Super Bowl Sunday

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Super Bowl Sunday

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Usually the last Sunday in January
Where Celebrated: United States
Symbols and Customs: Gambling, Pre-Game Show, Super Bowl Parties, Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers


Like the slaying of the old king and the crowning of the new king that took place at the start of the new year in ancient times, the Super Bowl is the result of a long series of elimination games that culminate in a single showdown (see WINTER SOLSTICE ). The champions of the National Football League's American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) play each other at a pre-selected site, usually a warm-weather city or one that has a covered stadium. This annual football ritual takes place at the end of January, and rather than being just another championship event, it has become the equivalent of a national holiday. Even criminals take the day off: When the San Francisco 49ers played at the 1985 Super Bowl in Palo Alto, California, San Francisco's crime rate dropped nearly seventy-five percent.

The first Super Bowl game was played on January 15, 1967, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 35-10 (see VINCE LOMBARDI AND THE GREEN BAY PACKERS ). It had been suggested that the event be called "The Final Game" or even "The Big One," but then Lamar Hunt, a Texas financier and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, came up with the idea of calling it the "Super Bowl" after watching his daughter play with a Super Ball-a small, high-bouncing ball that was a popular toy at the time. The games have traditionally been identified by Roman numerals, but it wasn't until Super Bowl IV in 1970 that the name "Super Bowl" actually appeared on the tickets.

At the time of the first Super Bowl, there were two football leagues, the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL). The NFL's Green Bay Packers dominated the first couple of Super Bowls, but then the AFL's New York Jets and their star quarterback Joe Namath-dubbed "Broadway Joe" for his celebrity status-won Super Bowl III, proving that the two leagues could compete equally and adding to the event's popularity. In 1970 the two leagues merged into one and created two conferences, which now compete for the Super Bowl title. Other milestones include Super Bowl X in 1976, when the first PRE GAME SHOW was broadcast on television, and Super Bowl XII in 1978, the first time the event was held indoors, drawing the largest audience at the time to have ever watched a sporting event on television. At Super Bowl XV in 1981, a huge yellow bow was erected over the main entrance of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to commemorate the fifty-two American hostages who had just been released by Iran after 444 days in captivity.

At the beginning, the price of television advertising during the game sold for $85,000 a minute. After Joe Namath and the Jets won Super Bowl III, the price suddenly jumped to $200,000. By Super Bowl XIX, it was costing advertisers $1 million a minute. By Super Bowl XLI in 2007, the cost of ads had risen to over $2 million for just thirty seconds. It has been estimated that about forty percent of all U.S. households owning television sets tune in to the Super Bowl, which has made the advertisements almost as important as the game itself. Advertisers have started running commercials days before the game that promote the commercials they will show during the game-just as Apple Computer did so successfully during Super Bowl XVIII, with a memorable commercial introducing its Macintosh computer. Corporate logos have appeared on everything from the seat cushions in the stadium to the blimps that jockey for position in the sky overhead. Even the U.S. government has used the Super Bowl as a marketing tool, making it the kickoff event of the 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Although the Super Bowl is always held on a Sunday, religious leaders have never seemed to mind. Norman Vincent Peale once said that "If Jesus were alive today, he would be at the Super Bowl." Even U.S. presidents routinely get involved in the game, recommending plays beforehand and delivering their congratulations to the winning team by telephone at the end.



It has become a tradition in schools, offices, and at SUPER BOWL PARTIES for everyone to put a certain amount of money into a "pool" and bet not only on which team will win but on the "point spread" between the two scores. Sometimes partygoers will draw slips of paper from a hat on which various outcomes have been written-an approach that reduces the emphasis on knowledge of the two teams and their relative strength and gives everyone an equal chance of winning.

Pre-Game Show

It was NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle who made sure that the Super Bowl provided entertainment on a grand scale. The first pre-game show for spectators and television viewers climaxed with the release of 4,000 pigeons, and subsequent pregame shows have featured Hollywood celebrities and jets trailing plumes of red, white, and blue smoke. The popularity of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which is traditionally played before all types of American sporting events, skyrocketed after it became part of the pre-game ceremonies at the Super Bowl. It is usually sung by a well-known American pop singer.

The half-time show has also become a major entertainment spectacle. In the past, half-time shows have included hot-air balloons and reenactments of historic American battles.

Super Bowl Parties

A few weeks after NEW YEAR'S DAY, many Americans-even those who aren't particularly interested in football-attend Super Bowl parties. These are typically day-long events held at a friend's house with chips, beer, and a potluck supper. The highlight, of course, is the game-and finding out who wins the Super Bowl pool (see GAMBLING ).

Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers

Wisconsin's Green Bay Packers and their coach, the legendary Vince Lombardi, were the original symbols of the Super Bowl, representing the tradition of hard work and competitiveness for which the event stands. When Lombardi became the Packers' coach in 1959, he took over a team that had lost nearly every game during the preceding season. But within two years he had turned them into NFL champions They won the first two Super Bowl games in 1967 and 1968, and although their two-game winning streak cannot be compared to that of the San Francisco 49ers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the Dallas Cowboys, they remain the team that best represents the spirit of the Super Bowl.

The trophy given to the winning team is named for Lombardi, whose game plan, in the words of one of his former players, was "Attack! Attack! Attack!" The trophy is symbolic of the values Lombardi exemplified and the excellence he demanded from his players.

The sterling silver Vince Lombardi Trophy of a football in the kicking position is handcrafted by Tiffany & Co. Standing twenty-two inches tall, the prize weighs seven pounds and is worth $12,500. The trophy is awarded to the owner of the winning team by the NFL Commissioner.


Dienhart, Tom, Joe Hoppel, and Dave Sloan, eds. The Complete Super Bowl Book. St. Louis: The Sporting News, 1994. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.


National Football League

Vince Lombardi
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Super Bowl Sunday

Usually last Sunday in January
The day of the championship game of the National Football League, which marks the culmination of the American professional football season. The game is played at a preselected site, always either a warm-weather city or one with a covered stadium. The contestants are the winners from each of the league's two divisions, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.
The first game was played on Jan. 15, 1967, in the Los Angeles Coliseum; the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 35-10. Since then, the games have been identified by Roman numerals (e.g., Super Bowl II in 1968), and, in keeping with this pretension, are surrounded by hoopla reminiscent of Roman imperial excess. Fans vie for Super Bowl tickets, and corporations woo clients with lavish Super Bowl trips.
Nationwide, the day is celebrated with at-home parties to watch the game on television, and many, many people watch: about 40 million viewers in the U.S. out of about 800 million around the world tune in to the Super Bowl. At sports bars, fans gather to watch wall-sized television screens, drink beer, and cheer.
National Football League
280 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017
212-450-2000; fax: 212-681-7599
HolSymbols-2009, p. 923
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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