In 1967, the two competing football leagues, the AFL and NFL, faced off in what was described as the “First World Championship Game AFL vs NFL.” It was a mouthful–but one that attempted to describe a very real rivalry. The NFL had run its football league for 40 years before a new league, the AFL, came around in 1960. In the months that followed the first game between the two rival leagues, a better and more succinct name was born to hype the event: The Super Bowl.
The AFL and NFL merged in 1970, but the Super Bowl stuck around, eventually growing into a grand cultural spectacle that’s larger than football itself. That spectacle is reflected in the Super Bowl logo itself, which has evolved right alongside the event through three distinct visual stages.
In the first 10 or so years of the Super Bowl, the focus of the logo was on those two words. They were printed large–stacked like a newspaper headline–or long, like a banner, followed by a Roman numeral. The designs were varied, without the continuity that would emerge just a few years later. But as those numerals began stacking up, the NFL clearly made a decision: Let’s de-emphasize the word “Super Bowl” and make the numbers the key focus. Starting with Super Bowl XIII in 1979, the identity of the Super Bowl was more or less focused on the numeral. Yes, there are wild experiments with a garish color palette and crazy typographic distortions and extrusions, but for a good three decades, each game was united by the same clear visual strategy.
Around 2011 things changed again. We entered the modern era of Super Bowl logos, rendered in 3D stainless steel and highlighting the Vince Lombardi trophy as the hero, the focal point that sits above the game number. That visual device makes some sense, as the game moves into its 50s, represented by the numeral “L.” Visually, the last few years of logos are far more similar than the wild variation of years past. They seem to reinforce that the Super Bowl isn’t just an event anymore–it’s a tradition.