The first Super Bowl was played in January of 1967, and people thought so much of it that they left more than 30,000 seats empty. The expansive Los Angeles Coliseum was perhaps two-thirds full as the Green Bay Packers took on the Kansas City Chiefs. The two networks that covered the game, CBS and NBC, were so impressed that each repurposed the videotape used to capture the broadcast, leaving no official visual record.
In other words, practically no one in 1967 had an inkling of what this game, this event, would become. As the Super Bowl turns 50 in Santa Clara today, its impact is hard to overstate. So many American will watch the game on TV that companies are willing to pay $5 million to advertise their cars and soft drinks for 30 seconds during the telecast. The hoopla surrounding the contest is so outsized that even a sophisticated city like San Francisco seems transformed.
At 50, the Super Bowl has never been more popular, more profitable or more noteworthy. But is it sustainable? Can the NFL continue to expand economically and geographically, even as the violence at its core becomes a recurring front-page issue?
Or frame it this way: Will there be a Super Bowl 100?
The men who play the game, or played it as long as they were physically able, are confident we’ll see another 50 of these things.
“Well, hopefully I’m around, or close to being around, to see it,” said former defensive end Willie McGinest, now an NFL Network analyst. “It’s a great sport, man, it’s a great game. I don’t see our sport going anywhere. I think it’s stronger and bigger than ever, it gets bigger every year. The players are better. Our resources get better, the equipment, television — everything you can think of gets bigger and better every year, so I see us trending in the right direction.”
Let’s assume for a moment that McGinest is correct and the Super Bowl reaches its centennial in 2066. What will we be watching, and how?
“If there is gonna be a Super Bowl 100, what is it gonna be like?” asked Marshall Faulk, a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and now an NFL Network voice. “Will we be playing on the moon? Where will the game be?”
Faulk believes the Super Bowl will eventually settle into a permanent home. He cites the Masters golf tournament, the power of which derives from its hallowed fairways in Augusta, Ga. Faulk doesn’t really think the game will go lunar, though. (Scientific question: Can you hear Chris Berman in space?) He has another idea.
“I think at some point in time the NFL gets off of its high horse, builds a stadium that seats 100,000 to 200,000 in Las Vegas, and have the game there,” Faulk said. “… It would be great for us to have a venue to look forward to. And name it The Ship. We’re going to play on The Ship.”
The site of Super Bowl 100 is a side question, though. Looking at footage of Vince Lombardi’s Packers, it’s clear the biggest changes will be in how the game is played, the uniforms and equipment the players wear, and how the sport is conveyed to fans.