“Left Shark” became a social media sensation last year for its offbeat and seemingly mistaken dance moves. Photo by Huntley Paton, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
The first Super Bowl in 1967 was simulcast by two TV networks, NBC and CBS, which had to share one microphone in the postgame show. The teams used different balls because the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs played in separate leagues and the balls were slightly different in shape. The cost of a 30-second commercial was $42,000. Due to the then-common practice of tape wiping, Super Bowl I was not seen again until 2016, when the NFL strung footage together from over two dozen sources and overlaid it with the radio broadcast.
These days, the Super Bowl is the most-watched US television broadcast each year—in fact, the NFL can say that with one way of counting, it holds the top 23 spots on the all-time list. Americans eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than they do any other day of the year, except for Thanksgiving. And with all the hoopla comes cultural zeitgeists: from multi-million dollar ads for failing startups to Left Shark’s viral popularity, the Super Bowl is a championship of pop culture.
Wikipedia chronicles them all.
The main Super Bowl article provides an overview of the National Football League championship, which started in 1966 in response to the growing popularity of the upstart American Football League. That page lists article pages for each game that note the halftime performers, cost of commercials, statistics, and quirky events.
Based in San Francisco and not far from the site of Super Bowl 50, the Wikimedia Foundation supports Wikipedia and its sister projects such as the media repository Wikimedia Commons. The foundation, fresh off celebrating Wikipedia’s 15th birthday, is paying homage to the Super Bowl’s 50th birthday with 50 fascinating factoids you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
Unlike mainstream media, Wikipedia and its sister projects are written and edited by volunteers—around 80,000 actively maintain its articles, which last year exceeded 5 million on the English-language Wikipedia alone (there are Wikipedia editions in 291 languages). Those volunteers combine and hone a crowdsourced view off the mainstream media path; there are many odd nuggets along the way. As we head into Super Bowl 50, the first one not to go by Roman numerals, take a peek at a quirky factoid for each of the games below.
Feel free to share them, show them off at your Super Bowl party, tweet them, or write about them in a blog post or article—Wikipedians will find more. Wikipedia’s Super Bowl of facts is played every day, all around the world, by all kinds of people.
The first Super Bowl featured the top teams from two separate leagues—the American and National Football Leagues. They would later merge under the latter’s name. Logo by unknown, public domain.
- It is the only Super Bowl to have been simulcast. NBC and CBS both televised the game—with both wanting to win the ratings war, tensions flared and a fence was built between their trucks.
- Almost 80% of the US lost the video feed of the CBS broadcast late in the second quarter.
- Performers representing players from the teams appeared on top of a large, multi-layered, smoke topped cake.
- The cost of one 30-second commercial was $78,000.
- The two teams had a Super Bowl record 11 combined turnovers in the game.
- Dolphins safety Jake Scott entered the game with a broken left hand and soon broke his right wrist as well.
- Dolphins employees inspected the trees around the practice field every day for spies from the Redskins.
- The Vikings complained that their practice facilities at a Houston high school had no lockers and most of the shower heads didn’t work.
- Pittsburgh played for a league championship for the first time in its 42-year team history.
- Scenes for the film Black Sunday, about a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl, were filmed during the game.
- The national anthem was not sung. Vikki Carr sang “America the Beautiful.”
- Halftime featured the Tyler Junior College Apache Belles drill team.
- Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson said opposing quarterback Terry “Bradshaw couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A.”
- The Rams barely outscored their opponents, ending the season up only 323-309 overall, and finished the regular season with a 9-7 record—the worst ever by a team who advanced to the Super Bowl.
- The winning Oakland Raiders were suing the NFL at the time of the game over a proposed move to Los Angeles.
- 49.1 percent of all US television households tuned into the game, the highest-rated Super Bowl of all time.
- A players’ strike reduced the 1982 regular season from a 16-game schedule to 9.
- The broadcast aired the famous “1984” television commercial, introducing the Apple Macintosh.
- Ronald Reagan appeared live via satellite from the White House and tossed the coin on the same day that he was inaugurated for a second term.
- The Bears’ post-Super Bowl White House visit was canceled due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Members of the team were invited back in 2011.
- Giants players celebrated their victory with what was then a new stunt—dumping a Gatorade cooler on head coach Bill Parcells.
- The halftime show featured 88 grand pianos.
- Prior to the game, Coca-Cola distributed 3-D glasses at retailers for viewers to use to watch the halftime festivities.
- The halftime show featured a float so huge that one of the goal posts had to be moved so it could be put on the field.
- Whitney Houston performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the recording reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
- Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickerson said Redskins tackle Joe Jacoby was “a Neanderthal—he slobbers a lot, he probably kicks dogs in his neighborhood.”
- The opening coin toss featured OJ Simpson, who was working for NBC Sports at the time; the halftime ceremony featured Michael Jackson and 3,500 children.
- This main stadium lights were turned off for a halftime performance by dancers with yard-long light sticks.
- 30 second ads exceeded the $1,000,000 mark.
- Some weeks before the game, it was found that some proxy servers were blocking the web site for the event because XXX is usually associated with pornography.
- The last in a run of 13 straight Super Bowl victories by the NFC over the AFC.
- Except for two penalties and quarterback kneel-downs to end each half, the Broncos did not lose yardage on any play.
- On the night before the Super Bowl, Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for solicitation of prostitution after receiving the league award that morning for “high moral character.”
- Pets.com paid millions for an advertisement featuring a sock puppet. The company would collapse before the end of the year.
- This was the last Super Bowl to have individual player introductions for both teams.
- Janet Jackson was originally scheduled to perform at halftime, but allowed U2 to perform a tribute to September 11.
- Referred to as the “Pirate Bowl” due to the teams involved (the Buccaneers and Raiders).
- Janet Jackson‘s breast was exposed by Justin Timberlake in what was later referred to as a “wardrobe malfunction“.
- The Eagles signed Jeff Thomason, a former tight end who was working in construction, to a one-game contract for the Super Bowl.
- Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville, John and a 150-member choir performed the national anthem.
- The Art Institute of Chicago’s lions were decorated to show support for the Chicago Bears—see the photo at the bottom.
- The band Eels attempted to pull together 30 one-second ads but were told they could cause seizures.
- Due to the recession, 200 fewer journalists covered the game than the previous year.
- The U.S. Census Bureau spent $2.5 million on a 30-second commercial advertising the upcoming census.
- Fans who paid $200 per ticket for seats in a part of the stadium damaged by a winter storm were allowed to watch outside the stadium.
- Some hotel rooms in downtown Indianapolis reportedly cost more than $4,000 a night.
- Power went out in the Superdome, causing a 34-minute interruption in play. Luckily Norman the Scooter Dog was in New Orleans to entertain.
- The Broncos hosted press conferences on a cruise ship at the pier of their Jersey City, N.J., hotel.
- “Left Shark,” pictured at the top, became an Internet meme.
And for Super Bowl 50, the only Super Bowl to be identified without a Roman numeral: CBS set the base rate for a 30-second ad at $5,000,000, a record high price for a Super Bowl ad.
When the Chicago Bears last went to the Super Bowl, the city’s art institute decorated their lion statues. Photo by Señor Codo, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Barack Obama watched part of Super Bowl 43 (2009) with 3D glasses. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.
A traditional flyover from military aircraft prior to the beginning of the game. Photo from the US Air Force, public domain.
Television viewing statistics for each Super Bowl—all sourced from Wikipedia. The bars represent an average of the number of people watching, not the highest total reached during the event. Graph by Andrew Sherman, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Jeff Elder, Digital Communications Manager
Michael Guss, Research Analyst
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