When the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots meet up in Super Bowl 51, it will be just the third time that the city of Houston hosts the game. The NFL chose to return to the southern Texas metropolis for the first time in 13 years.
These days, the Super Bowl location is often a reward for NFL teams opening up shiny new stadiums. That was the case in 2004, when Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) was just two years old, hosting the expansion Houston Texans. The game itself saw the New England Patriots defeating the Carolina Panthers, 32-29. Before that, you have to go back to 1974 for the only other time the Super Bowl came to the city. With Rice Stadium hosting Super Bowl 8, the Miami Dolphins knocked off the Minnesota Vikings to repeat as champions.
During the owners meetings in 2013, the NFL voted to approve Super Bowl sites for 2016 and 2017. Santa Clara won the bid to host Super Bowl 50, which made a lot of sense since Levi’s Stadium was set to open in 2014. The Super Bowl 51 bid came down to Houston and Miami, which at the time was looking to upgrade the Dolphins’ stadium.
Miami is a popular destination and the NFL likes staging its biggest game there (it’s hosted the Super Bowl 10 times, most recently in 2010). However, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross failed to secure public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium, and the NFL passed on giving the city the 2017 game. With no other options on the table, Houston essentially got this game by default. Ross ultimately funded stadium renovations out of pocket, and a couple years later the newly upgraded Hard Rock Stadium was chosen to host the Super Bowl in 2020.
Next year’s game will be held in Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, while Atlanta is slated to host the 2019 game in the Falcons’ new home. In 2021, the Super Bowl will return to Los Angeles in the Rams and Chargers’ Inglewood stadium, which is currently under construction.