It’s one of the most-watched annual sporting events in the world and one that has expanded far beyond the three-or-so hours of game time. The Super Bowl effectively kicks off as soon as the Championship Games are finished, with two weeks of feverish speculation and interviews. A week before the game, the NFL Experience opens in the city hosting the Super Bowl – effectively a temporary theme park devoted to the league. Meanwhile, the media and assorted brands, from DirecTV to Budweiser, host one party after another.
It wasn’t always such a big deal, of course. The Super Bowl arose out of the merger between the NFL and the rival American Football League (AFL) and the first game, played in January 1967, didn’t even sell out. Just 62,000 of the 93,000 seats at the LA Memorial Coliseum were sold. Interested in how we got from there to here? What follows is a good selection of books that can tell you.
1The Making of the Super Bowl (2003) by Don Weiss with Chuck Day
Don Weiss was the right-hand man of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and took charge of every Super Bowl until XXXVI, in 2002. In this book he tells the story of how the game was created, the development of now-vital elements such as the halftime show and how the NFL became a prime-time TV fixture. The book closes with a look at some of the key figures – owners, coaches and executives – who played important roles in shaping the Super Bowl. Weiss died, aged 77, shortly after the book was published.
2Super Bowl Gold (2015) by Sports Illustrated
Probably the definitive guide to the history of the games themselves, this weighty coffee table book collects Sports Illustrated’s reporting on the first 50 Super Bowls. That means you get the view of the game from greats like Tex Maule, Dan Jenkins and Paul Zimmerman, which makes the writing as essential as the photography – and there is some great photography. The layout is well-designed for browsing, with stats from each game, reminiscences from key players and little details like pictures of the game ticket and the winners’ rings.
3Countdown to Super Bowl (1969) by Dave Anderson
Super Bowl III was one of the most important ever played. The Packers had won the first two and, for many, that emphasised the dominance of the NFL over the upstart AFL. The quality of the football was simply better in the older league, they said. The viability of the merged league would depend on AFL teams showing that they could compete, which they did in Super Bowl III, when the New York Jets won a shock upset over the Baltimore Colts. Dave Anderson’s book unfolds the story of the 10 days before the big game including, on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, Jets QB Joe Namath guaranteeing victory. An anniversary edition was published in 2018.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK
4Super Bowl Monday (2011), Adam Lazarus
Super Bowl III was played with America at war in Vietnam. Super Bowl XXV was overshadowed by another war, this one in the Persian Gulf. Adam Lazarus looks back at a Super Bowl played under heightened security, and which some argued should not have been played at all. It was, of course, and the game – a narrow win for the New York Giants over the Buffalo Bills – became known as a classic. For soldiers watching it in the Gulf, the time difference meant that they were celebrating Super Bowl Monday.
5The Lost Super Bowls (2016), Tom Danyluk
This book is an exercise in fantasy football. Tom Danyluk, author of The Super 70s, imagines that the NFL and AFL had merged in 1961, when the AFL first tried to initiate merger talks with its larger rival. That would have created five more Super Bowls. Danyluk tells the story of those imaginary games through a series of fictional newspaper reports. The book even includes artwork for the “Official Program” for each game. It’s a fun read.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK
Photo: Michael Dorausch