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A Brief History of the Super Bowl Coin Toss

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If the ceremonial coin toss before Sunday’s Super Bowl turns up heads, everyone enrolled in the Papa John’s customer loyalty program will win a free large one-topping pizza and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi Max. Thousands of other fans will collect on a 50-50 prop bet. The Super Bowl coin toss hasn’t always been such a big deal. Here’s a brief look at the history of the pre-game spectacle.

Red Grange Breaks the Ice

For the first 11 Super Bowls, a game official conducted the coin toss. In 1978, at Super Bowl XII in New Orleans, Chicago Bears great and Hall of Famer Red Grange became the first celebrity to perform the toss.

The Dallas Cowboys – the designated visiting team – called heads and won the toss. Dallas went on to beat the Denver Broncos, 27-10. Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who gave the Super Bowl its name and may have also been responsible for the coin toss becoming a televised event, participated in the coin toss ceremony before Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. A month after her husband’s death in December 2006, Norma Hunt took part in the coin toss with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino before Super Bowl XLI.

By the Numbers

In 45 Super Bowls to date, the opening coin toss has come up heads 24 times and tails 21 times. The NFC has won the toss 31 times out of 45, including a remarkable 14 straight years. The New England Patriots were the last AFC team to win the coin toss, way back in 1997. The team that wins the coin toss is 22-23 all-time and has lost 10 of the last 15 Super Bowls. All but two teams that have won the coin toss have elected to receive the opening kickoff. The Arizona Cardinals became the first team to defer to the second half in Super Bowl XLIII and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23. The Green Bay Packers deferred after winning the toss in last year’s Super Bowl en route to a 31-25 win.

Another Set of Eyes

Most of the ceremonial coin tossers have been former coaches and players. Los Angeles Rams great Elroy Hirsch performed the duty at Super Bowl XVII with a ceremonial coin that had helmets on one side (tails) and players holding helmets on the other side (heads). Miami’s Bob Kuechenberg called tails and the coin landed with the helmets side up, but referee Jerry Markbreit was confused. Markbreit turned to Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and said, “Heads. You win the toss.” Hirsch pointed out the mistake, and after Markbreit turned off his microphone to avoid any further embarrassment, sorted things out. According to Markbreit, Theismann turned to him and said, “You know, I remember when you used to work in the Big Ten and you stunk then. Where the hell did they get you?” It wasn’t the last time Markbreit would hear about his mistake. NFL commissioner Peter Rozelle came into the locker room after the game, found Markbreit in the shower, and said, “Markbreit, once you got past the coin toss, you did fine.”

Teach Me How to Flip It?

Marie Lombardi, the widow of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, whose name adorns the Super Bowl trophy, was selected to toss the coin before Super Bowl XV. “Somewhere up there, a coach is looking down and saying, ‘What is that woman doing out there on the field?’” Lombardi told reporters after learning that she had been chosen. Lombardi had reportedly never flipped a coin before, so NFL officials spent time practicing with her at the dress rehearsal on the day before the game.

Coins in Space

In 1992, CBS reached out to NASA to see if it would be willing to conduct a pre-game coin toss aboard the Discovery space shuttle. There was only one problem. “A coin flip in space would be mighty tough since the coin won't come down,” NASA chief flight director Randy Stone told reporters. “It will just flip and flip and flip.” Instead, Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar held a coin and performed two backward flips before being brought to a stop. The coin came up heads, just as it did at the actual coin toss before the game, which was conducted by Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. A ceremonial coin that was going to be used for the coin toss before Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston flew with the space shuttle Columbia that was destroyed upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. The Columbia’s crew was honored at halftime of the game. The coin used in the ceremonial toss before Super Bowl XLIV in 2010 traveled more than 4 million miles on space shuttle Atlantis. Leland Melvin, who played with the Lions and Cowboys before becoming an astronaut, was among the people who traveled with the coin in space.

Presidents

In 1985, Ronald Reagan became the first president to perform the coin toss, but he wasn’t on the field at Stanford Stadium. San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny relayed the call to the president, who was shown tossing the coin from the White House. George H.W. Bush and Roger Staubach performed the ceremonial coin toss before Super Bowl XXXVI.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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8 Facts About Super Bowl I
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Diamond Images/Getty

In 1966, two football leagues were vying for gridiron dominance: the venerable NFL and the sport's newcomer, the AFL. On June 8, 1966, the two leagues announced their plans to merge, rather than compete over players and a split fanbase. This meant a new championship game had to be conceived that would show which was the dominant league every year. Today we know it as the Super Bowl—one of the most polished, extravagant events of the entire year. But on January 15, 1967, when the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game took place, it was something bordering on a disaster, with television mishaps, a dispute over the name, and thousands of empty seats marring the very first Super Bowl Sunday. To see how the big game nearly fell apart, here are eight facts about the first Super Bowl.

1. IT WAS ONLY CASUALLY KNOWN AS THE SUPER BOWL AT FIRST.

In 1966, meetings were going on about the first-ever championship game between the NFL and the upstart AFL set to be played in January of that next year. In addition to talking about location and logistics, the big question on everyone’s mind was what to call it. Though Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner at the time, suggested names like The Big One and The Pro Bowl (which was the same name as the NFL’s own all-star game), it was eventually decided that the game would be called … the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

A name like that just doesn’t create much buzz, though, and the newly merged league needed something punchier. Then Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, recalled a toy his children played with, a Super Ball, which led to his idea: the Super Bowl.

The name picked up support from fans and the media, but Rozelle hated it, viewing the word “Super” as too informal. By the time the game began, the tickets read “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” but people were still offhandedly referring to it as the Super Bowl. By the fourth year, the league caved and finally printed Super Bowl on the game's tickets. For Super Bowl V, the Roman numerals made their debut and stayed there every year except Super Bowl 50 in 2016. (The first three championship games have also been officially renamed Super Bowls retroactively.)

2. THE GAME WAS AIRED ON TWO DIFFERENT NETWORKS.

Since the first Super Bowl involved two completely different organizations, there was a bit of an issue televising the game. NBC had the rights to air AFL games, while CBS was the longtime rights holder for the NFL product. Neither station was going to miss out on its respective league’s championship game, so the first Super Bowl was the only one to be simulcast on two different networks. Rival networks also meant rival announcing teams: CBS used their familiar roster of play-by-play man Ray Scott in the first half, Jack Whitaker in the second half, and Frank Gifford doing color commentary for the entire game. Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman led the voices for NBC.

It turns out the competition between the two networks for ratings superiority was just as intense as the helmet-rattling game played on the field. Tensions were so high leading up to game day that a fence had to be built in between the CBS and NBC production trucks to keep everyone separate. The more familiar NFL broadcast team over on CBS won the ratings war that day, beating NBC’s feed by just a bit over 2 million viewers.

3. THE GAME DIDN’T COME CLOSE TO A SELLOUT.

The cheapest price for a Super Bowl 51 ticket is currently hovering around $2000, but frankly, you could probably charge people double that and the game would be a guaranteed sellout. The first Super Bowl, however, didn’t quite have that same cachet behind it. With tickets averaging around $12, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game couldn’t manage to sell out the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967. It’s still the only Super Bowl not to fill up its venue.

Despite blacking the game out on TV stations within 75 miles of the Coliseum to get fans to the stadium rather than watching at home, about a third of the stadium’s seats were empty. Some fans balked at the steep $12 ticket prices, while others were so incensed at the blackout that they stayed away out of protest. Whatever the reason, the sight of tens of thousands of empty seats for what was supposed to be the most important game in both leagues’ history was not what Rozelle had in mind when the Super Bowl was conceived.

4. DIFFERENT BALLS AND DIFFERENT RULES WERE USED FOR THE GAME.

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The overall product between the AFL and NFL weren’t that different, but there were a few hiccups when making the rules fair for both teams. The AFL’s two-point conversion rule, which it used for the entirety of its existence, was barred from the game, allowing only the traditional point-after field goal instead. When the AFL and NFL later merged, the two-point conversion was banished altogether until 1994, when it was reinstated league-wide.

The other big change for the game was the ball itself. The AFL used a ball made by Spalding, which was slightly longer, narrower, and had a tackier surface than the NFL’s ball, which was created by Wilson. To make each team feel at home, their own league’s ball would be used whenever they were on offense.

5. THE SECOND HALF KICKOFF HAD TO BE REDONE BECAUSE CAMERAS MISSED IT.

When the second half of Super Bowl I began, everyone was ready for the kickoff: players, refs, and the production crew. Well, one production crew was ready, anyway. It turns out NBC missed the opening kickoff of the second half because the network was too busy airing an interview with Bob Hope. The kickoff had to be redone for the sake of nearly half the TV audience; even worse, some poor soul probably had to break the news to Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

6. THE HALFTIME SHOW INCLUDED TWO DUDES IN JETPACKS.

Forget your Bruno Mars and Beyoncé performances; Super Bowl I’s halftime show was an affront to gravity itself as two men in what can only be described as jetpacks (though technically they were called “rocket belts”) flew around the field to give people a glimpse at what the future of slightly above-ground travel would look like. Very little video exists of the spectacle today, but this performance was later revisited at the halftime show for Super Bowl XIX, when jetpacks made their long-awaited return to gridiron absurdity.

In addition to airborne theatrics, the inaugural show also included some marching bands and the release of hundreds of pigeons into the air—one of which dropped a present right on the typewriter of a young Brent Musburger.

7. THE ORIGINAL BROADCAST FOOTAGE IS CURRENTLY IN LEGAL LIMBO.

Unlike today, where games are DVR’ed, saved, edited into YouTube clips, and preserved for all eternity, there is no complete copy of the broadcast edition of Super Bowl I. In 2005, a man from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, found a copy of the CBS broadcast in his attic, which had been recorded by his father on two-inch quadruplex tapes. However, the halftime show and parts of the third quarter are missing. The footage has been digitally restored and is currently locked in a vault at The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan. To this day, it hasn’t been shown to the public as Troy Haupt, the tape’s owner, is in legal limbo with the NFL over the exact worth of the footage.

8. THE NFL TRIED—AND FAILED—TO SHOW THE GAME IN SOME FORM IN 2016.

Perhaps as a way to show Haupt that they didn’t need his tapes, the NFL Network released a version of the game cobbled together not from CBS or NBC footage, but from video edited together from its then-nascent NFL Films division. With the game’s radio call played over it, every play from the game was aired in 2016, albeit not how it was originally seen in 1967. Unfortunately, the game also featured some questionable running commentary from the NFL Network’s current analysts during the entire broadcast. The re-broadcast was such as disaster that the NFL Network had to re-re-broadcast it without the intrusive commentary from its own analysts.

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