Skip links

The Start of Super Bowl Sunday

Upton Bell shared about attending the 1948 NFL Championship Game with his father, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, on The Game Before the Money Podcast


  • First NFL Championship televised live
  • Eagles and Cardinals played a rematch of the 1947 NFL Championship
  • Game played in a blizzard
  • Started a tradition of watching the NFL Championship Live on TV
  • Could be considered the starting point of Super Bowl Sunday


A blizzard hit Philadelphia on the day of the 1948 NFL Championship Game. Meteorologists predicted the storm and knew that it would dump a large snowfall.

Embed from Getty Images

PHOTO: Players remove tarp before the 1948 NFL Championship

The heavy tarp that covered the field at Connie Mack Stadium (also know as Shibe Park) had to be moved before game time. Incredibly, it was the players that helped move it. Imagine today’s players doubling as groundskeepers before the Super Bowl. That’s what happened in the 1948 NFL championship game. The players didn’t act alone, however, as NFL Commissioner Bert Bell took responsibility for his decision to play the game as scheduled.

Hear the full story on The Game Before the Money Podcast

Bert Bell’s son, Upton Bell remembered, “That morning we woke up, and it’s a blizzard. And the day before, the Cardinal players had come in and voted not to play the game. My father told them, ‘You don’t play in the game, then that’s it. This is the first nationally televised and radio game. We’re going to play this.’”

Upton Bell described his father’s commitment to fulfill the NFL’s first championship game television contract. “And so we go to the game in a driving snowstorm. There’s a picture somewhere of Bert Bell in a suit and overcoat, helping the grounds crew push the tarp off the field to get the game going.”

The NFL commissioner and the players helped clear the field before the 1948 NFL Championship Game to ensure the NFL met its first championship game television contract. (See photo).

Bert Bell knew that television would propel the NFL to immense popularity. At the time, baseball and college football stood much more popular with the American public, but Bell stated –- correctly – that pro football was the sport best suited for television.

The Eagles won the 1948 NFL Championship over the Cardinals, 7-0. Philadelphia’s star running back Steve Van Buren scored the game’s only touchdown on what might be one of the greatest blocks in NFL history. Eagle lineman Bucko Kilroy pulled to his right to seal off a defensive end while his teammate Al Wistert blocked two Cardinals at one time. Van Buren dashed through the snow and into the end zone through an enormous hole.

Embed from Getty Images

PHOTO: Steve Van Buren (#15) on the run in the 1948 NFL Championship

Fans watched the NFL Championship Game live on television for the first time ever. That game planted the seeds for the enormous spectacle that has become Super Bowl Sunday. Bert Bell knew that television would vault his league above all other pro sports leagues. He also knew the importance of delivering a reliable product to television networks and went to great lengths to meet the demands of the live broadcast of the 1948 NFL Championship Game.

Meeting those demands set the stage for 10 years later when the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants battled in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, often called “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The 1958 NFL Championship and its exciting finish made a national hero out of Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and lifted the NFL towards its pinnacle of becoming the most popular sports league in the United States. When the 1958 game was played, the habit of Americans watching the NFL Championship Game was already a 10-year tradition, gaining new fans each year until millions sat down in 1958 to watch one of the most thrilling games in American sports history.

Ten years later, the New York Jets topped the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3, the championship game of the 1968 season. Pro football’s popularity had grown exponentially in the 20 years since the 1948 NFL Championship Game through the power of television. Super Bowl Sunday started its ascent to earning status as an unofficial American holiday, one that is now broadcasted live all over the world.

Those seeds were sewn in the snowy ground of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park during the 1948 NFL Championship Game.

Hear the full story on The Game Before the Money Podcast

Learn more about the Eagles winning head coach, Greasy Neale, here.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.