The Super Bowl Logo: An Appreciation

Josh FriedmanContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2012

The prize
The prizeKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Like many things that become successful, the logo for the Super Bowl began modestly. From those quaint, humble origins, the logo came to reflect (beginning with Super Bowl IX) the host city. Over time, the color scheme and the number of design elements grew.

However, beginning with last season’s Super Bowl, the NFL has standardized the logo. Only the game number and stadium at the base of the Lombardi Trophy will change. So open up another window and follow along with the artwork from all XLVI Super Bowls here.


I-II: In case you weren’t sure what the inaugural event was about, the logo explained it all. The following season’s straightforward logo said it all too. Just the facts. Perhaps it was appropriate and inevitable that in an era of turmoil and upheaval, the no-nonsense Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers won the first two games.

III: After consecutive bland logos, Super Bowl III was a bold leap forward. The January 1969 game followed the 1968 season, which coincided, in part, with the presidential election. Former Vice President Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, but the upstart AFL won its first Super Bowl against the NFL establishment. In 1982, HHH got his name on the Vikings' (and Twins') new domed stadium.

IV-VIII: Perhaps the Super Bowl III logo was too much for the NFL because the logos for Super Bowls IV-VIII featured only type treatment, including shadows with the Super Bowl VII logo. 

The first logo to identify the host city
The first logo to identify the host city

Something New

IX: This was the first logo where the Roman numerals broke away from the words "Super Bowl." In addition, the X features what appears to be either a French horn or a tuba, with the bell in the top right. The musical instrument thus made this the first Super Bowl logo to incorporate an element from, and thus identify, the host city.

X-XII: In retrospect, the large "X" in the Super Bowl X logo conjures Spike Lee’s 1992 movie, X. On another movie-related note, scenes from the 1977 film Black Sunday were shot during the game. XI’s red, white and blue spoke to the season’s coinciding with the Bicentennial. Super Bowl XII was the first game played indoors, in New Orleans, and the logo’s colors are a nod to the host city’s Mardi Gras celebration. Purple represents justice, green stands for faith and gold symbolizes power.

XIII: The logo looks like a Times Square neon sign Robert De Niro might have driven past in Taxi Driver. It also calls to mind the Ben-day dots in a Roy Lichtenstein painting. This patriotic logo was the first to include the game’s location and date.

XIV: A high-water mark for the Super Bowl logo. The design is timeless, with "I" and the lower half of the "B" forming the Lombardi Trophy. The action on the field was great, too, with the Steel Curtain winning its 4th Super Bowl of the decade, scoring 14 points in the final quarter to defeat the L.A. Rams, playing a near-home game in Pasadena, 31-19.

XV-XVI: Perhaps the logo is modest as it was designed during the Iranian hostage crisis. The Americans were freed five days before the game, and a huge yellow ribbon encircled the Superdome. The next year’s logo was equally plain. 

A gem. The Lombardi Trophy appears in the 'B' and the 'I.'
A gem. The Lombardi Trophy appears in the 'B' and the 'I.'

Red and Blue Come to Dominate

XVII: This is the first real ‘80s logo. It beat the Top Gun logo to the use of wings by three years and calls to mind a sleek, stainless steel diner. This begins a stretch of 11 consecutive Super Bowl logos dominated by blue and red.

XVIII: The logo is simple and understated. The ribbon furling is a nice touch.

XIX-XX: The logos for Super Bowls XIX and XX are similar in that the Roman numerals form the meat in a sandwich created by the words "Super" and "Bowl." The Art deco typeface in XIX is a great look for the last Super Bowl played on a college campus (Stanford Stadium).

XXI: The stylized rose, for the Rose Bowl, looks like a maze or the Pentagon. There’s a mismatch between the computer-generated look of the rose, the Art deco typeface and the modern look of the "XXI."

XXII-XXIV: The Super Bowls XXII and XXIV logos are similar to XIX and XX, with the Roman numerals being bracketed by the words "Super" and "Bowl." Super Bowl XXIII may be the most masculine logo. There’s a lot of testosterone in that heavy blue triangle and those big red Roman numerals.

XXV: The silver anniversary game logo would look at home on the front of a car, like a Rover or an MG.

XXVI-XXVII: Super Bowl XXVI had the first logo to overtly show a football, which seems to be on its way to outer space. The logo for Super Bowl XXVII is another beauty. This elegant design is the first logo to feature green, which is odd considering the color of the surface the game is played on.

Another beauty for XXVII.
Another beauty for XXVII.

Democratizing the Color Scheme

Super Bowl XXVIII: Remember when sports teams discovered teal in the early '90s? The San Jose Sharks, Florida Marlins, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars each played their first game between 1991 and 1995. We start to see the beginnings of diversity in the Super Bowl logo color palette beginning with this logo, featuring a Georgia peach. For fun, add up the number of sun rays, leaves and stems and see what number you get.

XXIX: The logo for Super Bowl XXIX seems more fitting for Arizona, with the red and the sun. The sunbeams evoke Bart Simpson’s hair.

XXX: The colors are an apparent nod to the Native American tribes and red dirt of Arizona.

XXXI: The Mardi Gras crown and colors can only mean one thing—debauchery on Bourbon Street.

XXXII: Host city San Diego has a huge naval presence, represented by the logo’s Navy flag motif. The first flag does not seem to mean anything, but the red X (Victor) means “require assistance,” while the white X (Mike) signals “my vessel is stopped/making no way.” By the final quarter, the Broncos could have waved the red-and-white checkered U-flag at the Packers (you are running into danger).

XXXIII: The Miami Art deco influence is obvious.

XXXIV: This looks like the NFL logo and was the first logo with the year appearing as part of the design, not as part of the type element.

Naval flags for San Diego
Naval flags for San Diego

XXXV: The logo conjures a mission or a Tex-Mex restaurant, not host city Tampa. 


Patriotism and the Patriots

XXXVI: The original logo for Super Bowl XXXVI was inspired by Mardi Gras. By game time, the design had been changed to reflect the mood of the country after the 9/11 attacks. You can still find memorabilia with the original logo and date on eBay. Fittingly, the game was won by a team called the Patriots.

XXXVII – Like the logo for XXXII, also played in San Diego, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and navy blue colors speak to the host city’s location on the Pacific Ocean. The waves and vibe recall the Islanders ill-fated Gorton’s fisherman logo from the mid-‘90s.

XXXVIII: Houston, home of the Johnson Space Center and a logo that seems to be in orbit. Carolina outscored New England 19-18 in the 4th quarter but lost 32-29.

XXXIX: The logo shows Jacksonville’s Main Street Bridge. If you look closely, you can see Eagles fans jumping off into the St. John’s River.


Stars for the AFC and NFC

XL: The extra large logo for the XL game featured an odometer in the middle, a nod to host city Detroit. This is the first of five consecutive Super Bowl logos to feature a red and blue star, representing, respectively, the AFC and the NFC.

An odometer for Detroit
An odometer for Detroit

XLI: The orange tells you the game is being played in Miami. Note how the "I" looks like a pylon.

XLII – The red object is the shape of Arizona. Or a car door. Neither the city nor the date appear.

XLIII – For the second consecutive year, the host city (Tampa) does not appear. The date is indicated in the yardage markers (2.4, or February 4). The colors would make one think this game is being played in North Jersey, with the Giants blue and Jets green.

XLIV – Once again, there is orange for South Florida’s delicious export. For the first time, the logo features a goal post. The last of the original logos does not reveal the date or city by name. 


The Forever Logo

XLV-XLVI: Behold the new permanent logo. Only the Roman numerals and the stadium at the base of the Lombardi Trophy will change. The NFL logo on the trophy marks the first time the league logo appears in the Super Bowl logo.