February 7, 2011
First Super Bowl Broadcast Found!by Ron Simon
Every diehard Green Bay Packers fan surely recorded last night's dramatic victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. But Super Sunday also brought us closer to a complete version of the very first Super Bowl, played way back in 1967 between those same Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
That historic game had been at the top of the Paley Center's Most Wanted list for decades (See our list of lost TV programs we're still looking for). We are talking about a show that two networks broadcast, NBC and CBS, but both had reused the reels. Until the 1970s the networks did not have a systematic policy to preserve programming other than prime time. So all other genres—sports, talk, daytime, news—were haphazardly recorded and archived. Over the years we received many leads for that first Super Bowl. One music publishing company had recorded the entire game, but improperly stored the tapes so that all the information flaked off the acetate.
All that remained of the game was the NFL Films version of it. Until recently, the NFL did not want to replay broadcast games; each game was considered a unique event seen once and then reinterpreted with music, mixing in the voice of God, John Facenda. Here is the official memory of that first championship game:
But several years ago a gentleman brought in two videotapes that his father recorded at a production house in the Scranton area. In the late sixties, there was no home video recording equipment so any copy would have to be accomplished professionally. We worked with a expert restoration company and were able to bring most of game back to life. The tape was destined to remain in limbo until two intrepid journalists from the Wall Street Journal wrote about this missing game. Their Saturday 2/5 article generated a lot of discussion.
More Discoveries at CBS
I was called early Sunday by a producer at the CBS Evening News who desired to do a segment on the missing game. CBS had been the first place I researched the game, but the sports department was unable to turn up their coverage with announcers Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker, and a young Frank Gifford. But in preparing for our story, a researcher turned up a reel of all the plays of that first championship in the news archive.
After I was interviewed by Jim Axelrod, I looked at the reel to authenticate it. It was not the broadcast version, but a film camera from a distance capturing each play, perhaps part of the NFL Films coverage. CBS had no idea why this reel had resided in the news archive for decades without being used. But, as the Journal piece mentioned, the Paley Center version is incomplete; some plays were not recorded, others were lost to video damage.
The Paley Center also preserves audio copies of the broadcast. Fans might not have had personal video technology, but they cherished their reel-to-reel audio machines. I am always surprised how many individuals recognized the significance of the event, deciding to preserve the memory the best way they could. So many Americans subconsciously have that curatorial instinct. To have a complete document of the first Super Bowl, we now have to integrate the missing filmed plays into the video version, mixing in the commentary from the audio tapes. This reconstruction is easier said than done because there are always technical, financial, and legal obstacles to hurdle.
This reconstruction takes us back to the very beginning of a sporting tradition. This broadcast game gives a unique look at sports culture and technology of the late sixties. We see the mind of the Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Packers, at work. Almost every formation is the same; no movement or man in motion here. The coverage is charmingly primitive. Replays are captioned "Video tape" so that the viewer will not be fooled thinking that he or she is watching the real thing. There is an education required to learn new media tricks. I am sure that few back in 1967 would have thought this championship game, which was not even sold out, would have evolved into a national holiday.
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Curator, Television and Radio
Ron Simon has been a curator at The Paley Center for Media since the early 1980s. He is also an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University, New York University, and Hunter College, where he teaches courses on the history of media. Simon has written for many publications, including The Encyclopedia of Television and Thinking Outside of the Box, as well as serving as host and creative consultant of the CD-ROM Total Television. A member of the editorial board of Television Quarterly, and a judge on the George Foster Peabody committee, Simon has lectured at museums and educational institutions throughout the world. Among the numerous exhibitions he has curated are The Television of Dennis Potter; Witness to History; Jack Benny: The Television and Radio Work; and Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera. He also discovered such lost programs as the live Honeymooners and the only video performance of the Rat Pack.Interests:
Anybody and everything that can be transformed into a pixel.
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