Football, Food & Five-Million Dollar Ads: How the Big Game Got So Big

Are you ready for some football? It’s time for the most famous — and famously litigious — sporting event in the country. Everyone is talking about it, but we can’t print its name! On this very special Sunday, which you might even call Super, we’ll be celebrating all the things that make America so American. Football! Capitalism! Chicken wings!

From our living rooms to our workplaces, our football fever knows no bounds, and the sheer joy of it all sweeps up even the least sports-minded among us. We start with pre-game office betting pools, join friends and family for a Sunday on the couch, and don’t rest until every big play and buzzy commercial has been dissected on Monday morning around the water cooler. Productivity killer? Maybe. But as a morale-booster and team-builder, it’s pretty hard to beat.

But we’ve been so busy at the snack table over the years that we think we might have missed some stuff…like why exactly is it called a “bowl”? Why is there a huge concert in the middle of the game? (Then again, why isn’t there a huge concert in the middle of EVERY football game?)

Here’s a little primer for people like us who wonder how The Big Game got to be so big. And then we’ll get back to the cocktail weenies.

What we now know as the National Football League is the result of a 1966 merger of two rival leagues. The first inter-league championship in professional football promised to be a very big deal, so it needed a good name. Ultimately it followed in the tradition of college football, whose championships were often called bowls after their bowl-shaped stadiums. This all started with the Rose Bowl at the Rose Bowl Stadium…which was actually named after the Yale Bowl Stadium. Got all that?

Though we now know and love the iconic (and vigorously trademarked) name, we missed out on a few delightful early options, like the World Series of Football, the Premier Bowl, and The Big One. Ah, what might have been.

It didn’t take long for the, ahem, World Series of Football to expand its influence well beyond the sports world. Advertisers paid a pretty penny to showcase their products during the season-ending championship, starting at an average of $42,000 for 30 seconds in 1967. In 1984, Apple ushered in a new era of advertising with its epic commercial introducing the Macintosh personal computer. Since then, the ads have transcended bathroom-break status and become an event unto themselves, and a 30-second spot today costs a cool $5 million.

And what about the show-stopping halftime performances? We can thank 1990s sketch comedy show In Living Color for those. In 1993, Fox scheduled a special live episode to run counter to the second half of the game, and when the show started, the game lost 20 million viewers. Not to be outdone, the NFL exacted the ultimate revenge: Michael Jackson. His performance the following year redefined the halftime show and set the bar for high-wattage, A-list spectacles ever since.

We think the bowls that matter most are the ones filled with spinach and artichoke dip. So while the football and the halftime show vie for center stage, we’re laser-focused on the snack situation. On this particular Sunday, our cultural food aesthetic lands somewhere between county fair and college all-nighter. There is no snack too insane. A half-pound of cream cheese shaped into a football and covered in mini pepperoni? Yes, absolutely. All the fixins’ of a bacon cheeseburger swathed in egg roll wrappers and deep fried? Of course, makes perfect sense. It’s game day, and we’re going big.

By the way, this year The Premier Bowl happens to coincide with another unmissable event: National Pork Rind Day. Seriously, how lucky are we?

While you’re planning out your party menu, don’t forget to include these game-day icons, which are as fascinating as they are tasty:


Wings: Buffalo wings sprang forth from the Bellissimo family, owners of Buffalo, New York’s Anchor Bar. One fateful night in 1964, Teressa Bellissimo whipped up a plate of chicken wings in a spicy red sauce and served it with celery because…well, because that’s what was lying around. The family can’t remember the exact details — was it because they got the wrong chicken shipment and needed to use up a wing surplus? Was it a midnight snack after a night of drinking? Even if the particulars are a little murky, it’s pretty clear that Teressa is a true American hero.


Nachos: The story of nachos begins in Piedras Negras, a Mexican border town near an American army base in Fort Duncan, Texas. One night, a group of army wives was looking for a bite to eat, but all of the restaurants were closed for the night. But the maître d’ at one restaurant offered to throw something together with what was left in the kitchen. His name was Ignacio and he went by the nickname “Nacho” — and no, we’re not making this up! He toasted some tortilla slices, topped them with shredded cheese and sliced jalapeños, and popped it all into the oven. He called his concoction “Nacho’s Especiales,” and we are eternally grateful for his ingenuity.


Sliders: Before you serve some up delicious sliders at your gathering, make sure you know the difference between a slider and a mini hamburger! Slider purists feel very, very strongly that a “true” slider is a thin slice of beef on a small patty with onions and pickles — nothing more, nothing less! — like the original slider invented by Walter Anderson of White Castle. If you want to add lettuce, tomatoes, maybe some bacon, knock yourself out! But call your masterpiece a mini hamburger.


Potstickers: Want to add a little Asian flair to your day of Americana? Potstickers are a surefire hit at the snack table. So how do you know if you’re serving dumplings or potstickers? Dumplings are a broad category of delicious stuffed dough, including regional varieties like Japanese gyoza and Chinese jiaozi. All potstickers are dumplings, but only dumplings that have been pan-fried to a lovely crisp are potstickers.

Why we do always end up watching The Big One on someone else’s TV? Football-viewing parties mimic the electric atmosphere of a live game and flourished back in the day when not all homes had televisions. Even though we’re drowning in devices today, we still come together to share in this unique cultural event.

With the gatherings, the bounties of food, and the shared experience through the magic of television, it’s almost like an alternate-universe Thanksgiving around an impossibly large table. There’s just something about this special Sunday that we Americans can’t get enough of — even if we aren’t allowed to utter its name! Whether you’re in it for the game, the glitz, or just the grub, we can all agree on one thing: everything’s better when you share it with your favorite folks.

Image credits:
CNN, Bon Appétit, Minimalist Baker, Food Network and Cooking Light.