50 years of elation and heartbreak: Looking back at the history of the Super Bowl

For the past five decades, millions of Americans have huddled around radios and televisions for the big game, the ultimate one-game playoff, the day second only to Thanksgiving for food consumption -- the Super Bowl.

The game has changed quite a bit since its inception 50 years ago. In fact, the first two NFL championships weren't even called Super Bowl games. 1967 and 1968, the Green Bay Packers won what was then referred to as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game between the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL), over Kansas City and Oakland, respectively.

SEE ALSO: The Patriots and Falcons have been equally dominant heading into Super Bowl LI

The first use of the title 'Super Bowl' came in 1969 with Super Bowl III, and the name was then retroactively applied to Super Bowls I and II.

Before 1970, the championship was a competition between the NFL and the AFL -- two leagues that went on to become the National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC) upon merging into one league. In the first official meeting between the conferences in 1971, the Baltimore Colts of the AFC defeated the NFC's Dallas Cowboys 16-13.

The Super Bowl quickly became a game of dominant franchises -- and heartbreak:

  • The Green Bay Packers, who won Super Bowls I and II, did not make another appearance until 1997 when they defeated the New England Patriots.

  • The Miami Dolphins appeared in three straight Super Bowls from 1972 to 1974, winning the last two of the three-year series.

  • The Minnesota Vikings made it to four Super Bowls between 1970 and 1977, but racked up four losses and have not played in the big game since.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have won a league-leading six Super Bowls, with four of those championships coming between 1975 and 1980. They returned for two more victories in 2006 and 2009.

  • The Denver Broncos lost three Super Bowls between 1987 and 1990, before winning their first in 1998 -- and their second in 1999.

  • The Buffalo Bills became the only team in history to make it to -- and lose -- four Super Bowls, from 1991 to 1994. The latter two losses both came at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.

  • After defeating the Bills twice, the Cowboys took one year off before winning Super Bowl XXX in 1996, marking their third in four years.

  • Between 2002 and 2005, the New England Patriots won three Super Bowls with a fresh new coach and quarterback duo -- Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

  • The Patriots soon returned to the championship in 2008 and 2011, but were defeated by the New York Giants both times.

This year, the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons are headed to the game in search of their first Super Bowl win. They will be facing off against the AFC Champion Patriots, in search of their fifth Super Bowl ring in their league-leading ninth appearance. They are also going for their second victory since 2015.

No matter how Super Bowl LI ends, it's going to be one for the history books. The big game kicks off this Sunday at 6:30 PM EST.

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50 years of elation and heartbreak: Looking back at the history of the Super Bowl