History of the Super Bowl: Just another Religious Holiday?


The Super Bowl, also known as simply Superbowl — a territory acquisition athletic contest played upon a fixed agrarian grid using as a token an inflated porcine prolate spheroid — is one of the most important holidays of the year in America. Some will say that it is a secular holiday, others argue that it is truly a religious holiday. And there are many reasons why: it has a liturgy, lots of prayer, ceremonial clothing, and rituals. Indeed these rituals have changed throughout history. For example, it used to be that commercials were the part of the service that was intended for taking a bio break, but not in recent years. The commercials are an increasingly important part of the service, and some (like me) watch Super Bowl specifically for the advertisements. Over one third of viewers polled said they watch for the commercials. Google observes that those companies that post their ads on YouTube before the game received 3.4 times more views than those who didn’t. And during the game they are up 11% from last year. It now costs $5M for 30 seconds of air time. With 114.4 million people on average watching last year, that’s a lot of eyeballs.

  • Food

It’s the #2 food day. After Thanksgiving Day more food is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. These are usually selected for their high caloric index, sodium content, and crunch factor — along with carbonated inebriating fluids, all 325 million gallons of it. That’s about 500 Olympic-sized pools full of beer. 1.3 billion chicken wings will be consumed this year, over 62 million pounds.

  • Decorations

Consider Supermarkets (named after Superbowl) which decorate the chips aisle as it if is Christmas. If you work for Frito-Lay, it is Christmas. People are also decorating themselves: 11% of viewers will buy new team gear for the game, almost 21 million items. And almost 9 million new TVs will be bought to watch the game this year.

  • Advertisements

Advertisers will pay up to $166,666 per second for an advert. Who can forget the premier of Apple Macintosh *, directed by Ridley Scott (who directed Gladiator and Prometheus), during the 1984 Super Bowl, when the ad closed with:

On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.

And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”

  • History

LoserSuper Bowl is the modern name, since 1967, for the professional football championship contests, which extend back into antiquity, Roman antiquity to be precise. However, this year it will be called Super Bowl 50 instead of the historically correct L, the Roman numerals for 50 to honor those Roman roots of gladiatorial contests. This is of course a blatant anti-Latin bias, a dumbing down of an almost half-century tradition of naming the game using the language we all grew up with. It is time to campaign for a return to the original Latin. Next year: Super Bowl LI.

This contest is between the conferences of the National Football League (NFL), so named for the League, that unit of measurement used to express the distance a Roman citizen could walk in 1 hour. The modern game, however, is about 4 times that length of time. The NFL is divided neatly into two unequal halves, the NFC (National Football Conference) and the AFC (American Football Conference.) These Conferences are each further subdivided into Meetings, Get-Togethers, and One-On-Ones. The Super Bowl will not involve the ICFL (Continental Indoor Footfall League) as it is not a TLA (Three Letter Acronym). The winner of the Super Bowl will be declared the “world champions of football,” of course ignoring other inhabited countries who also play football (soccer) and they have a championship involving not a bowl, but a cup. And involvement from teams from outer space is out of the question. For space action we’ll have to just wait for the next Star Trek movie.

ColosseumWhere does the word “bowl” come from? Originally, it comes from the Rose Bowl, a college football contest, played in Pasadena, CA which is done in an elliptical stadium. Now a stadium is where foot races were held in ancient Rome, but spectator gladiatorial contests like this were held in amphitheaters, like the Colosseum in Rome, or Flavian Amphitheater, so named from the ancient Greek word because they were made up of two theaters joined together or theaters on both sides. But that is more ancient history than most people can handle.

  • Half Time

Nominally named for being approximately in the middle of the game, or 2 quarters in, or 4 bits worth, or 50 cent, but not the singer. Unlike many other football broadcasts, this part is actually shown to the audience watching from home. These festivities consist of first-class as well as second-rate musical performers, some who have questionable taste in attire, others who have costuming clumsiness or so called “wardrobe malfunctions.”

  • 2 Minute Warning

Super Bowl, while using a clock, does not intend that this is to be understood as representing actual “wall clock” time, rather, it uses poetic license to represent an epochal period that could last 30 minutes or an hour and a half, given overtimes.

  • Celebration

There is one reason for celebrating at the end of Super Bowl, especially for “football widows” or “football widowers” like me. It means the end of the professional football season for the year!

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


* This was not the very first airing of that famous commercial. It had been shown just before midnight on December 31, 1983 on KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho in order to be eligible for that year’s advertising awards.

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3 comments… add one
  • Loved the post, Bill. Good thoughts. Thanks.

  • As usual, a great post. The first superbowl was in 1967. The first supermarket was in Queens in 1930 according to wikipedia.

  • posted this at the blog and also on my FB page. good sense of humor! :)+


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