Game face

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Game face

BY VIC BRADSHAW<br>THE ISLAND PACKET
Published Sunday, February 6, 2005 in The Island Packet  |  1253 Words  |  /IslandPacket/news/local

When Charles Gibbes settles into his chair to watch the Super Bowl today, he'll view it from the perspective of someone who worked behind the scenes as the game that's become a national event was launched.'
Gibbes, an 85-year-old Port Royal Plantation resident, helped the National Football League prepare for the first Super Bowl. Spencer Advertising Co., which Gibbes worked for and eventually owned, handled national advertising for the game program. The company is listed in the first five Super Bowl programs as the national advertising representative, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.'
The game that has become an American cultural institution was born 39 years ago, and Gibbes' recollections of many details surrounding that first Super Bowl program's preparation have faded.'
However, he clearly recalls getting Monsanto Industries, which had unveiled its newfangled fake grass called Astroturf in 1966, involved with the game. The company advertised in the program and even made its way to the field.'
"There was a 10-foot-wide strip (of Astroturf) in front of one or both of the benches," Gibbes said with a grin recently. "I know it was in front of (Green Bay Packers coach Vince) Lombardi's bench."'
About 62,000 people gathered in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 15, 1967, to watch the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. In the game -- popularly known as the Super Bowl for two years before being officially branded with the name in 1969 -- the Packers, who won the NFL Championship, beat the Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the American Football League, a brash upstart that had just merged with its more established counterpart.'
Gibbes said the event was as much a spectacle as an athletic contest. Setting a trend that endures today, the crowd was filled with Hollywood entertainers.'
"It had all the atmosphere of show business from the very beginning," he said. "I remember Bob Hope going up and down the aisles of the stadium, making a clown of himself."'
As a gesture of thanks for his work, the league presented Gibbes a watch made by Longines, the renowned Swiss manufacturer. "Thanks from the Super Bowl" is engraved on the back, along with a facsimile of the signature of the late Pete Rozelle, then the league's commissioner.'
Though there's no date on the timepiece, Gibbes said he's sure it was presented to him after the first Super Bowl "because that's when the Herculean effort went up to get that thing launched." He thinks he was one of about five people given a watch by the league.'
Gibbes' trek to a behind-the-scenes role in NFL history was far from direct.'
The Hartsville native earned his bachelor's and law degrees at the University of South Carolina. After graduation and a five-year stint in the Army during World War II, he returned to South Carolina and sought out a former professor, Coleman Karesh, for career advice. Gibbes had passed the state bar exam before entering the service and had a wife, Patricia, to support, so he wanted to know how he might fare in the profession.'
"He told me if I hung up my shingle to practice by myself," Gibbes recalled, "I'd starve to death."'
Given the life decision he was facing, Gibbes presented that information to a higher authority.'
"My wife didn't think too much of that," he said.'
Law was out.'
As part of his Army duty, Gibbes had done some broadcasting, and a friend arranged an audition with NBC in New York. He wasn't offered a job, but he and Patricia decided to stay in New York.'
He landed with Spencer Advertising, a diverse company that, among other things, handled advertising and publications for hundreds of colleges and most NFL teams. At the time, the pro league lacked the luster and credibility of the college game.'
While working to sell national ads for the NFL's regular-season programs, Gibbes made a key contribution to the evolution of such publications. At the time they were a scant four or eight pages with little more than team rosters. Advertisers knew most of them were discarded at the stadium.'
Gibbes envisioned a "game magazine" with more editorial content -- stories, biographies, records, statistics. Such a program might be a keepsake for many, increasing its value to advertisers.'
Spencer Advertising artist Lon Keller painted a football picture for Gibbes to use when pitching his idea. The resulting artwork, which now hangs on the wall in Gibbes' recreation room, was reproduced so it could be taken to league executives and influential owners for approval. Space was left on the left side for the league logo and publication name, NFL Illustrated; the game's opponents and date would be printed along the bottom.'
The NFL bought into the concept, and the game magazine lured national advertisers and became a league branding mechanism.'
In the days before 24-hour sports channels and the Internet, fans had few team information outlets. The game magazine became a way for fans to connect with their favorite team.'
"From a sports marketing perspective, fans want tangible links to the memories they have when they attend a game," said Jay Gladden, an associate professor of sports management at the University of Massachusetts. "Particularly when you're talking about large-scale events, like the Super Bowl, a program might be the most tangible or lasting piece someone might have of attending that game."'
Like the league it promoted, the game magazine grew and evolved. Eventually, the NFL formed its own division to produce publications, but Spencer Advertising continued working for some teams and maintained a good relationship with the league, Gibbes said.'
Spencer Advertising, which Gibbes eventually renamed Spencer Marketing and Services Inc. and, finally, Spencer Sports Media Inc., helped other clients raise their profile. Gibbes said the company had a great relationship with the Rose Bowl, did a lot of work for the Harlem Globetrotters, and helped the United States Olympic Committee start its licensing program.'
The company also diversified. General Indicator Corp., a subsidiary that made signs and the first electronic scoreboards to use lights to form names and numbers, built baseball's first monster scoreboard. The brainchild of the late Bill Veeck, the ground-breaking promoter who owned the Chicago White Sox, it was the first scoreboard used as a launching pad for fireworks when the home team hit a home run. It was installed at old Comiskey Park in 1960.'
"(Gibbes) revolutionized the sign business around the world," said Mike Veeck, who worked with his father for years and now is co-owner of the Charleston Riverdogs and two other minor league baseball teams. "I think the gift Charles brought to it is he didn't look askance and think it was one of those Veeck really silly ideas. He saw the potential, and that's a remarkable trait."'
At its peak, Gibbes said his company employed about 150 people. He sold Spencer Sports Media in 1986 and moved full-time to his current beachfront home.'
As well as almost anyone, Gibbes knows how far the Super Bowl has come from the initial Packers-Chiefs game to tonight's clash between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.'
"The Super Bowl at the very beginning wasn't institutionalized," he said. "It was more show business."