The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the NFL, the highest level of professional football in the United States. The Super Bowl normally uses Roman numerals to identify each game, rather than the year in which it is held. For example, Super Bowl I was played on January 15, 1967, following the 1966 regular season. The single exception to this rule is Super Bowl 50, which is scheduled to be played on February 7, 2016. The game was created as part of a merger agreement between the NFL and its then-rival league, the American Football League (AFL). It was agreed that the two leagues' champion teams would play in the AFL–NFL World Championship Game until the merger was to officially begin in 1970.
For four decades after its 1920 inception, the NFL successfully fended off several rival leagues. However, in 1960, it encountered its most serious competitor when the American Football League (AFL) was formed. The AFL vied heavily with the NFL for both players and fans, but by the middle of the decade the strain of competition led to serious merger talks between the two leagues. Prior to the 1966 season, the NFL and AFL reached a merger agreement that was to take effect for the 1970 season. As part of the merger, the champions of the two leagues agreed to meet in a world championship game for professional American football until the merger was effected.
The "Super Bowl" name was derived from the bowl game, a post-season college football game. The original "bowl game" was the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California, which was first played in 1902 as the "Tournament East-West football game" as part of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and moved to the new Rose Bowl Stadium in 1923. The stadium got its name from the fact that the game played there was part of the Tournament of Roses and that it was shaped like a bowl, much like the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut; the Tournament of Roses football game itself eventually came to be known as the Rose Bowl Game. Exploiting the Rose Bowl Game's popularity, post-season college football contests were created for Miami (the Orange Bowl), New Orleans (the Sugar Bowl), and El Paso, Texas (the Sun Bowl) in 1935, and for Dallas (the Cotton Bowl) in 1937. Thus, by the time the first Super Bowl was played, the term "bowl" for any big-time American football game was well established.
After the NFL's Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls, some team owners feared for the future of the merger. At the time, many doubted the competitiveness of AFL teams compared with their NFL counterparts, though that perception changed when the AFL's New York Jets defeated the NFL's Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami. One year later, the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs defeated the NFL's Minnesota Vikings 23–7 in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans, which was the final AFL-NFL World Championship Game played before the merger. Beginning with the 1970 season, the NFL realigned into two conferences; the former AFL teams plus three NFL teams (the Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns) would constitute the American Football Conference (AFC), while the remaining NFL clubs would form the National Football Conference (NFC). The champions of the two conferences would play each other in the Super Bowl.
The winning team receives the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named after the coach of the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowl games and three of the five preceding NFL championships in 1961, 1962, and 1965. Following Lombardi's death in September 1970, the trophy was named the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and was the first awarded as such to the Baltimore Colts following their win in Super Bowl V in Miami.
The Super Bowls of the 2000s and early 2010s are notable for the performances (and the pedigrees) of several of the participating quarterbacks. During that era, Tom Brady (six Super Bowl appearances, four wins), Ben Roethlisberger (three appearances, two wins), Peyton Manning (three appearances, one win), Eli Manning (two appearances, two wins), Kurt Warner (three appearances, one win), Drew Brees (one appearance, one win), Aaron Rodgers (one appearance, one win), Joe Flacco (one appearance, one win), and Russell Wilson (two appearances, one win) have all added Super Bowl championships to their lists of individual accomplishments.