NFL

How the Super Bowl became “super”

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And to think it was originally called the AFL-NFL Championship Game. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

That was back in 1967, when the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs faced off in what we now refer to as Super Bowl I. The Packers won, 35-10. The halftime show featured two college marching bands. And there were only 61,946 spectators in the stands, hardly a sell-out in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

It was the Chiefs’ owner, Lamar Hunt, who first used the term “Super Bowl.” He coined the name in 1966 during merger meetings between the AFL and NFL, inspired by his children’s favorite toy at the time, the Super Ball. In a letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” It wasn’t, and today Super Bowl Sunday is part of the American vernacular. The game attracts more than 110 million TV viewers worldwide.

Hunt got it right with “super,” the Latin adverb and preposition that means “above, over, on the top of.” Probably seemed a bit grandiose for that first game in 1967, only to be further inflated – sorry – two years later with the inclusion of Roman numerals in the name. But in Super Bowl IIIJoe Willie Namath made good on his brash prediction that his Jets would beat the highly favored Colts, sprinkling pixie dust on the event and launching it toward its place today as an unofficial national holiday.

Enjoy the game – go Pats!

How The Super Bowl Became “Super”

And to think it was originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

That was back in 1967, when the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs faced off in what we now refer to as Super Bowl I. The Packers won, 35-10. The halftime show featured two college marching bands. And there were only 61,946 spectators in the stands, hardly a sell-out in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

It was the Chiefs’ owner, Lamar Hunt, who first used the term “Super Bowl.” He coined the name in 1966 during merger meetings between the AFL and NFL. In a letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” It wasn’t, and today Super Bowl Sunday is part of the American vernacular. The game attracts more than 100 million TV viewers worldwide.

Hunt got it right with “super,” the Latin adverb and preposition that means “above, over, on the top of.” Probably seemed a bit grandiose for that first game in 1967, only to be further inflated two years later with the introduction of Roman numerals in the name. But in Super Bowl IIIJoe Willie Namath made good on his brash prediction that his Jets would beat the highly favored Colts, sprinkling pixie dust on the event and launching it toward its place today as an unofficial national holiday.

Enjoy the game – go Pats!

In A Word: The Story Behind “Scrimmage”

Football has given us lots of weird, cool words. Take “scrimmage,” for example. During Saturday night’s Patriots-Broncos game, you’ll hear a lot about the “line of scrimmage,” the point at which each play starts. But there are actually two lines of scrimmage: the offensive line of scrimmage and the defensive line of scrimmage. These are the imaginary vertical planes at either tip of the football before it is put in play and parallel to each team’s end zone.

The space in between the two lines of scrimmage is called the “neutral zone,” a gridiron Switzerland. (“Neutral” comes from the Latin “neuter” which is a combination of ne- “not, no” + uter “either.”) No player can line up in the neutral zone at the beginning of a play except the center, who snaps the ball to the quarterback. When he does, the teams engage in a “scrimmage,” which is an alteration of the word “skirmish.” “Skirmish” derives from the Germanic “skirmen,” which means “to protect or defend.” It has come to have the broader meaning of “a minor or preliminary conflict or dispute.”

At www.etymonline.com, we learn that the meaning of “scrimmage” in rugby and U.S. football today dates from 1857, when it described “a confused struggle between players.” Clearly, the people in charge of definitions back then had never seen a Belichick team play.

Go Pats!

What’s In A Name? My “Tebow” Epiphany

Once upon a time, people genuflected – in church, while proposing, when receiving a medal from the Queen of England. Genuflecting is an expression of respect and humility, and one of those words whose meaning is embedded in its Latin DNAgenu “knee” + flectere “to bend.”

Today, people are tebowing – dropping to one knee on sidewalks, in school hallways, and in end zones after successful scrambles. We owe this phenomenon, of course, to Tim Tebow, the earnest quarterback of the Denver Broncos, who genuflects in gratitude after a score. Tebow is a lightning rod – you either love him or hate him. But either way, you have to admit that he has accomplished something remarkable and it goes far beyond the football field. Tebow’s name has become part of the national vocabulary, as in “Hey, look at that guy tebowing over by the water cooler.” If linguistics were a sport, this would be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.

Just ask marketing professionals. They drool at the prospect of having a brand name become part of everyday parlance. Google is glad we google, Rollerblade is delighted we rollerblade. With every mention, their brand is inscribed deeper into our consciousness. Once upon a time, Xerox spent a lot of time and money trying to squash the use of “xerox” as a verb, insisting that we use the term “photocopy” instead. We listened, and then went to the copy machine to xerox something. In the game of marketing today, what was once seen as damaging to a brand name is now coveted as a way to become part of the public vernacular.

That tebowing has entered our national lexicon is no small feat. It reflects how organic our language is, evolving every day to describe the ever-surprising world around us. But even more striking is the fact that the word “tebow” suggests an exquisite etymology: te is Latin for “you” and bow comes from the Old English bugan, “to bend, to bow down.” Tim Tebow’s last name literally means “you bow down.”

Just a coincidence? No doubt. But I like to think of it as a gift from the word gods.

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