On January 15th, 1967 the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers met in what was then known as the AFL-NFL World Championship game. Three years before the leagues would officially merge, the two league champions would meet to settle the hot debate of the time; which league really was better. Little did they know they were launching an American tradition, that those who gathered in the Los Angeles Coliseum that day would be witnessing the first Super Bowl.
The Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, were NFL greats. 1966 was their tenth NFL championship, and their fourth of the decade. The Packers had joined the NFL in 1921: one year after the NFL was founded at a car dealership in Canton. The name, the Green Bay Packers, is the longest continuously used team name in the NFL. Lambeau Field was built in 1957, after 25 years of playing in horseshoe shaped City Stadium.
On the opposite side of the field, were the Kansas City Chiefs. Founded as the Dallas Texans in 1960, they were essentially run out of town when the NFL placed the expansion Cowboys in Dallas that same year. The two teams shared the Cotton Bowl for two years before the Texans packed it up and headed for Kansas City. They had to share Municipal Stadium with the Kansas City A's. 1966 was their second AFL Championship, they had also won one in 1962 as the Dallas Texans.
So how did these two disparate teams come to meet at the Los Angeles Coliseum in January? The merger agreement changed things rapidly. The leagues had agreed to merge on June 8, 1966. They also agreed to keep separate schedules through 1969, but that their would be a championship game between the two league champions in January of 1967.
Come October of 1966, no site had been chosen for the game, which was at that point scheduled to take place on January 8th. The selection committee (Dan Reeves, LA Rams; Tex Schramm, Dallas Cowboys; Carroll Rosenbloom, Baltimore Colts; Billy Sullivan, Boston Patriots; Ralph Wilson, Buffalo Bills; Lamar Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs) had agreed that it should be a warm weather location, and preferably a neutral site. Interestingly, they defined a neutral site as one where an AFL franchise doesn't play.
The prospective sites were the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, Houston's Astrodome, Rice Stadium, the Sugar Bowl, and a few other sites in Texas. The Astrodome didn't host the Oilers until '68. The Rose Bowl committee wasn't thrilled with the prospect of a pro game taking away from their annual college game. This made the Coliseum a bit of a front runner.
Or so it would seem. Miami and New Orleans (familiar Super Bowl sites as well) had joined the race now that the issue was becoming an NFL focus. There was concern that the NFL wouldn't grant the game to a major market, fearing a blackout if the game didn't sell out. In Pasadena, the City Council saw it self at odds with the Rose Bowl committee and was trying to re-enter negotiations with the NFL.
While all this politicking was going on, the Kansas City Chiefs were having a miracle season. The San Diego Chargers were perennial winners of the AFL Western Conference, winning five of the six years up to that point. The only year the Chargers didn't win, was the '62 Dallas Texan championship. On November 7th, the Chiefs beat the Chargers 24-14 to give them the fast track to the AFL West crown.
The game was notable because it was attended by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle; his first AFL game. Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson threw two touchdown passes, the second after Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson intercepted the Charger's John Hadl with the Chiefs sitting on a 17-7 lead.
Well by that point, Anaheim wanted to get in on the Super Bowl game, and offered up Anaheim Stadium as a potential site. It was too little, too late, as on November 17th the NFL decided to award the first AFL-NFL World Championship game to the LA Coliseum, with the game now scheduled for January 15th. The winners were to receive $15,000 each, the losers $7,500.
Still to be determined was whether the game would be blacked out in Los Angles. Furthermore, would CBS with the NFL broadcast contract or NBC with the AFL broadcast contract be the one to broadcast the Super Bowl. While that was being decided, NBC used what's now known as flex scheduling to ensure the nation was familiar with these upstart Kansas City Chiefs, and the top team in the East: the Buffalo Bills.
Over in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers had been the front runner since week 1. They ended the season with only two loses, three games ahead of the runner up in the Western Conference Baltimore Colts. Over in the East, the St. Louis Cardinals had been the front runner much of the season, causing a minor panic in LA. Organizers exhaled as the Cardinals lost to the expansion Atlanta Falcons, ensuring the Dallas Cowboys would meet the packers in the NFL Championship game.
The news dropped December 14th; Los Angeles would be blacked out from watching the Super Bowl game. It was announced at the same time that CBS and NBC would both be allowed to broadcast the Championship game, paying $2 million for the rights to do so. Crafty Angelenos who couldn't afford a ticket to the game found other ways to watch, including an Alliance Tenna-Rotor which would allow them to grab San Diego channels 8 & 10 which would be broadcasting the game. The other option was to just get out of town, and the LA Times was full of adds for weekend getaways to Palm Springs, Bakersfield, and San Diego all touting their Super Bowl specials (a practice forbidden in today's marketplace).
This also marked the first year of AFL Championship, NFL Championship double headers. The East conference champs were the hosts, with the Bills hosting the Chiefs at 10 am PST and the Cowboys hosting the Packers at 1 pm. It was the Western champs that prevailed, with the Packers defeating the Cowboys 34-27 and the Chiefs defeating the Bills 31-7.
The attendance on January 15th was reported as 61, 946, well short of a sellout in the cavernous Coliseum. It was widely believed that the Packers were the class of the old establishment, and would run roughshod over whomever the AFL dared to send. That's pretty much exactly what happened, with the Packers never trailing and the Chiefs held off the scoreboard in the second half.
Over the course of the 1966 NFL and AFL seasons, a path was carved out that has been followed ever since. Now it seems like such a well planned show. In the early days, it was all a bit wilder. The Coliseum would hold one more Super Bowl, in 1973. The Rose Bowl would get over their fears and hold five Super Bowls, the last in 1993. Anaheim would never host a Super Bowl.
The NFL has said that Los Angeles will not host another Super Bowl until a modern stadium is built. A sad turn, for the city that launched the modern NFL.