If there's one date on the North American sporting calendar that the masses will make time for, it's the Super Bowl. Even non-sports fans tune in (though much of the appeal may now be the half-time show and all of those crazy commercials). The game itself remains a spectacle, and regardless of why you're there watching, the Super Bowl has become a holiday of sorts, an opportunity for people to get together and have a party.
From a scheduling perspective, it makes sense why the Super Bowl became the big draw; the other three core North American sports – baseball, basketball, and hockey – all have a "series" playoff format. Meaning, two teams play up to seven games in order to determine a champion. Because of this it's hard to pin down the day to huddle around the TV and see the action. With football, the date is saved well in advance.
The interesting thing is that professional football did not always have the public's heart. For the first half of the 20th century baseball reigned supreme in the United States. College football was also popular, but the professional game was looked on with uncertain eyes. It may feel like it has always been there, but the Super Bowl was first played in 1967, 64 years after the first World Series.
Super Bowl I, as it is now known, was a bit of an experiment. Before 1966, the National Football League and American Football League were actually separate, rival leagues. After years of fighting for players and fans, the two decided to make peace and merge (which was scheduled to officially occur in 1969). Thus, a "World Championship Game" was born in order to determine which league had the true champion. The NFL's Green Bay Packers won this new title game, supporting what many already thought: that the established NFL was far superior to the upstart AFL.
The Packers also won the season following. More NFL dominance was expected in Super Bowl III – the first to officially carry the "Super Bowl" title – as the heavily favoured Baltimore Colts, lead by Johnny Unitas, were set to face Joe Namath's New York Jets. The Colts had only lost one regular season game in 1967 and in the NFL title game whomped the Cleveland Browns 34-0. The Jets were 18-point underdogs, though that didn't stop Namath from "guaranteeing" victory for New York three days before the game.
The Jets, as their quarterback promised, would make good, a holding off a 4th-quarter surge by the Colts to win 16-7; for the first time an AFL team was number one, which legitimized the new league and the Super Bowl itself. From there the big game only got bigger. And while professional football's massive popularity growth would undoubtably still have occurred, the Jets' performance in Super Bowl III played a large part in speeding up that process.