are Maroon 5 and Big Boi (whose work you may be more familiar with as one half of the duo Outkast). Seven-time Grammy award winner Gladys Knight will kick off the game with a performance of the national anthem, and sister act Chloe x Halle will also give a pre-game performance of “America the Beautiful.”

However, last year saw a decline in Super Bowl viewership, and with the controversy that has plagued today’s halftime show performers, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen while the players chill in the locker room. The current controversy stems from the NFL’s stance on players taking a knee during the national anthem as a form of peaceful protest (they’ve — illegally — banned it). Performer Travis Scott partnered with the NFL in making a donation to Dream Corps, a social justice organization focusing on issues such as reducing jail populations and creating career opportunities in struggling communities, and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine has vocally defended his band’s decision to play.

And as we know all too well, live performances are always an anything-goes scenario. We’ll likely avoid another “Nipplegate,” but we’re always down for some fresh memes.

SNACK ATTACK

Fun fact: Super Bowl Sunday is the second-largest day for food consumption in the U.S. after Thanksgiving. PepsiCo Foods Canada says Canadians go for potato chips first and pop second, with chicken wings, nachos, and dips following close behind; other popular game-day treats include pizza, ribs, guacamole, and, of course, beer.

Chicken wings are usually hailed as a Super Bowl snack go-to, but they actually top the list in just two of the 50 American states. So if you’re feeling a little chicken-winged-out, you could always go for some of the other fan faves like Buffalo chicken dip (which tops the list in eight states – but what they’re dipping into it, we have no idea), pizza, or cake. (We’re here for that.)

Need more snack inspo? Check out Saturday’s Weekend Shot here. (You’re welcome.)


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