Super Bowl 50 kicks off Sunday afternoon in what hopes to be a great game between teams with championship quality defenses and, regardless of the score, this game, like all previous Super Bowls, will be remembered in history.
Because the game is typically the most watched event every year, with several flocks of reporters covering every facet of both teams, there aren’t any unknown facts about the players or teams. There is one name, however, that history has forgotten. If you hear the name, “Norman H. Stingley,” who comes to mind? Dollars to donuts you’ve never heard that name before, yet Stingley plays an important, yet relatively anonymous role in Super Bowl history.
Charles Murray, writing at DesignNews, illustrates the story of how the Super Bowl got its name, thanks to one Norman H. Stingley:
On Sunday, when more than a hundred million Americans turn on their televisions to watch the Super Bowl, they might consider first giving thanks to a polymer known as polybutadiene. Because were it not for polybutadiene, America’s greatest sports spectacle might now be called The Ultimate Bowl. Or worse, The Final Game.
If polybutadiene could talk, it might tell us that thanks are unnecessary. It was, after all, little more than a bystander during the odd decision-making process that led to the name, “Super Bowl.” But merely by existing, and by possessing some rather unusual mechanical properties, the synthetic rubber changed the course of professional football.
The story of polybutadiene’s role in the naming of the Super Bowl started in 1964, when a chemist named Norman H. Stingley was trying to devise a material that would be flexible, yet sturdy enough to serve as a cap on oil wells. Using polybutadiene along with hydrated silica, zinc oxide, sulfur, stearic acid, and some other ingredients, Stingley found he had created a synthetic rubber with a very high coefficient of restitution. Dropped from shoulder level, it would snap nearly all the way back up. Thrown by an adult, it had the ability to bounce over a three-story house. The material, he discovered, might make a better toy than an oil well cap.
Wham-O was among the most popular toy manufacturers in the early 1960s, so Stingley decided to show his invention to Wham-O executives in hopes it would join the Frisbee, Hula Hoop, and Slip’N Side as a new hot fad product.
Stingley succeeded and in early 1965, the Super Ball was born.
An August 1965 patent, assigned to Wham-O Manufacturing Co., calls for the manufacturer to add sulfur as a curing agent to give the ball its resiliency. It also calls for a preferred manufacturing process in which the mixture is placed in a mold, heated to about 320 ºF, and pressurized to 1,000 psi. The resulting recipe is said to yield a ball with “extremely high resilience and a high coefficient of friction.”
By the end of 1965, over six million Super Balls were sold.
During this same period, representatives of the National and American Football Leagues were planning on creating a football championship game where the best teams from each conference would play for all the marbles. Deciding to play the game must have been the natural part because six months before the first game was to be played, nobody knew what to call the championship game. Unofficial names were bounced around, including “The Final Game” or the “AFL-NFL Championship Game.”
But one of the American Football League’s main founders, Lamar Hunt, had a different idea. “As it turned out, two of his kids had Super Balls, and they would bounce those balls all over the house,” Richards told us. “Then they would come to his office and bounce the balls there.”
In his book, “When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl,” author Harvey Frommer wrote that Hunt’s son recalled how the big game’s name came into being. “My dad was in an owner’s meeting,” Lamar Hunt Jr. reportedly said. “They were trying to figure out what to call the last game, the championship game. I don’t know if he had the ball with him as some reports suggest. My dad said, ‘Well, we need to come up with a name, something like the Super Bowl.’”
According to Murray, the new name didn’t quite catch on with everybody. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle supposedly hated the name, preferring to call the championship game the “Ultimate Bowl” or “Premier Bowl,” but those names didn’t stick.
The name, “Super Bowl,” however, did have a lasting buzz. This Sunday, champions of the American and National conferences — Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers — will meet again in Super Bowl 50, while approximately 115 million Americans watch.
Today, of course, the name is unchangeable –- a moniker associated, not just with a game, but with an American entertainment extravaganza. That’s a far cry, Richards says, from the days when polybutadiene balls were rocketing around Lamar Hunt’s office. “Even he was quoted as saying, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of silly and kind of corny, but I couldn’t come up with anything better.’”
Calling the biggest sporting event in world history the Polybutadiene Bowl probably wouldn’t bowl marketing executives over. But if it wasn’t for one man’s curiosity about trying to find a suitable material for a cap for an oil well, who knows what the Super Bowl would be called today.