Every year there’s a lull thrown right at the end of the NFL Playoffs, the excitement that was the Conference and Divisional rounds are over a week old, there’s not much to talk about anymore. That’s when logos and uniforms tend to come up in the traditional media outlets, during these breaks in any news that actually has anything to do with the game being played. I know our place, I accept it.
Earlier this week a Tweet featuring a screencap of our Super Bowl logo history section went viral which once again stirred up the topic, a few outlets covered the history of Super Bowl logos which really got people chatting on social media. A few historically superior folks pointed out that the graphic showed a logo reading “SUPER BOWL II” despite the fact the game wasn’t officially known as the Super Bowl until at least the third or fourth event; another noted an older article that mentioned the NFL didn’t use Roman numerals until Super Bowl V, so how can we have logos reading Super Bowls II, III, or IV.
Naturally, I had to investigate.
So… while I didn’t get any official answers, I found the long-accepted, long-used, logos for the first four Super Bowl games didn’t seem to make their first appearances anywhere until the late-1980s, a good two decades after the games were originally played, via a trading card set put out by Pro Set in 1989.
Why? First, we have to remember that logos for sports events weren’t really a thing back in the late-1960s; the World Series didn’t get what we’d today call a logo until the mid-70s, the Stanley Cup went without one until the late-80s. Now we see them for quite literally every little event held by a league – all-star games, championships, opening day, and heck, even the draft lottery has its own logo now.
In the late-1980s there was a rise in interest in sports memorabilia and with that, retro sports memorabilia, the Super Bowl was approaching its 25th anniversary, opportunities were there to start selling items commemorating the original Super Bowl games, something had to be done, and it looks like that something was just to make up logos for those first four games, adding Roman numerals, and changing the name to match the rest of the series.
Here’s what I found and the adjustments I’m both proposing and making to our Super Bowl logo history collection…
The long-used logo for Super Bowl I is close, and at least they didn’t change the name to “Super Bowl” for it, but it doesn’t actually appear on any of the items produced for the original game. The adjusted logo I propose comes from the top-left corner of the program cover of the game, it’s just text but it’s the closest thing we have to a logo from anything we’ve seen back then.
The term “Super Bowl” was indeed used in an unofficial capacity, I read an article earlier today written seven months before the first game was played where Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt says his preferred term for the game is “Super Bowl”, by the time January rolled around the name Super Bowl was used fairly regularly in newspaper accounts of the game… it just never appeared on anything put out by the NFL or AFL.
My “should be” logo here is the one I’m least happy with of the corrected bunch, I could’ve just as easily gone with the program header which might have been the better bet. Regardless, as you can see, the two leagues were still not calling the game “Super Bowl”, the media wasn’t calling it “Super Bowl II”, so having the logo say Super Bowl II is a real stretch.
The first appearance of the phrase “Super Bowl” is on the program cover of Super Bowl III, as you can see the ticket stub does not yet use the new name. The “what we’ve been using” version of the logo is certainly close and obviously inspired by this program cover, but it’s been adjusted to be split across two lines and add the Roman numeral. By this time the media was indeed calling the game “Super Bowl III”, Roman numerals and all, but the leagues weren’t quite there yet.
Finally, Super Bowl IV, where they got this logo I’ll never know – the press guide and ticket stub both clearly show what could’ve been turned into a logo and I’ve gone with that. This was the final Super Bowl before the merger between the leagues.
A year later Super Bowl V was played and referred to as such across the board, the logo used by the NFL that year and for all subsequent years were obvious and have been shown accurately in the decades since.
Here’s the updated Super Bowl logo history with the corrected logos discussed here:
Did I mess something up? Please let me know in the comments. Frankly I’m disappointed that this is something I’ve missed all these years but in reality, the logos for those first four games have been accepted so long I never thought to properly investigate.