On February 6, an estimated 100 million people will watch the Pittsburgh Sabertooths* battle the Green Bay Velociraptors* in Super Bowl XLV. I don’t usually follow football, but I’m a little tired of feeling left out of sports-related conversations, so I decided to do some research. Here’s what I found…
Each year, the National Football League (NFL) organizes a football game called the Super Bowl to determine the year’s champion football team. This wasn’t always the case — the NFL was formed in 1920, and for four decades the championship was decided using a solemn ritual based loosely on the children’s game Pin the Tail on the Donkey. NFL officials would consume large quantities of alcohol, then blindfold whoever appeared the most intoxicated, spin him around, hand him a dart, and point him in the general direction of a dartboard shaped like a map of the United States. The team based in the city nearest the spot on the map where the dart landed would be declared the champion. This method did have its critics, but they were largely ignored until 1960, when a heartfelt editorial entitled “Hey, NFL – You Could Put Someone’s Eye Out” appeared in the New York Times. The NFL decided that from then on, the end of football season would be celebrated by playing one last football game and declaring the winners of that game the champions.
The first championship game, Super Bowl 0, was played in 1961, followed by Super Bowl -42, Super Bowl π, Super Bowl Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, and Super Bowl -42. Each year, more and more fans complained that the Super Bowl names were unnecessarily confusing. By 1966, the complainers were in the majority, and that year’s Super Bowl No I Meant The Other Super Bowl -42 just added fuel to the fire. This controversy led to a new rule that subsequent Super Bowls “shall be designated by numbers that form a monotonically increasing, non-repeating sequence of positive integers” and to the requirement that Super Bowl numbers be written as Roman numerals, to help ensure that no one would be able to sneak in any negative numbers or fractions.
Football’s popularity as a spectator sport grew steadily over the years. In 1982, more than 40 million people watched Super Bowl XVI, which was unfortunate because it was played in a stadium with a seating capacity of less than 100,000. Parking was a nightmare. In response to a flurry of complaints from fans, the NFL decided to try to have future Super Bowls televised.
Finding a TV network willing to broadcast the Super Bowl was a challenge — by some weird coincidence, the Super Bowl happens to fall at the same time as Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl every year, and there was considerable doubt as to whether a football game would be able to compete with awesomely cute puppies. Eventually, the NFL did manage to persuade a TV station to broadcast a game, and a few companies even paid for advertising time. Today, advertising plays a huge part in the Super Bowl, with companies trying to find new and better ways to get their message across.
Attempts to label the Super Bowl game itself with a company’s name have so far been unsuccessful due to the “positive integer rule” enacted in 1966; however, recent trademark filings suggest that Kellogg’s might be planning to release Liv Cereal just in time for Super Bowl LIV in 2020 and that Coca Cola might be planning to do the same for Lix Energy Drink for Super Bowl LIX in 2025. Remember, you read it here first.*Not their real names. These teams are just doing their jobs, and they deserve their privacy.