COMMENTARY: Supe’s On! The Big Game turns 50 years old

The Super Bowl, the one-game championship of the National Football League, turns 50 Sunday. Simply based on longevity, the big game deserves kudos. But the spectacle has left an indelible mark on Americans’ psyche because of the players, storylines, halftime show, commercials and legends.

Some teams have been more successful than others at winning the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers lead in SB wins with six, followed by the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers with five, and the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and New York Giants with four victories each.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

On the other hand, the Denver Broncos have lost the most Super Bowls at five, though they have likewise triumphed twice, while both the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills have gone 0-4. The Miami Dolphins are the only team to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls, and finished one with an undefeated season, the only one in NFL history in the SB era.

For many, the big game is defined by the players who have risen to the challenge. Think Joe Namath’s pre-game victory guarantee before SB3, Terry Bradshaw’s perfect 4-4 record in SBs, and Doug Williams’ quarter for the ages. Likewise, it is remembered for heartbreak, such as Scott Norwood’s wide-right field goal miss as time expired; last year’s last-second disaster by the Seattle Seahawks; and the Giants preventing the New England Patriots from finishing 19-0.

One reason why many people tune into the Super Bowl is the commercials. The fee for advertisements during the initial championship game was $37,500 for a 30-second spot. By 2015, the price was up to $4.4 million.

Perhaps the most memorable commercials have involved beverages (Coke, Budweiser), snacks (Doritos), and cars (GM, Chrysler), though the 1984 Apple ad for the MacIntosh computer literally broke the mold for daring, must-see fare.

Then, there is the gala halftime show. For at least the first decade of Super Bowl games, the entertainment at the half included a college marching band or two. In the 1970s, the group Up With People played at several games.

Since the 1990s, we have watched the best entertainers available, including Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Beyoncé among others. Still, the 2004 performance by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake is probably the most unforgettable due to Ms. Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” After the latter fiasco, MTV was banned from producing the halftime extravaganza. This year’s highlighted act, the band Coldplay, will have the privilege of performing at the golden anniversary of the pro football championship.

My memories of the Super Bowl are by decade. In the 1960s, I enjoyed watching the game at home with my father. In the late 1970s, I joined college buddies for the event. During the 1980s, I moved around extensively.

Unfortunately, I got snowed in at the D.C. airport on one such occasion, having sat on the plane on the tarmac until late in the fourth quarter. During the 1990s, I was lucky enough to witness my two favorite sports teams — the Green Bay Packers and the New York Yankees — win it all in the same year. In the current century, my most vivid memory is not of the game, but of helping a motorist stranded in the snow up the block on Super Bowl Sunday.

Obviously, the NFL has had its share of controversy over the last few years, whether it be with allegations of players using HGH, criminal charges against players, the state of officiating, or criticism about the prevalence of concussions in the game. However, most Americans choose to ignore or forget those transgressions, at least, for one day and one game.

Whether a close contest or a blowout, the game awaits millions each year. For a number of fans, it is the highlight of the year, even the most significant event of their lives. But lest we forget, it is just a game. As former Dallas Cowboy Duane Thomas reminds us, “if it [Super Bowl] is the ultimate game, why is it played every year?” For the money, for the ring, for the Lombardi Trophy, and forever, of course.

Happy 5-0 to the Super Bowl, and thanks to all those who help to make the game worth watching.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is a resident of Dover who played high school and college football in Pennsylvania.

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