One of the most exciting parts of Super Bowl Weekend is the halftime show. If you are a true football fan, you probably know you can bet on the Super Bowl halftime performance just as quickly as the betting line for the game. While we are in the offseason, we thought we would put together a ranking of the halftime festivities over the years.
In the early days of the Super Bowl halftime show, the format was dominated by marching bands. Getting to a headline performance from Michael Jackson in 1993 took time. We are going to take a look at the first 14 years of the halftime show here. Due to the similarity in nature of the early halftime shows, we will simply address them in the order that they appeared.
14. University of Arizona and Grambling State Marching Bands (1967)
The nature of the Super Bowl has evolved wildly, as has the halftime show. The Green Bay Packers, representing the NFL, beat the Kansas City Chiefs, who were representing the AFL, 35–10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The halftime show started with the University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band and the Grambling State University Marching Band. They were accompanied by Al Hirt, the Anaheim High School Ana-Hi-Steppers Drill Team, and the show was produced by Tommy Walker. In addition to producing the first Super Bowl, Walker also composed the musical flourish “Charge!” that is still played at countless sporting events and was the Director of Entertainment at Disneyland. Watching the video of this first halftime show, you can see the magic in its infancy.
13. Old Man Winter Takes a Vacation in Miami (1968)
The second Super Bowl was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fl. This game featured the defending champion Green Bay Packers beating the Oakland Raiders 33–14. Who provided the halftime entertainment is surprisingly not so simple. The NFL originally stated that the Grambling State University Marching Band took the field to perform during the halftime show. Still, Grambling State officials have steadfastly said they did not play that year. The issue was settled in our mind when Jon Kendle from the Football Hall of Fame dug up an event program from this game that listed “Old Man Winter Takes a Vacation in Miami” as the halftime show and music to be provided by local high school marching bands in Miami. The NFL has since corrected the record, but not all sources have.
12. America Thanks ft. Florida A&M University Band (1969)
Super Bowl III returned to Miami, Fl, for the second straight year in the Orange Bowl in 1969. Viewers of this great game witnessed the heavily favored Baltimore Colts lose to the New York Jets 16–7. This was the game that Broadway Joe Namath called his shot, responding to a heckling fan at a news conference by stating, “Hey, I got news for you. We’re going to win Sunday, I’ll guarantee you…” and so they did.
The halftime performance was centered around the Florida A&M University Band and was supported by Miami-area high school bands. The FAMU band had a reputation for flamboyant performances, but this was formal and worthy. The theme of the performance was America Thanks, so the FAMU band performed and moved into the shape of a giant eagle on the field. In retrospect, the ambition seems pretty low for this Super Bowl weekend.
11. Tribute to Mardi Gras (1970)
The talent levels were increased the following year for the Super Bowl IV halftime show at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Theatre and film star Carol Channing headlined the event, bringing newfound attention to this sporting event quickly gaining popularity. There is some debate about the merits of her appearance. The video and photos from the event do not show Channing, so there is speculation she didn’t actually perform.
Either way, a performance occurred, and music was played, definitely by Marguerite Piazza, Doc Severinsen, Al Hirt, Lionel Hampton, and the Southern University Marching Band. The songs played were predictable for the Tribute to Mardi Gras theme, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
10. Anita Bryant, Southeast Missouri State Band (1971)
Super Bowl V welcomed the Southeast Missouri State Marching Band to the Orange Bowl in Miami. They played alongside Anita Bryant, who at the time was a young pop-culture figure and not yet a bigoted socio-cultural figure. The average cost of a 30-second ad at the time was $72,500, and 58.5 million people tuned in to watch the Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-13. The oddsmakers had the Super Bowl point spread set at 2½, and the Colts covered the spread.
9. Salute to Louis Armstrong (1972)
Super Bowl VI took place in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, and the theme was “Salute to Louis Armstrong.” A pattern emerges at this event, with localized tributes during the halftime performances. The show featured none other than jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald leading the Armstrong tribute, who had passed about a year prior to this game. Fitzgerald was supported by Carol Channing (confirmed to be in attendance this time), Al Hirt, the USAFA Cadet Chorale, and the U.S. Marine Corps Drill Team.
There is not much reliable information from this halftime show, but we know that Ella Fitzgerald and Al Hirt dueted on “Mack the Knife,” and Jim Skinner produced this show. The Dallas Cowboys beat up on the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in this game.
8. Happiness Is (1973)
The title of the 1973 Super Bowl halftime show was ‘Happiness Is,’ and the entertainment duties were awarded to the University of Michigan Marching Band alongside Andy Williams and Woody Herman. Super Bowl VII was between the Miami Dolphins and Washington and took place at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Dolphins emerged victorious 14-7. We are still not sure who came up with the ‘Happiness Is’ theme or how it received approval but the University of Michigan Marching Band played “Put on a Happy Face,” “Woodchopper’s Ball,” and “This Land Is Your Land” in an excellent tone and pace.
7. A Musical America (1974)
On January 13, 1974, the Miami Dolphins faced off against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. The University of Texas Longhorn Band anchored the halftime show, devoting the theme of the show to an appreciation of America expressed through music. The band played songs like “Grand Ole Flag” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Violinist Judy Mallett, the winner of the Miss Texas pageant the previous year, was also booked to play alongside the Longhorn band. Mallet stood near the 50-yard line for her performance as a semi-circle of trombones, saxophones, and trumpets accompanied her as she played “Orange Blossom Special.” Miami, the Super Bowl betting line favorite, ended up winning 24-7 and covering the 6½ point spread.
6. Tribute to Duke Ellington (1975)
With the Louis Armstrong tribute already in the bag, the halftime show programmers had no choice but to do a Tribute to Duke Ellington when the Super Bowl returned to New Orleans. In 1975, Super Bowl viewers and ticket-buyers were gifted with a heavy dose of jazz during the halftime show.
Led by Merce Ellington and the Grambling State University Marching Band, Tulane Stadium was dressed up in a fitting tribute to the one and only Duke Ellington. The contest was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, with the Steelers taking the game 16-6 and winning their first Super Bowl championship.
5. 200 Years and Just a Baby (1976)
Maybe the most carefree theme the NFL has picked for a halftime show. No one would expect the modern-day NFL to ever use language as loose as “200 Years and Just a Baby.” Nonetheless, Super Bowl X went off in Miami at the Orange Bowl, featuring the first time Up With People performed at halftime. It was the first time that a marching band wasn’t the main act during halftime and paved the road for what we currently have today.
Due to the bicentennial, the program centered around a tribute to the United States of America and the birth of the greatest nation on earth. It also served as the first of four Super Bowl performances featuring Up With People.
4. It’s a Small World (1977)
The Walt Disney company produced the halftime show for the first time in 1977. Titling the performance It’s a Small World for Super Bowl XI in Pasadena, Ca, at the Rose Bowl. The musical entertainment was entrusted to the Los Angeles Unified All-City Band, who played alongside Disney’s New Mouseketeers, doing crowd favorites like “It’s A Big Wide Wonderful World” and “It’s A Small World.”
The game was between the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders. Notably, the performance included crowd participation for the first time, asking ticket-holders to hold up colored boards in a synchronized way. This is now an almost commonplace activity in big live performances like the Super Bowl halftime show. The Super Bowl betting odds were in favor of Oakland, and the Raiders won, 32-14.
3. From Paris to the Paris of America (1978)
In 1978 the Super Bowl moved to the Superdome. The Super Bowl XII match-up was the Dallas Cowboys facing off against the Denver Broncos. Of course, New Orleans has the French connection, but the halftime theme of From Paris to Paris of America didn’t stand the test of time as a show title and theme.
The lineup for “From Paris to Paris of America” featured the Apache Band, Apache Belles, the drill team from Tyler Junior College, clarinetist Pete Fountain, and trumpeter Al Hirt. In a light-hearted element of the halftime show, two dogs in costume raced each other into the outfield to track down Frisbees thrown from the infield. The Cowboys’ won by 17 points, taking Super Bowl XII 27-10, winning their second championship.
2. Super Bowl XIII Carnival (1979)
Super Bowl XIII took place in 1979 at the Orange Bowl. The theme of the show was a Carnival: Salute to the Caribbean, which has to be one of the more risky and outside-the-box choices the NFL has ever made. The show featured performances from Ken Hamilton, Gramacks, and various Caribbean bands.
Based on the lack of info about this halftime show, it feels safe to say it ranks low in the minds of most American football devotees. Notably, the game was delayed at one point when one of the halftime floats got caught up on a goalpost. Reading about this halftime show made us wish that the NFL highlighted this Caribbean music theme when other Latin-American and Afro-Latino artists played in more recent Super Bowl halftimes shows (e.g., J Balvin).
The famous Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders worked the pregame events for Super Bowl weekend alongside local military marching bands. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 35–31. Interestingly though, the NFL Super Bowl betting line opened at Pittsburgh -3.5 points, then went to -4.5 before settling at -4. Because the Steelers’ won by four, the Las Vegas sportsbooks lost a great deal of money, and some still refer to this game as “Black Sunday.”
1. A Salute to the Big Band Era (1980)
Super Bowl XIV was headlined by the NFL’s favorite big band Up With People. The contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams took place at the Rose Bowl. The Steelers won and became the first team to win four Super Bowls.
The theme for the halftime show was right in the early NFL wheelhouse: A Salute to the Big Band Era. The Salute to Big Band Era was not growing the NFL audience. Some of the songs played by Up With People on that Sunday include “Let’s Conga.” “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” Looking back at the program, we had to double-check that this took place in 1980, not in 1955. Fortunately, halftime shows have evolved to be the awe-inspiring, captivating performances that we see today.