The First Super Bowl- Less Than Super
Officially called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game”, the first Super Bowl was less super and more scrimmage. The inaugural match took place on January 15, 1967 between the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs- Packers were favored by 13.5 points and eventually prevailed 35-10.
However, the spirit of the encounter was closer to a contest for league supremacy than that of two top teams chasing a coveted trophy. Seven months earlier, following years of waging bidding wars for players and competing for TV viewers, the established NFL and the upstart AFL agreed to merge- the deal included an annual championship game between the bitter foes.
Originally dismissed as another doomed league trying to nip at the heels of the entrenched NFL, the AFL took off in 1960 and actually succeeded in advancing its eight teams to the national spot light. Tensions ran high as celebrated coach Vince Lombardi and his dynastic Packers were under pressure by the NFL to outperform Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL and owner of the Chiefs.
The two teams had never played each other and even took to the field with different balls for their offensive lines- KC used the AFL’s more narrow and ¼ inch longer Spalding football that was said to throw better, while GB played with the NFL’s customary, fatter Wilson ball that was more kickable.
Both leagues were also followed by their respective broadcasters, a media rivalry in its own- CBS covered the NFL and NBC the AFL. On the ground, their TV trucks were even separated by a fence as they simultaneously telecast the event.
Almost as an after-thought, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was hastily picked six weeks earlier for the venue. Tickets ran $6 to $12 but only 2/3 of the stadium’s 93,000 seats were filled; more spectators showed up a month earlier to watch the Packers face off against their hometown LA Rams. A 75-mile radius TV blackout around Los Angeles also angered fans who found the top-tier tickets too expensive and refused to attend.
By the time it was all over, the NFL emerged triumphantly but the world was indifferent- both NBC and CBS lost or simply deleted their tape footages of the match, assigning little value to the game for posterity. It would take 49 years for all the available film fragments to be sourced and stitched to replay the epic match entirely on tape- an unimaginable concept today.
AUTO RACING May 24, 2009 Brazil’s Helio Castroneves wins the 93rd edition of the Indianapolis 500, becoming the first foreign-born driver to claim the famed chase three times (2001, 2002). Starting out from pole position in car #3, Castroneves clocked the 200-lap race in 3:19:35. Placing 2nd at the 500 in 2003, 2014 and 2017, Castrovenes is regarded as the best driver who never won an IndyCar Series championship.
RUNNING May 18, 1999 American running champion Betty Robinson dies at the age of 87. The Riverdale, Illinois native was the first female to win gold at the 100m sprint when the race was introduced to women at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. She went on to claim gold again in the 4 x 100m relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin after the heavily favored Germans, who were leading, dropped the baton.
HORSE RACING May 20, 1989 Pat Valenzuela wins the Preakness Stakes aboard Sunday Silence, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:538 and edging out rival Easy Goer by just a nose. Both jockey and horse had won the Kentucky Derby earlier, but would miss out on a Triple Crown three weeks later at the Belmont Stakes after trailing Easy Goer by eight lengths.
BASEBALL May 16, 1979 The NL approves the sale of the Houston Astros by the Ford Motor Company (Credit) to John McMullen. The team would sign up pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball’s first $1 million contract, and go on to reach the playoffs the following year for the first time in franchise history. Founded as the Houston Colt .45’s, the Astros were renamed in 1965 as a reference to the nation’s space center.