Ness Notes: The Super Bowl (A Look Back)

by Larry Ness

The AFL and NFL announced that the two leagues had agreed to a merger on the evening of June 8, 1966. Under the agreement, the leagues maintained separate regular-season schedules for the next four seasons (from 1966 through 1969) and then officially merged before the 1970 season to form one league with two conferences (AFC and NFC). An AFL/NFL championship game would begin at the completion of the 1966 season (AFL champ vs NFL champ) through the 1969 season, then would continue beginning in the 1970 season with the AFC champ meeting the NFC champ.

The first championship game between the AFL and NFL was played on January 15, 1967 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers (the name Super Bowl was not adopted until SB III). Vince Lombardi's Packers beat Hank Stram's Chiefs 35-10. Green Bay beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 the following season but then Namath and the NY Jets shocked the football world with their 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts on January 12, 1969 (1968 season). The final Super Bowl before the official merger was played on January 11, 1970, when Hank Stram's Chiefs beat Bud Grant's Vikings 23-7.

While the Chiefs played in two of the first four Super Bowls, they didn't make a "return engagement" until last season. The Chiefs took on the SF 49ers last January and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the franchise's only Super Bowl victory with a 31-20 win (trailed 20-10 midway through the fourth-quarter). Entering championship Sunday of the current season (January 24, 2021), the defending champions Chiefs were set to host the Buffalo Bills in the AFC's title game, while the Packers were set to host the Bucs in the NFC. The Chiefs and Packers were both three-point favorites and if the two No. 1 seeds had won, it would have set up a rematch of the very first Super Bowl. 

The Chiefs held up their end with a 38-24 victory over the Bills but the ageless Tom Brady led the Bucs to a 31-26 upset of the Packers, ruining a KC/GB 'reunion!' However, I doubt the NFL, the media or the fans are upset with a Tampa Bay/Kansas City Super Bowl, a showdown between the "G.O.A.T." (Tom Brady) and the "G.O.A.T. in Waiting," Patrick Mahomes. In fact, that will be the title of my next article, posted on Friday.

The established NFL won the first two Super Bowls but the upstarts from the AFL evened it at two-all with wins by the Jets and Chiefs. The first post-merger Super Bowl was after the 1970 season and over the next 11 seasons, AFC teams won NINE of the 11 Super Bowls. However, there is a caveat. The Baltimore Colts (Super Bowl V winners) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (winners of four Super Bowls in six seasons from 1974-1979) were two of three NFL teams that had agreed to move from the "Old NFL" to the AFC, not remain in the NFC. The third franchise to move to the AFC (from the NFL) was the ever-lovable Browns, who are still waiting for that franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance, no less a Super Bowl win.

Traditional NFL fans may just question if those FIVE Super Bowl wins by the Colts and Steelers (as AFC teams) deserve an asterisk. However, there can be NO doubt about the NFC's dominance over the AFC from Super Bowl 16 through 31. In that 16-year span, NFC teams won 15 of the 16 Super Bowls, as only the then-Los Angeles Raiders broke through with a 38-9 win over Washington in SB 18 (1983 season). Following that win by the Raiders, NFC teams won 13 straight Super Bowls, with 11 coming by double digits. The exceptions were San Francisco's 'John Candy' SB 23 win 20-16 over the Bengals (hope readers get it) and the NY Giants' SB 25 "Wide-Right" 20-19 win over the Bills (sure all will get that reference!). The other 11 wins in that 13-0 run by the NFC saw an average margin of victory of 17.6 PPG.

The AFC has had the better of it since ending the NFC's 13-0 run when the Broncos beat the defending champion Packers 31-24 in SB 32. Entering Sunday's game, the AFC has captured 15 of the last 23 Super Bowls, with the Patriots accounting for SIX of those wins during that span. New England's six titles puts them in a tie with Pittsburgh, while San Francisco and Dallas have each won five Super Bowls. Only NINE franchises have won at least three Super Bowls, meaning the Chiefs can make it 10, if they can repeat as champs. However, only SEVEN franchises have won consecutive Super Bowls, one of which (Pittsburgh) has accomplished it twice. The most recent team to win back-to-back Super Bowls were the Patriots, who beat the Panthers (2003 season) and then the Eagles (2004). 

Of course, Brady was New England's QB for those back-to-back wins but some may not remember that Andy Reid was Philadelphia's head coach when the Eagles lost 24-21 to the Pats in SB 39. He'll be on the sidelines for KC come Sunday, looking to join an elite group of head coaches to have won consecutive Super Bowl titles. That group includes Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll (did it twice!), Jimmy Johnson, Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick. Think I missed one? Think again. The 49ers won back-to-back Super Bowls (23 & 24) but while Bill Walsh was the team's head coach in the first, George Seifert had taken over the following season when Walsh retired after earning a third Super Bowl title

Check back Friday for my Brady vs Mahomes article. 

Good luck...Larry

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