Saturday, February 5, 2011

Found: The First Super Bowl

It seems ancient history but in the 1960's, there were two major professional football leagues in the United Starts, the venerable National Football League (NFL) and the upstart and innovative American Football League (AFL). I'll never forget when the AFL Kansas City Chiefs came to my home town. My dad bought season tickets and is still a season ticket holder.

After fighting each other for years, the leagues decided to merge over a four year period and it was decided to begin, in the interim, an "AFL-NFL Championship Game." It was Chiefs' owner Lamar Hunt, that came up with the name "Super Bowl."

My parents flew to Los Angeles for Super Bowl I on a chartered Trans World Airlines 707 (TWA) that was decorated in Chiefs' colors and with the stewardesses (what they were called in those days) in special Chiefs attire. NBC had the rights to the AFL and CBS had the rights to the NFL, so it would be decided that both networks would televise the game.

So, while our parents were in L.A., my brothers and I (sisters were too young to appreciate what was going on) and my Grandmother Lembo were watching the NBC broadcast.  Things looked good for the Chiefs at the half, down only 14-10. They were holding their own against the mighty Packers.

Super Bowl I. Chiefs (white) v. Packers (yellow/green).
Photo from The Wall Street Journal.
The Chiefs had the ball to start the second half. They drove to the 49 yard line. Then, it happened. Chief's quarterback Len Dawson threw an interception that was returned to the 5. The Packers scored on the next play. The Chiefs lost their composure and Green Bay cruised to an easy victory. Final score? Packers 35, Chiefs 10.

Don't remember seeing all this? Well, unless you were watching it at the time, it has never been seen again. Why? Even though two networks televised the game, neither taped it!  In January, 1967, technology wasn't what it is today. Videotape machines were giant beasts made by the AMPEX Corporation and the tape was 2" wide. They were terribly expensive and many things were never recorded or, more frequently, were taped then taped over (most of Johnny Carson's early "Tonight Shows" fall into this category).

A story in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required), tells the saga of finding a tape of the telecast in Pennsylvania and how the Museum of Broadcasting is working to restore it.

The Chiefs won Super Bowl IV, the last-ever AFL game, but haven't been back to the Super Bowl since. Of course, Green Bay is playing tomorrow.

So, as you watch the Packers in tomorrow's Super Bowl XLV, here's hoping you have a chance to see them in Super Bowl I in the near future.

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