The Super Bowl is the single biggest US sporting event of the year, with millions of people tuning in to watch the big game. But have you ever wondered why the Super Bowl uses Roman numerals instead of regular numbers?
This article will explore the origin story of why Roman numerals became the official numbering system for the Super Bowl, and what Roman numerals are all about.
What is the Super Bowl?
The Super Bowl itself is the championship game of the NFL, and it is played annually on the first Sunday in February. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967, and since then, the event has grown into one of the largest sporting events in the world. The big game is now watched by millions of people, and it is one of the most-watched television events in the United States.
How are Roman numerals used for the Super Bowl?
Roman numerals are a system of numbering that was used by the ancient Romans. They are still used today, particularly in the naming of movies, books, and other cultural events.
Roman numerals use letters to represent numbers, from L, X and C, to numerals I through IV. They are always written in a certain order with I representing 1, V representing 5, X representing 10, L representing 50, C representing 100, D representing 500, and M representing 1000.
To write a number using Roman numerals, you simply add the letters together, with the largest number coming first.
For example: Super Bowl 56, the 'L' would be used to represent '50', and 'VI' would be used to represent '6'. This means Super Bowl 56 = Super Bowl LVI.
When did the Super Bowl start using Roman numerals?
The first Super Bowl (Super Bowl I) was played in 1967 but it wasn’t until the Super Bowl number 5 that the Roman numerals were introduced.
The first time Roman numerals were used to name the Super Bowl was in 1971. Before this, the game was officially called the ‘NFL-AFL Championship’.
The game played in 1971 was named Super Bowl V and the first four games were labelled retrospectively. From that year on, the NFL has been keeping track of its championship games in Roman numerals.
Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?
The NFL decided to switch to Roman numerals to give the Super Bowl a more historic and timeless feel. This may seem like quite a trivial reason, but the way the NFL puts it:
The Roman numerals were adopted to clarify any confusion that may occur because the NFL Championship Game—the Super Bowl—is played in the year following a chronologically recorded season.
This is because the regular season is played between September and December, but the Super Bowl is played in the year following that. For example, the season played in 2022 will crown its Super Bowl champions in February 2023. It would be easy to get confused by the big game, if it was referred to by either the season or the calendar year - 'Super Bowl 2022' or 'Super Bowl 2023'.
The idea was not only to reduce confusion, but also to make the Super Bowl seem like a major event that transcended time, rather than just another regular football game. The use of Roman numerals helped to create a sense of prestige and tradition that is now associated with the game.
It’s much more magisterial. I think people felt from the start that it had something to it, even if they couldn’t quite put their finger on exactly what it was. Before long it was just part of it. Now it wouldn’t be the same without it.
Bob Moore (Kansas City Chiefs historian)
Who came up with the idea?
The concept was proposed by Lamar Hunt - former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League. Hunt is widely considered to be the reason why the Super Bowl adopted this iconic format.
Super Bowl L or Super Bowl 50?
Super Bowl 50 is the only time Roman numerals have not been used since the tradition began.
Instead of calling it 'Super Bowl L', the NFL went with 'Super Bowl 50', which caused league-wide controversy. The change was mostly made for marketing reasons, suggesting that 'Super Bowl L' was visually unappealing for marketing purposes.
NFL Spokesperson, Brian McCarthy, suggested that the branding was not aesthetically appealing on social media, mobile devices, or merchandise. However, the use of Roman numerals was only temporarily discontinued and later resumed.