The AFC has enjoyed a clear advantage over the NFC in the Super Bowl in recent years, winning six of the last eight titles going back to 2012 and Super Bowl XLVII. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that the AFC and NFC finally drew level in the win column with 27 victories apiece. That Kansas City victory in Super Bowl LIV on February 2, 2020 – marking the 100th season of the NFL, no less – leveled the playing field between the AFC and NFC was particularly special, if not significant. The Hunt family, which owns the Kansas City and AFC franchise, is directly tied to the history of American football’s most celebrated game. Everything from laying the foundation of the championship game to coining the game’s name.
In the late 1950s, entrepreneurs Lamar Hunt and Kenneth S “Bud” Adams Jr. started the American Football League (AFL). This was a rival league to the National Football League (NFL). It came after officials from the NFL denied the pair’s proposal to acquire expansion franchises. Hunt and Adams launched the AFL in 1959 and play began in 1960 with eight teams representing the league: Dallas Texans (Hunt’s franchise), Houston Oilers (Adam’s franchise), Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Chargers.
In 1963, Hunt moved the Dallas Texans to Kansas City. The team was renamed to the Chiefs, paying homage to the city’s mayor H. Roe “The Chief” Bartle. Bartle convinced Hunt to make the move from Dallas to Kansas City.
For six years, the NFL and AFL co-existed grudgingly. The two leagues competed for talent, courting college players with separate drafts, and vying for television ratings. While the NFL had the upper hand – as the established football league it had a solid fanbase – the AFL did give the NFL a good run for its money nonetheless.
In 1966, General Manager Tex Schramm of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and Lamar Hunt surreptitiously cooked up a merger between the NFL and AFL. This was formally announced in the summer of that year. However, the merger didn’t fully complete until 1970, when a common schedule for both leagues was devised. Together the two leagues agreed to start holding the NFL draft jointly in 1967. The leagues also fashioned the championship game between the winners of each league, of which the first was held in January 1967.
The first-ever showdown between the conference winners was initially called the AFL-NFL World Championship game. Fittingly, Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs played the first-ever championship game but lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-10.
Hunt’s Chiefs didn’t return to the ultimate game until January 11, 1970. This marked the fourth championship game between the AFL and NFL since the merger. The Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to become the “World Champions;” for the first time, albeit they weren’t the first AFL team to do so. In 1969, the New York Jets became the first AFL team to win the championship game.
Now, the term ‘Super Bowl’ was coined by Lamar Hunt. He was first quoted referring to the game as a Super Bowl clash in the Kansas City Star newspaper in 1966. The story goes that Hunt was struck with the idea while watching his children playing with a ‘Super Ball’ (toy). Substituting the word “ball” with “bowl” was just a logical step given college bowl games were common at the time.
As the name began to catch on, more publications began to refer to the AFL-NFL World Championship game as the “Super Bowl.” Ultimately, it had an undeniable ring to it and the game assumed the name officially from then onwards. At the same time, all previous games were retroactively adjusted in the history books to reflect the new official name of the final showdown, as were Roman numerals retroactively added a year later. Just as Hunt coined Super Bowl, the idea to use Roman numerals and give the game some semblance of prestige was another one of Hunt’s branding ideas that came to stay.
Without Lamar Hunt and his branding nous and entrepreneurial vision, the NFL wouldn’t be what it is today. For that matter, the Super Bowl wouldn’t be what it is today. That Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs rubber-stamped the 100th season was undeniably befitting of the occasion. The Hunt family couldn’t have scripted the ending to the first one hundred years of American football any better. Looking ahead to the 2020 NFL season, the Hunt family has cause to continue rejoicing. By all accounts, the Chiefs are leading the hunt for Super Bowl LV glory. This means the odds are favorable for the AFC to extend its recent dominance over the NFC in Super Bowl victories.
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