The National Football League championship, the beloved Super Bowl, went by a very different name when it launched back in 1967–The American Football League (AFL)-National Football League (NFL) World Championship Game. That name was only chosen after a myriad of other suggestions didn’t make the cut. There was the Pro Bowl, The World Series of Football, and even The Big One. “Super Bowl” wasn’t even a contender when names were being discussed.
So, how did the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, a mouthful of a phrase, boil down to two such simple words? The answer can be traced back to a child’s toy–the Super Ball.
The NFL formed in 1920, but the idea for a championship game didn’t come to fruition until the 1960s when the AFL formed as an alternative league to the NFL, according to History. After a years-long rivalry, the owners of each league reached an agreement to merge entirely by 1970. They would be known as the NFL, but the end of each season would be marked by a championship game between an AFL team and an NFL team.
The NFL Commissioner at the time, 33-year-old Pete Rozelle, brainstormed a few ideas for the name, but they all came with obstacles. “The Big One” was a bit too ambiguous; “Pro Bowl” was already taken as the name for the NFL’s All-Star game; and “World Series of Football” was dangerously similar to baseball’s fall classic.
Rozelle also suggested the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, which was officially selected as the name. However, as Time reported, the long name never caught on. It wasn’t catchy, and it was too much for a newspaper headline.
In the same NFL meeting sat Lamar Hunt–AFL’s main founder, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, and the man who coined the Super Bowl. His wife, Norma, later recalled that Hunt had been inspired by high-soaring bouncy balls that she bought for all their young children. It was rumored that Hunt had one of the Super Balls in the meeting with him, but that has never been verified.
“It just popped into his head,” Norma said, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia. “He thought Super Bowl is what the name of the game should be.”
Although the Super Bowl was not deemed the official name just yet, it did spread through the media. The shorter name was used unofficially to refer to that first championship game in Los Angeles in 1967 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers. Rozelle still pushed for something different and even held a contest for media members to coin a new title.
It wasn’t until two years later that the commissioner finally gave in to the Super Bowl.
“Several years later Rozelle wrote Lamar and told him what a great idea it really was,” Norma recalled in 2016.