Super Bowl 2011: What's in a Name? The Origin of the Term “Super Bowl”

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Super Bowl 2011: What's in a Name? The Origin of the Term “Super Bowl”
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

DALLAS, TX—Every year right around the last week of January, we at Bleacher Report find ourselves wondering something about the biggest sporting event on American soil: Where did it get such a lame name?

The fact is, when we think about it, we can’t think of a more fourth-grade-sounding moniker than “Super Bowl” for this multimillion-dollar spectacle.

It sounds like something an elementary school kid would call the giant container for the six pounds of cereal he eats every morning or the name of a strange, toilet-themed comic book superhero.

Despite all this, Super Bowl Sunday is a de facto holiday every American over the age of three knows—and typically looks forward to—but how many of us know where this name came from?

With this in mind, we went looking for the story behind this most ridiculous of names. We expected to find a story steeped in history and tradition dating back to the early days of the NFL. What we actually found was a story of chance, an NFL/AFL owner and a small rubber ball.

Back in 1966, talks were brewing about a merger between the National Football League and its newly formed rival the American Football League. It was decided that starting on January 15th, 1967, a game would be played every year between the champions of the NFL and AFL. When the merger between the two leagues was finalized and went into effect in 1970, the NFL and AFL would become the NFC and AFC conferences of the soon to be much larger NFL.

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One of the big issues surrounding the formation of this World Championship Game was what to call it. Originally the plan was just to call it the World Championship Game, but the consensus among the owners and NFL officials is that it should have a title befitting of the magnitude of the game being played.

Many recounts of that debate state that then-commissioner of the NFL Pete Rozelle had suggested that they simply call the game “The Big One.” However, that did not resonate with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.

Hunt, one of the founders of the AFL, claims he originally coined the term “Super Bowl” after watching his kids play with the famous Super Ball toy, though other reports state that sports journalists had used the name for some time and Hunt only inspired the use of it as the official name for the game.

Originally Hunt suggested that they call the game the “Super Bowl” as a joke, though it quickly gained popularity among league officials as a temporary name until a more proper one could be created. However, due in part to the absolute silliness of the title and the way that the term resonated with NCAA football postseason “bowl games,” the name stuck and remains the official name of the game to this day, even as we approach Super Bowl XLV.

Lamar Hunt—the man credited with naming the single biggest game in all of North American sports—sadly died in December of 2006. However, as the Steelers and Packers prepare for battle in Dallas on “Super Bowl Sunday,” his legacy lives on in the name that he and his jovial nature inspired.

The Wham-O-made Super Ball that he claims was his muse for the term “Super Bowl” lives on display in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Silly or not, the name is here to stay for the history of the NFL and for all future Super Bowls to come.

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