The history of the Super Bowl in Los Angeles: Starting a tradition, one perfect season and dynast...

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Monday, February 7, 2022

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- After nearly 30 years, the Super Bowl is returning to a place that has left an indelible mark on the history of the NFL: Los Angeles.

Super Bowl LVI will take place at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Feb. 13, and feature theLos Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. It will be the first time the game has been played in the Los Angeles market since Jan. 31, 1993, when the Dallas Cowboys trounced the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Getting the Super Bowl back in the City of Angels is also a chance for the NFL's biggest game to return to its roots. The very first Super Bowl was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967, a 35-10 win for the Green Bay Packers over the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn't even named the Super Bowl at that time, as it was originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

This will be the eighth Super Bowl played in the L.A. area, the third-highest total of any market, trailing only Miami and New Orleans.

The previous seven meetings provided plenty of drama and served as a catalyst and an encore for some of the league's proudest dynasties. The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their dominant 1970s run by beating the Rams at the Rose Bowl in Super Bowl XIV in 1980, and the Cowboys claimed their first of three Super Bowl titles in the 90s with that win against Buffalo.

There have been incredible performances from the likes of quarterbacks Phil Simms, Troy Aikman and Bart Starr, along with the rushing prowess of John Riggins and multiple instances of defensive dominance. John Madden also won a Super Bowl as a coach in the L.A. market, leading the Oakland Raiders to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in 1977.

The highest of highs came in 1973, when the Miami Dolphins capped the NFL's only perfect season with a 14-7 win against Washington at the Coliseum in Super Bowl VII.

Which team and players will leave their mark this year remains to be seen, but Hollywood is ready for some new stars. -- Nick Wagoner

Jump to a Super Bowl:

I | VII | XI



Super Bowl I: The start of it all

Score: Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10

Date: Jan. 15, 1967

Site: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Attendance: 61,946

Halftime show: University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band, Grambling State University Marching Band, Anaheim (California) High School Ana-Hi-Steppers Drill Teamand Flag Girls

The game wasn't even called the Super Bowl yet; it was known as the first AFL-NFL World Championship. It wasn't anywhere close to a sellout either. The official attendance of 61,946 is a bit generous, as there were plenty of seats to be had at the massive Coliseum. And the Packers didn't think it would be much of a game. To hear Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer tell it years later, they viewed the Chiefs as somewhat of a joke.

"We had been looking at film and we found one film where two of their defensive backs and the two safeties had ran into each other and knocked each other down," Kramer told ESPN in a 2015 interview. "And Max McGee starts signing the Looney Tunes song 'Da-dada-da-da-dada-da.'"

Packers coach Vince Lombardi, of course, felt differently. Kramer said that years later, Frank Gifford, who was one of the announcers on the game, told him when he was doing the pregame interview with Lombardi, "I put my hand on his shoulder, and he's shaking like a leaf." Added Kramer: "As soon as we got in the game, we realized that there was some pretty good football players out there."

Then there was the story of McGee, a receiver who didn't expect to play in the game, so he partied hard the night before. He told starting receiver Boyd Dowler, "I hope you don't get hurt; I'm not in very good shape."

Sure enough, Dowler injured his shoulder in the first half. McGee didn't even have his own helmet with him on the sideline when he was summoned into the game. He grabbed the first one he could find and went on to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Still, it was only a 14-10 game at halftime. But Willie Wood intercepted Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson in the second half and returned it 50 yards to set up the first of three second-half touchdowns for the Packers. -- Rob Demovsky

Super Bowl VII: Capping perfection

Score: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington 7

Date: Jan. 14, 1973

Site: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Attendance: 90,182

Halftime show: University of Michigan Marching Band, Woody Herman, Andy Williams

A perfect record on the line, "Garo's Gaffe," a delayed White House visit -- and a stolen watch. That's how Super Bowl VII will be remembered.

On an 84-degree, mid-January day in Los Angeles -- the warmest Super Bowl in NFL history -- the Dolphins and coach Don Shula put their 16-0 record on the line against Washington, winning 14-7 in the second lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever. Fans piled into what would be the final Super Bowl hosted by the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with a near-capacity crowd in attendance. The cost to get in? Just $15 (roughly $98 in 2022, when adjusted for inflation).

The game was not nearly as glitzy as the city it was played in. Miami jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first half. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, who missed most of the season with a fractured leg, threw a touchdown pass to Howard Twilley in the first quarter before Jim Kiick punched in a 1-yard score in the second for the final offensive touchdown of the game.

It was largely uneventful until the 2-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Dolphins lined up for a 42-yard field goal which would've pushed the score to 17-0 -- a symbolic way to cap off a 17-0 season, right? Except Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian's attempt was blocked.

Instead of falling on it, Yepremian picked the ball up and tried to throw it to fullback Larry Csonka, but the ball slipped out of his hand. In a desperate attempt to bat it out of bounds, he swatted it right into the hands of Washington cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it 49 yards for the first fumble return touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Miami's defense sealed the win despite the "Gaffe" and became the first team in league history to win the Super Bowl after losing it the previous year. After the game, as Shula was carried off the field in celebration, someone stole the watch off his wrist. The legendary coach chased after the thief and reclaimed his property.

Super Bowl VII marked the first of consecutive championships for the Dolphins, and to this day, it represents the capstone of the NFL's only perfect season. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Super Bowl XI: Raiders finally win the big one

Score: Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14

Date: Jan. 9, 1977

Site: Rose Bowl

Attendance: 103,438

Halftime show: Los Angeles Unified All-City Band with The New Mouseketeers & Audience card stunt

Finally, after three straight defeats in the AFC title game, coach John Madden and the then-Oakland Raiders had gotten over the hump.

"I don't think we were snakebit," Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano said in 2014. "Every time we lost, there was a reason for it. It was kind of like playing golf and missing a putt. But we were good, and we knew we were getting better."

On the Thursday before the game, quarterback Kenny Stabler was on point in practice. "The ball only touched the ground once," Tom Flores, who was the wide receiver coach that season before winning two rings as head coach and making the Hall of Fame, told Sports Illustrated in 1981. "John Madden was standing next to me, and he said, 'What do you think, Tom?' and I said, 'Throw a blanket over him and get him out of here. This is scary.'"

The Vikings paid the price for the Raiders having to wait for their first Super Bowl title, getting tuned up in the first Super Bowl played in the Rose Bowl. Still, the Raiders were tight early, with a missed field goal and a blocked punt. Enter Villapiano, who forced a fumble at the Raiders' 2-yard line, and the Silver and Black were off.

The game was sealed on "Old Man" Willie Brown's 75-yard pick-six of Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, complete with "Dandy" Don Meredith singing, "Turn out the lights, the party's over" on the NBC telecast, giving Madden a Super Bowl title after six unsuccessful playoff runs in the previous seven seasons.

Adding comedy to the chaos, the burly Madden was dropped by Ted Hendricks and John Matuszak as they attempted to carry him off the field at the final whistle. In the locker room, the frosty relationship between Stabler and owner Al Davis seemed to thaw. "Al and I hugged ... five minutes after the game and I said, 'We finally did it,'" Stabler told HBO Sports. "And his reply was, 'Can you do it again?'" -- Paul Gutierrez

Super Bowl XIV: A fourth title for 'The Steel Curtain'

Score: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19

Date: Jan. 20, 1980

Site: Rose Bowl

Attendance: 103,985

Halftime show: Up With People, Grambling State University Marching Bands

Played at the Rose Bowl in front of a record crowd, Super Bowl XIV was the first championship held in the home market of one of the participating teams. But to former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, it didn't feel like the L.A. Rams had much of a home advantage.

"Steeler fans were definitely present, even though we're playing in the Rams' hometown, which was quite strange," the Hall of Famer told ESPN. "There definitely was a Steelers presence there, and we felt the energy, and I guess we didn't feel they had an advantage because they were in their hometown. We just looked at the Super Bowl as something different."

Competing in their fourth Super Bowl in six years, the Steelers were no stranger to the NFL's biggest stage, and that experience helped them keep their poise when they trailed 13-10 at halftime.

"I wasn't even concerned at all," Harris said. "Don't ask me why. We have that feeling of confidence. I tell people that -- don't get confidence confused with cockiness. We never had that. But we always were confident in ourselves and in our teammates. And we felt confident that someone, somehow will make the plays. Someone will make something happen.

"Losing in the Super Bowl never crossed our mind."

Thanks in major part to two big fourth-quarter catches from future Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth -- one a 73-yard touchdown and another a 45-yard reception that set up Harris' game-sealing score -- the Steelers became the first NFL team to win four Super Bowls. The unprecedented stretch of success in the 1970s helped create a foundation for a massive Steelers fan base and made Pittsburgh the epicenter of championship professional teams.

"The Pirates win the World Series, and then we win the Super Bowl," Harris said. "And we know about the runs the Penguins started to have in the future. It really made you feel proud when they called us the City of Champions. More importantly than that, we lived up to that name and really made you have a lot of pride in our great city here. It's built a fan base second to none.

"During certain years, there was a great migration out of Pittsburgh, but the '70s really gave them something to connect to and to give them a touch of home." -- Brooke Pryor

Super Bowl XVII: Hail to Riggo and The Hogs

Score: Washington 27, Miami Dolphins 17

Date: Jan. 30, 1983

Site: Rose Bowl

Attendance: 103,667

Halftime show: Los Angeles Super Drill Team

Before Super Bowl XVII in Los Angeles, the Washington franchise found something unusual: peace and quiet.

"It was different because L.A. is so spread out," former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann said. "It was very subdued, which is the way coaches like it."

Former Washington tight end Rick 'Doc' Walker said coach Joe Gibbs moved the team from an Anaheim hotel to a Holiday Inn in Pasadena later in the week.

"You could hear a pin drop," Walker said. "Being in Pasadena is not L.A."

The second-largest crowd in Super Bowl history packed the Rose Bowl. Tickets between the 30-yard lines sold between $350 and $500. Actress Leslie Easterbrook, known for the 'Police Academy' films, sang the national anthem. Players didn't recall many celebrities. However, Theismann said he spent 90 minutes on the phone the night before the game with actor Burt Reynolds, a good friend.

"Anything to take my mind off the magnitude of the game," Theismann said.

One play remains etched in franchise lore: running back John Riggins' 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 with 10:01 remaining in the game. The play -- 70 chip -- gave Washington a 20-17 lead en route to its first NFL championship since 1942. The line -- known as "The Hogs" -- and fullback Otis Wonsley took care of the front and the linebackers. Riggins ran through 190-pound cornerback Don McNeal.

"McNeal slid down off his body like a knife through butter," Theismann said.

As Theismann sprinted downfield, he shouted to tight end Clint Didier, running behind Riggins, "Don't clip anyone! They're not going to catch him!" Riggins established a Super Bowl record, since broken, with 166 yards rushing. Afterward, President Ronald Reagan phoned the team in the locker room. Riggins then said, "At least for tonight Ron's the president, but I'm the king." -- John Keim

Super Bowl XXI: Simms leads Giants onslaught

Score: New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20

Date: Jan. 25, 1987

Site: Rose Bowl

Attendance: 101,063

Halftime show: George Burns, Mickey Rooney, Grambling State University and USC marching bands, Disney characters, Southern California area high school drill teams and dancers

This was the Giants' first trip to the big game. The Broncos had been there once before (Super Bowl XII after the 1977 season), but both franchises were looking to capture their first Lombardi Trophy in front of the largest crowd most of them would ever see in an NFL game.

It was the Giants and their vaunted defense -- which allowed three points in their playoff wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Washington -- against the Broncos and young star quarterback John Elway, who were coming off "The Drive" to beat the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship Game.

The leadup to Super Bowl XXI had a very Hollywood feel. Giants quarterback Phil Simms and wide receiver Phil McConkey dined with Billy Crystal. Center Jim Burt appeared on "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers." Singer Neil Diamond sang the national anthem. The halftime show was a "Salute to Hollywood's 100th Anniversary."

It created quite the atmosphere.

"I can sum it up with the look that [Giants coach] Bill Parcells gave me during the national anthem," Giants linebacker Carl Banks said. "He had basically become overcome with chills. You could see this chill go down his body, and he just looked over to me like a kid. Just had this childish grin on his face. It was just the thrill of that moment. ... And he just has this smile on his face like, 'Here we are.'"

Parcells felt so good about Simms and his team's preparation leading into the game that he uncharacteristically canceled his Saturday practice. He moved New York to what Banks recalls was the Betty White Red Roof Inn the night before the game.

It turned out Parcells was right. Everyone was about to witness a historic performance by his quarterback and team. -- Jordan Raanan

Super Bowl XXVII: 'How 'bout them Cowboys'

Score: Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo Bills 17

Date: Jan. 31, 1993

Site: Rose Bowl

Attendance: 98,374

Halftime show: Michael Jackson

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was born not far from where SoFi Stadium now stands. He has an affinity for Southern California and has his team, the Dallas Cowboys, spend their training camps in Oxnard, 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

While he would rather have his team playing in Super Bowl LVI, Jones played an integral role in the return of the Rams to Los Angeles and ultimately the building of SoFi Stadium, but Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl might be his fondest memory.

For many, Super Bowl XXVII marks the return of the Cowboys to Super Bowl dominance. They crushed the Bills to begin their run to three Super Bowls in a four-year span, becoming the team of the '90s. Future Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith became known as the Triplets while being coached by eventual Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson.

Aikman, who played his college games at the Rose Bowl for UCLA, was named the game's MVP after throwing four touchdown passes.

For Jones, it was the culmination of a $140 million investment he made in 1989, when he purchased the Cowboys and Texas Stadium. The Cowboys were a laughingstock his first year, finishing 1-15 in Johnson's first season. Four years later, they were champions.

"I remember we drove down to the Rose Bowl in the buses with the team," Jones said a few years ago. "It was such a gorgeous drive. I remember getting out and I had a sport coat on and a tie and I walked out on to the field. There were about 5,000 fans of the 100,000 or so that would be there. I knew shortly there'd be 115 million, 130 million in the country watching the game and a billion world-wide. I knew already that we had to get to that spot one day when I bought the Cowboys."

As he walked on the field, he had an equipment man flip him a football. An offensive lineman when Arkansas won the national championship in 1964, Jones became a running back that picture-perfect day.

"I took the football," he said," skipped into the end zone and went, 'Touchdown.'"

A few hours later, after Garth Brooks sung the national anthem and his team dominated Buffalo, Jones had his hands on the Vince Lombardi trophy with a burgeoning dynasty. -- Todd Archer

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