Mark Washburn

How the Super Bowl got its name

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with Norma Hunt, the widow of longtime Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, at the Super Bowl press center after a meeting of people who had attended all the Super Bowls on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in San Francisco. Hunt says her husband got the idea for the name of the game from a kids’ toy.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with Norma Hunt, the widow of longtime Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, at the Super Bowl press center after a meeting of people who had attended all the Super Bowls on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in San Francisco. Hunt says her husband got the idea for the name of the game from a kids’ toy. AP

Nostalgia about professional football is getting a workout here in the days leading up to the Super Bowl’s landmark 50th anniversary Sunday.

One of the strangest stories I heard is how the Super Bowl got its name.

Given that the NFL is the nation’s foremost powerhouse marketing machine, you’d expect that the brand had hatched only after careful research. But no. Turns out it got its name from a display in a Dallas toy store.

In 1967, the first Super Bowl was played, but it was named then the “NFL-AFL World Championship Game.” Not very snappy.

Lamar Hunt, founder of the Kansas City Chiefs and a pioneer organizer for the American Football League, hated that name. Lacked pizazz, he thought.

His widow, Norma Hunt, says she was shopping for toys for their children in Dallas one day and saw a display for an energetic ball called the Super Ball that could bounce over a small house.

Her kids loved the Super Ball, she says. And her husband noticed how much fun they were having with it a few days before going to a league meeting.

Super Ball, Super Bowl.

“It just popped into his head,” says Norma Hunt. “He thought Super Bowl is what the name of the game should be.”

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle thought the playoff game needed a zippier title, but wasn’t crazy about Super Bowl. That sounded kind of cheap.

But he went along, and the third championship was officially named Super Bowl as have all the others since.

“I loved it from the very beginning,” says Hunt, who has been to all of the Super Bowls and intends to be there Sunday as well.

And she says Rozelle eventually bought in. He wrote Lamar Hunt a few years later to say it was actually a great idea.

So when the Panthers take the field Sunday night against Denver, it won’t be in a game named by expensive consultants working with focus groups.

Naming the game, it turns out, was just child’s play.

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