Jan. 11, 1970: The day New Orleans became a Super Bowl city
In 1970, the Super Bowl was a new phenomenon, having been played only three times previously, and New Orleans was taking his first crack as the host city after Los Angeles hosted the inaugural game and Miami the next two. The game, played at old Tulane Stadium on Jan. 11, pitted the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs against the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Though the Vikings were a 13-point favorite, the Chiefs would end up winning by a score 23-7, giving the upstart AFL its second straight victory to even the series and demonstrate the younger league’s worthiness in the final game before the two leagues merged for the 1971 season.
New Orleans has hosted 10 Super Bowls to date — tied with Miami for the most — and has been called the ideal site for the spectacle by veteran Super Bowl attendees. Super Bowl IV was one of three to be played in Tulane Stadium; the last seven have been played in the Superdome. The Crescent City last hosted the game in 2013, and while it’s not on the list of sites that have been awarded through 2021, it’s expected to return to the rotation shortly thereafter.
- After three years of good luck meteorologically speaking, weather conditions were less than ideal for Super Bowl IV. Overnight rains created a muddy field inside Tulane Stadium, and a tornado watch was in effect on the day of the game but was lifted before kickoff. The sun emerged late in the game.
- An estimated 82,000 people filled the sold-out Tulane Stadium for the game, which was billed by The Times-Picayune as “the second Battle of New Orleans.” That sellout came too late to lift the blackout in New Orleans, so locals couldn’t watch the game on TV.
- The face value of tickets to the game was just $15. In the days leading up to it, scalpers were asking as much as $70 a piece for them, but by game time they could be had for just $3, thanks to rain earlier on game day, according to The Times-Picayune.
- The honor for the most unintentionally spectacular moment of the day went to a hot-air balloonist, who was one of two balloonists hired to take off from the field before the game — but who wound up crashing in the end zone. (No one was injured.)
- Other pre-game festivities included a “Battle of the Trumpets” between Al Hirt and Doc Severinson; the release of 3,000 pigeons; a 24-jet flyover; and the appearance of a giant balloon, shaped like a birthday cake, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of pro football.
- Actor Pat O’Brien recited the words to the National Anthem before the game, accompanied by Severinson on trumpet and a performance by the Southern University marching band and chorus.
- The theme of the halftime show was “Way Down Yonder” and saw Hirt playing “Bourbon Street Parade,” former Metropolitan Opera star and New Orleans native Marguerite Piazza’s rendition of “Basin Street Blues,” and a performance by the Southern University marching band of “South Rampart Street Parade.”
- Also part of the halftime show: a re-enactment of the Battle of New Orleans, followed by a parade of 24 costumed Southern belles and a mini Mardi Gras parade, complete with maskers and floats.
- The game was played just 10 days after the 1970 Sugar Bowl was held in the same stadium, pitting Ole Miss and Arkansas.
- Two future Hall-of-Famers from these teams went on to work with the New Orleans Saints. Chiefs coach Hank Stram, who was immortalized after being “mic’d up” by NFL Films during the game, was head coach of the Saints for two seasons starting in 1976. Vikings General Manager Jim Finks was president of the Saints from 1986-1993 and helped build New Orleans’ first four playoff teams. Finks was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and Stram in 2003.
- Former LSU star Johnny Robinson played in the game with torn ligaments in his rib cage and made one of the three interceptions by the Chiefs, who had a total of five takeaways.
- Kansas City QB Len Dawson was named MVP for a cerebral, efficient and gutsy performance just five days after a news report that his name had surfaced as part of a federal investigation into illegal sports gambling. Dawson, who said he couldn’t sleep the night before the Super Bowl, was later vindicated.
- The day after the game, Super Bowl coverage shared the front page with a story about a visit to New Orleans by members of NASA’s Apollo 12 space mission. Among them were astronaut and football fan Dick Gordon, who would be hired as general manager of the New Orleans Saints two years later.
- Among the other famous faces in town for the big game were newsman Walter Cronkite, “Tonight Show” announcer Ed McMahon, former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, comedian Bob Hope and baseball Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial.
New Orleans has long been a popular site for major sporting events, from the first heavyweight prize fight to nearly 150 years of horse racing at the Fair Grounds and countless events in between. Super Bowl IV, however, marked the start of a new, modern era of sporting events to be held in the city. The NFL enjoyed the city’s hospitality enough to bring the game back two years later and again three years after that. In the years since, the city has served as host for Final Fours and other NCAA tournament games, NBA All-Star games, the 1988 Olympic Trials and other major sporting events. It all started, though, with the city’s first Super Bowl, which helped cement the “sports” in the Sportsman’s Paradise for the modern era.