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Tonight, an expected 117 million American television viewers will plop themselves on the couch for about four hours to partake in our country's unofficial national holiday. It was nearly a half century ago that the phenomenon known as the Super Bowl began, even if it didn't bear that name at the time.

On Jan. 15, 1967, the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played between Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs and Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. Today, the 50th edition of the Super Bowl will be played between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, and the CBS broadcast will involve technology never before seen during the big game, including a 360-degree perspective on replays and 16 pylon cameras.

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Presumably, it will be nothing like the broadcast of the first Super Bowl. Not that you would know unless you watched it live in 1967.

Unlike the other 48 Super Bowls played between then and the one that kicks off tonight — all of which have likely been replayed in perpetuity during the past week on ESPN and the NFL Network — no recording of the original broadcast of the first Super Bowl was thought to have existed. There was so little fanfare about that first matchup that the tapes of the games were either lost or recorded over by the networks.

In the past few years, however, a man had come forward claiming to be in possession of the only known copy of Super Bowl I. While the man had stayed anonymous since he and the NFL began negotiating over the tapes in 2005, Troy Haupt, a 47-year-old man living in North Carolina, revealed himself earlier this week in an article published in the New York Times, telling the fascinating story of how the tapes came to be.

For some reason unknown to Haupt or his mother, his father, Martin, decided to record the broadcast on a pair of 2-inch Scotch tapes in a Quadruplex taping machine. Keep in mind this was long before the days of the videocassette recorder, let alone the DVR, so it was quite the task. It wasn't until Martin Haupt became sick with cancer some eight years later that he turned the tapes over to his ex-wife, telling her they might one day pay for their children's education.

Somehow, Martin Haupt must've had an inclination that this "Super Bowl" might turn out to be kind of a big deal.

While the recording isn't perfect — it has odd starts and stops because of Martin Haupt's trying to avoid commercials (who knew that 50 years later the advertisements might be anticipated by as many as the football game itself?), plus it's missing the halftime (was Coldplay performing then, too?) and most of the third quarter — it's the most complete recording known to exist and includes the original broadcast play-by-play, according to the New York Times piece.

So, of course, ahead of the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl, the NFL has made Troy Haupt a millionaire and bought this unique vestige of the league's history. Wait — you mean they didn't? What, do you think that money just grows on trees for the NFL?

For over a decade, the NFL has rebuffed Haupt's attempts to sell them the tape at his $1 million asking price, instead offering $30,000. Haupt thought for sure this would be the year, what with it being Super Bowl 50 and all, that the NFL finally caved. Instead, they went through the effort of finding footage of all 145 plays from Super Bowl I from more than a dozen different sources, remastered the video and weaved it all together with the audio from the NBC Sports radio call of the game. That version was broadcast on NFL Network for the first time last month.

It's kind of hard to believe that America's most popular sports league, with its 32 franchises valued at a combined $45 billion, couldn't find a cool million to throw this guy's way for a piece of history. Not only that, but the NFL seems to be going out of its way to keep him from selling it to anyone else. You know that whole "without the expressed written consent" message that gets played during the fourth quarter of every game broadcast? The NFL has made clear that if Haupt sells the tapes to anyone else, they wouldn't be able to show it without getting sued, essentially making the league the only real buyer.

CBS, which is airing tonight's Super Bowl 50, had actually planned to interview Haupt and air snippets of the recording as part of the pregame broadcast — paying him $25,000 and a pair of tickets to the game — but pulled the plug at the last minute, according to his lawyer, presumably under pressure from the NFL (although the league and network deny this).

Why is the NFL being so petty? Greed is a powerful thing. As is usually the case, fans are the ones losing out — whether it's the ever-increasing costs of tickets or apparel — but, alas, the machine keeps churning on. No matter how many times the NFL shows fans that it doesn't care about them — just their pocketbooks — we keep coming back for more and the league is more popular than ever.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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