It is fitting that Super Bowl LVI will be played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, which is just a short distance from where the beloved gridiron battle began at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967.
Sunday’s game is the second consecutive year that one team is playing on its home turf (the game was played in Tampa Bay last season.) There’s plenty of optimism for the host Rams who expect a sea of blue jerseys to cheer them on to victory.
“We’re locked on to what we need to do,” said Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. “Our mindset is to go out there, try to find a way to affect the game. We do our job—and what we need to do up front—I think we can win this game.”
The Super Bowl origins lie in the formation of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960. It was started by a group of businessmen who wanted their own pro football franchises but were frustrated by the NFL’s unwillingness to expand. The AFL would forge ahead as an alternative league in playing a more “wide-open” brand of football.
Although the National Football League began in 1920, the creation of the AFL would, in time, incite a nationwide push for a merger between the two leagues. By 1967, the popularity of the AFL and its new commissioner, the late Raiders coach and executive Al Davis, saw the two leagues compete for a championship.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle suggested the game be called the AFL-NFL World Championship until the “Super Bowl” moniker was adopted in 1966. Oddly, the name came from a children’s toy, the “Super Ball,” which the daughter of Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt loved to play with. “My little girl had a toy called a ‘Super Ball’ and asked one day if she could go outside and play with it,” Hunt said years later. “I thought about it and the name stuck.”
The sports media immediately began to pick up on the name, and by the third contest in 1969 the game was officially called the Super Bowl.
Over the past half-century, the Super Bowl has drawn some of the biggest audiences in television history. Whether any particular game has lived up to its expectations has always been debated by “Monday-morning quarterbacks.” The pre-game publicity, the “over-and-unders,” the unique commercial spots, and the ever-famous half-time entertainment spectacular—early on with the likes of the Grambling State University Marching Band and Carol Channing, and later with the superstardom of Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones—the annual Sunday afternoon contest is a fan favorite around the world. Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable Super Bowl games:
As the first franchise to acquire three Super Bowl titles, the Pittsburgh Steelers became an unquestioned dynasty. Since the 1970s, the team has added three more titles to rank among the most decorated franchises in the Super Bowl era. In Super Bowl XLIII (2009), the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl with a 43-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
In 1969, the New York Jets upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III. Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously predicted the victory. Namath went down as the ultimate New York celebrity and transformed the game from a sporting event to a pop culture “happening.” This led to more championship athletes appearing as themselves in commercials and on prime time television programs.
The San Francisco 49ers continued their dominance in the NFC after a 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII in 1989. San Francisco Head Coach Bill Walsh announced his retirement after the game. The next year under new Head Coach George Seifert, the 49ers would win their fourth Super Bowl thereby cementing themselves as the team of the 80s.
New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells won his second ring in five years after his team defeated the Buffalo Bills, 25-20, in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. What is unique about this game is that it was the first of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances for the Buffalo Bills–a record still unmatched. Buffalo didn’t fare any better against the (then) Washington Redskins (Super Bowl XXVI) or against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowls XXVII or XXVIII. Incidentally, following those back-to-back titles, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fired Head Coach Jimmy Johnson.
In 2000, the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans, 34-23, in Super Bowl XXXIV. Rams Head Coach and former UCLA Head Coach Dick Vermeil would retire after that season, but for Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and the vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf,” the victory would lead to a Hall of Fame career.
In 2002, the New England Patriots, led by legendary quarterback Tom Brady, began their path to Super Bowl history with a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. What looked at the time like an out-of-nowhere upset set up the stage for New England who, led by Head Coach Bill Belichick, would rank only with the Pittsburgh Steelers with six Super Bowl victories.
The New York Giants’ win in Super Bowl XLII (2008) went down as one of the biggest upsets in sports history. This game was considered a test of perfection for the favored New England Patriots who had come into the game with 18 victories. The Giants’ win ensured that the 1972 Miami Dolphins would remain the only undefeated team of the Super Bowl era.
Possibly one of the most debated plays in history took place at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. With the Seattle Seahawks at the New England Patriots’ one-yard line with less than a minute remaining, a score would have sealed the victory. Most onlookers believed the ball would go to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch for the championship score. Instead, the call was for a short pass over the middle that was intercepted at the goal line by New England for a 28-24 victory.
In 2017, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to their fifth ring in unprecedented fashion in Super Bowl LI. Brady rallied his team back from a 21-0 (and 28-3) deficit to the Atlanta Falcons enroute to a thrilling 34-28 overtime victory. The Falcons’ collapse in the second half would ultimately be overshadowed by Brady who stamped his status as the best quarterback of the modern professional football era. Brady would earn another Super Bowl ring in 2019, and still one more—this time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—in 2021.