For the Rose Bowl, the little, old game at Pasadena now a big deal These days, cities battle to be host

January 26, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

PASADENA, Calif. -- This year is something of a homecoming for the Super Bowl. It's back to where it started XXVI years ago.

When the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys meet in Super Bowl XXVII on Sunday, the site will be the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The first one was played Jan. 15, 1967, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The only reason the first one wasn't played at the Rose Bowl -- which has 10,000 more seats than the nearby Coliseum -- is that Rose Bowl officials wouldn't allow their hallowed stadium to be used.

But, then, the first one wasn't even officially called the Super Bowl. On the game program, it was the World Championship Game NFL vs. AFL. The two leagues had agreed the previous June to merge and play a championship game at a neutral site.

The trophy wasn't called the Vince Lombardi Trophy, either. Lombardi was the Green Bay Packers coach. His team beat Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10, in the first one.

There was no scalping of tickets. You could buy an end-zone seat for $8. A lot of people didn't. Only 61,946 showed up at the 90,000-seat stadium.

Now, tickets cost $175, but many are scalped for more than that. Commercials cost $900,000 for 30 seconds. The pre-game show lasts 2 1/2 hours.

Stram, who has seen every Super Bowl as a coach, fan or broadcaster and will work the game on CBS Radio, said: "Every year, I say it can't get any bigger or better, and, each year, it gets bigger and better."

The first one was a purist's dream: little hype and a lot of football. The game was a crusade for the establishment NFL and the upstart AFL. The NFL wanted to prove it was the best. The AFL wanted to prove it wasn't -- in the words of NFL zealots -- a Mickey Mouse league.

All the first one did prove was that the AFL's best team wasn't as good as Lombardi's Packers. But neither were any of the other NFL teams.

The fact that it wasn't a sellout didn't bother Stram.

"We weren't in the ticket business. We were in the winning business. The whole atmosphere was big-league. It was a happening," he said.

A small-scale happening compared with what was to come.

Shaken by the failure to sell out in Los Angeles, NFL officials moved the second game to Miami, where it attracted a capacity crowd of 75,546 at the Orange Bowl. The NFL still wasn't sure what to do with the game, so it kept the third one at the Orange Bowl. That's the only time the league has held the game in the same stadium two years in a row, and it wound up being the game that turned the Super Bowl into an event. Joe Namath's New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.

There was some sentiment to make the Orange Bowl the permanent home, but the league decided to make it a floating game and played the fourth one in New Orleans.

That one was the first the NFL officially called a Super Bowl and the first designated by a Roman numeral.

Nobody is sure how the Super Bowl name got started. Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, one of the founders of the AFL, said he thinks it might have been on his mind because his

children played with a toy called Super Ball.

"But there was no conversation about taking a child's toy and naming the game after it," Hunt said. "We weren't even looking for a name. It was just going to be called the World Championship Game."

He said league officials thought Super Bowl was too corny to be an official name, but they used it among themselves and it caught on.

As far as the Roman numerals, Hunt said he first saw a newspaper use the term "Super Bowl III" and suggested to former commissioner Pete Rozelle that the league adopt the numerals.

It didn't take long for the AFL-NFL rivalry to wane, and Stram said he still misses it. Only a few AFL die-hards will note that, if the Buffalo Bills win, they'd be the first original AFL team to win since the Los Angeles Raiders did it after the 1983 season.

"All the purists of the AFL miss that rivalry. I bump into guys from the AFL, and they don't just shake your hand, they grab you and hug you and talk about the old days," Stram said.

The fifth game, which was moved back to Miami, didn't even have an AFL flavor. Two original NFL teams, the Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, played a sloppy game that Baltimore won, 16-13.

The sixth game -- the Cowboys' 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins -- was played in New Orleans, but NFL officials felt so upbeat about the game's future that they went back to the Los Angeles Coliseum for the seventh one. This time, it sold out.

The 11th game also was back in Southern California -- at the Rose Bowl. The game had become too big for Rose Bowl officials to shun. This will be the fifth time the game will be played at that facility.

After the eighth Super Bowl was played in Houston, the game settled into an unofficial New Orleans-Miami-Pasadena rotation for the next seven years.

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