Gridiron Glory at Union Station: Super Ball/Super Bowl

*Included in the summer-long exhibition at Union Station of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's history of the game is a substantial collection of Kansas City Chiefs artifacts dating back to the earliest days of the franchise and the creation of the American Football League by team owner Lamar Hunt  *

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll identify some of what fans and long-time football enthusiasts might call "treasures" – some never seen by the general public before the exhibition's opening this past Memorial Day weekend. The exhibition, which traces the history of the game from its roots, is open daily at Union Station and closes September 7.


"Super Ball/Super Bowl"

If fans who attended the first championship game between the AFL and NFL would have looked closely at their tickets they would have found no mention of the name, "Super Bowl." Indeed, the media leading up to the game referenced the long-anticipated showdown - with baseball overtones oddly enough - as "the World Series of Football." 

In a committee meeting that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had organized with the AFL in the summer of 1966 following the merger, there was some discussion on the timing of the final game. Confused about whether they were talking about the league championship games preceding the final championship, one committee member queried what game the group was talking about.

Lamar Hunt replied, "You know, the last game…the final game, the Super Bowl."

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All laughed. The name had come to Hunt one day that summer. His wife, Norma, had purchased for their children some of the high-bouncing balls, produced by the Wham-O company, called "Super Balls." Made of a hardened rubber substance, the balls became popular because of their high bounce – in some instances high enough to pass over top of a house.

The committee continued using the name, "Super Bowl," in its follow-up meetings to identify the championship game, but no one went as far to suggest that the name was to be officially adopted. 

Hunt, as was his wont, wrote numerous notes to Rozelle as the meetings progressed suggesting many innovations or changes. In one of the letters, dated July 25, 1966, he stressed the need to come up with a name for the title game – something approximating a catchy phrase. He referenced that he "kiddingly called it the 'Super Bowl' which obviously can be improved upon."

Rozelle agreed that it could be improved and admitted that he, a former PR man, found it "corny." 

According to Hunt biographer Michael MacCambridge, the word "super" was very much "in the air" at that time. Superman comics were still the rage as was "the phenomenon of supersonic air travel." MacCambridge also notes that Hunt "loved expressive, cutting-edge language" and had used "double unreal" to describe a game's outcome in 1963, and had punctuated many of his responses with the expression, "super." Dated as it sounds now, it was very much a part of the slang of that day.

Meanwhile, Rozelle let it be known that the first championship between the two leagues would be known as "The AFL-NFL World Championship Game" and that is what you will find inscribed on the tickets, although personally he would have liked to call it "The Pro Bowl," MacCambridge's research found, a name already associated with the league's all-star game. (MacCambridge had extensive access to the Rozelle papers during earlier research on a book.) 

But almost immediately Hunt's name, "The Super Bowl", was being used by everyone around and outside of the league. 

Summing it all up years later, Hunt said of the name's origins: "Subconsciously, I may have been thinking about the Super Ball and one day I just happened to come out and call the game the 'Super Bowl.' Somehow or other, the name just stuck."


If you go

A note from the Wham-O company to Hunt along with a Super Ball from the 1960s may be found in a special case of its own midway through the Chiefs section of the Gridiron Glory exhibit at Union Station. 

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