History of the Super Bowl: Just another Religious Holiday?

Super Bowl LVII logo


The Super Bowl™ is a territory acquisition athletic contest played on a fixed agrarian grid using, as a token, an inflated porcine prolate spheroid. Some will say it is the most important holiday of the year in America. While it is ostensibly a secular holiday, others argue it is truly a religious holiday. And there are several reasons why. It has:

  • A liturgy
  • Multiple prayers
  • Special foods
  • Formal rituals that have developed throughout history

It used to be that commercials were the part of the worship service that was intended for taking a bio break, but not in recent years. The commercials are now the most important part (for 22% of viewers) of the service, and indeed some (like me) watch Super Bowl specifically for the advertisements.


Super Bowl Advertisements

Ad slots have been sold out for a while now. A 30-second advertisement spot on the Super Bowl costs $7 million. The average cost of an ad in the Super Bowl has almost doubled over the last ten years. Google observes that those companies that post their ads on YouTube before the game receive more views than those that didn’t. Over 100 million viewers will watch the program, making it the year’s single most-watched television program.

Super Bowl is now the showcase for brands to promote their latest innovations. Mini-movies abound, and beer companies have released the most pre-game advertisements for fans to see, as well as food and other brands. Ad teasers and even full-length ads are already out ahead of the game:

  • A Frito-Lay commercial with stars from Breaking Bad should be big
  • Jon Hamm and Brie Larson will be in a refrigerator for Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Ham and Cheese, get it?
  • Alicia Silverstone is back as Cher from Clueless
  • Melissa McCarthy sings about vacations
  • Several rock stars will be stumping for Workday
  • The Caddyshack crew will be promoting Michelob Ultra
  • Marvel superheroes will promote Heineken
  • Anna Faris will be promoting Avocados

But who can forget the 1984 Super Bowl premiere of Apple Macintosh*, directed by Ridley Scott (who directed Blade RunnerGladiator, and Alien), when the ad closed with:





Super Bowl Food

Super Bowl food

After Thanksgiving Day, more food is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than on 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.

A national “cheat day,” many will suspend their New Year’s Dieting Resolution “for just this one day.”

  • 67% more pizza is eaten on Super Bowl Sunday than on average days.
  • 4 million pounds of pretzels, 2.5 million pounds of nuts, 8 million pounds of popcorn, and 29 million pounds of chips.
  • 8 million pounds of guacamole are consumed on this day… some crediting the Super Bowl for popularizing the avocado Americans eat more avocadoes on this day than any other day of the year.
  • $1.3 billion dollars are spent on beer, and $517 million are spent on soft drinks on Super Bowl Sunday.


Super Bowl Decorations

Not only is food a significant part of this holiday, but so too are decorations. Consider Super Markets (named after Super Bowl) that decorate the chips aisle as if it is Christmas. If you work for Frito-Lay, it is Christmas.


Super Bowl History

Super Bowl is the modern name, since 1967, for the professional football championship contests, which extend back into antiquity, Roman antiquity to be precise. This will be Super Bowl LVII, the Roman numerals for 57 to honor those Roman roots of gladiatorial contests. This contest is between the conferences of the National Football League (NFL). “League” is the unit of measurement used to express the distance a Roman citizen could walk in 1 hour. However, the modern game is about four times that length of time, even though there are four 15-minute quarters. Go figure.





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 Meetups, Get-Togethers, One-On-Ones, and Zoom calls.

The Super Bowl will not involve the CIFL (Continental Indoor Football 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 may point out that they call soccer “football,” 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 wait for the next Star Trek movie.


Rose Bowl Stadium

Rose Bowl Stadium


Where does the word “bowl” come from? Initially, it came from the Rose Bowl, a college football contest held in Pasadena, CA, and done in an elliptical stadium.

In ancient Rome, a stadium was a sporting venue where foot races were held. But spectator gladiatorial contests like this were held in amphitheatres, like the Colosseum in Rome.


Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum, Flavian Amphitheatre


To be more historically accurate, the Colosseum was called the Flavian Amphitheatre, so named from the two ancient Greek root words amphi+theatron because they were made up of two theatres joined together or literally theatres on both sides, but that is more ancient history than most people can handle.

There was a consideration of changing the name from Super Bowl to the Tom Brady Show. But since his second retirement, not so much.



It is nominally named for being approximately in the middle of the game, though the second half can be much longer, going into overtime. The current rules allow both teams to possess the ball at least once in overtime unless the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on its first possession.

Unlike many other football broadcasts, this halftime event is actually shown to the TV audience watching from home. These festivities consist of first-class and second-rate musical performers, some who have questionable taste in attire, others who have costuming clumsiness or so-called “wardrobe malfunctions.”


Two Minute Warning

While using a clock, Super Bowl does not intend that this is to be understood as representing actual “wall clock” time. Instead, it uses poetic license to represent an epochal period that could last 30 minutes or an hour and a half, given overtimes. Then it ends in sudden death — just like those gladiatorial games.


Super Bowl Protests and Boycotts

Just as there’s nothing more American than Super Bowl, there’s nothing more American than dissent and counter-dissent. It’s inevitable, considering the number of eyeballs glued to the screen for this event.


Super Bowl Fun Facts to Impress Friends and Family

  • A Super Bowl I ticket in 1967 cost $6-$12. Now the average cost of a ticket is over $5,000
  • Super Bowl XLIX (Seahawks vs. Patriots) had a record 114.4 million viewers.
  • 17 million will miss work the day after the Super Bowl, and this year, not due to Coronavirus.


Super Bowl Celebration

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

Will you be watching this 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, to be eligible for that year’s advertising awards.

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About billpetro

Bill Petro has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Craig on February 5, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Loved the post, Bill. Good thoughts. Thanks.

  2. Michael Bierman on February 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

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

  3. Carol on February 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

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

  4. U2Joshua on February 3, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I am a better man for having exposure to the incorporated prototypical terminologies employed, i.e. CIFs, or Carbonated Inebreating Fluids.

  5. Ricki Pezoldt on February 3, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Very fun post ! Thanks

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