Super Bowl

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!

The Mystery and Magic of a Made-up Word

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I was thrilled to hear that the Providence Journal wanted to publish my piece about wishing for a snowy Super Bowl.

But there was one glitch.

“Muckle?” Ed Achorn asked me on the phone. Ed is the Editorial Pages Editor at the Journal. “It’s not in the dictionary,” he said.

I laughed. I knew “muckle” wasn’t in the dictionary. I had looked it up, too. But that didn’t stop me. In my description of how my friends and I loved to play football in the snow as kids, I had left “muckle” in:

“We would hike up to the fields at La Salle Academy or Mount Pleasant High School, mark the end zones with our coats, and muckle each other until our cheeks and fingers were numb.”

I explained to Ed that “muckle” was the word we used when we really wanted to hammer the guy with the ball. Muckling was tackling and then some. Muckling could land you in the ER.

I offered to re-write the sentence, but Ed had a better idea. He simply referenced in parentheses that “muckle” was a “kid verb denoting violent tackling.” I’m glad he did. The piece had 570 words, but none hit home more than “muckle.”

A retired Providence firefighter emailed me: “Muckle,” he wrote. “When I saw that word, my face broke into a broad smile.” He told me how he had played football in the snow at Neutaconkanut Park in the Silver Lake section of Providence.

Perhaps “muckle” was a local colloquialism, I thought. Then another emailed arrived: “I found myself transported back 45 years to Lindell Lot in St. Louis where there was plenty of mucklin’ going on in the early 70s.”

So muckling wasn’t regional. Turns out it wasn’t exclusive to football, either. A good friend told me how a girl muckled him behind a dumpster when he was in 4th grade. Sounded better than getting muckled on the gridiron.

If “muckle” were in the dictionary, what would its etymology be? Maybe a combination of muscle and tackle. Or mug and tackle. Or mud and knuckle. Or muck and kill. That seems about right, especially in bad weather.

I gave my son, Evan, the backstory on “muckle” before he read the column. He texted me later: “Had you not said that, I would still 100% understand the usage.”

High praise for a word, especially one you won’t find in the dictionary.

With thanks to Ed Achorn of The Providence Journal.

Rooting For Snow At The Super Bowl

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As published in the Providence Journal, January 29, 2014.

Now that the Patriots have been eliminated from the Super Bowl chase, which team am I rooting for? The Broncos? The Seahawks? Neither. I’m pulling for the Farmers’ Almanac.

Long before the days of Doppler radar and storm modeling, almanacs served up weather prognostications based on byzantine mathematical and astronomical formulas. The Farmers’ Almanac is still at it today and, as early as last August, predicted a stormy, snowy Feb. 2 for East Rutherford, N.J., where this year’s Super Bowl will be played.

Go, Farmers’ Almanac! I hope we see Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel on the MetLife Stadium sidelines, hyperventilating about snow accumulations.

Holding the Super Bowl outdoors at a cold climate site is the latest stroke of marketing brilliance for an event that has become a virtual national holiday. It wasn’t always that way.

In its humble debut, the Super Bowl was simply known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. The halftime show was two college marching bands. There were only 61,946 spectators in the stands, hardly a sell-out at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Forty-seven years later, the Super Bowl is the most watched annual television program in the United States. The game attracts more than 100 million TV viewers worldwide. This year, 30-second ads cost up to $4.5 million.

NFL marketers built the Super Bowl franchise with great teams — the Steelers and the 49ers, the Cowboys and the Patriots. They built it with halftime shows that had star power and broad appeal. Super Bowl I’s marching bands have been eclipsed by U2, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and an infamous wardrobe malfunction. And now the NFL has pulled another rabbit out of its helmet: the weather.

By playing the game in the Northeast on the first weekend in February, the NFL has generated incremental buzz. For weeks, in addition to the usual pre-game chatter and blather, blogs and sportswriters and ESPN commentators have asked: “What if it snows?”

The 10-year-old in many of us knows the answer: “Game on!” Because when you’re a kid, there’s nothing like playing football in the snow.

I grew up in the Elmhurst section of Providence, where the houses sit on small lots — not much room for running to daylight. There was an empty lot at the corner of Rankin and Moorland, but when we tried to play there, the owners shooed us away faster than you could say “Pete Rozelle.” So we ended up playing touch football in the street, telephone pole to telephone pole.

Unless it snowed or rained.

When that happened, playing tackle football was irresistible. We would hike up to the fields at La Salle Academy or Mount Pleasant High School, mark the end zones with our coats, and “muckle” (a kid verb denoting violent tackling) each other until our cheeks and fingers were numb . . . and then muckle each other some more.

Tackle football in the elements had such appeal that my best friend and I once flooded his backyard on a sunny autumn day just so we could play in the mud. His parents were not amused.

This coming Sunday, I hope the game is close, the ads are entertaining, and the halftime show grooves.

And should snow fall from the heavens? There will be a lot of kids and former kids, including this one, who think the conditions are ideal.

 

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!

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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