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Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?

As we prepare for the fifty-sixth edition of the NFL final, we take a look at why the league took to using Roman numerals instead of the recognizable ones

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 01: A view of SoFi Stadium as workers prepare for Super Bowl LVI on February 01, 2022 in Inglewood, California.   Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

After a playoff run that has been as exciting as any that have come before, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals in SoFi Stadium on Sunday, February 13, 2022 in Super Bowl LVI. Did you see what happened there? The date is written in good old Hindu–Arabic numeral system (the symbols representing 0-9 and the concept of place value), while the Super Bowl is written in Roman numerals.

From the outset, it was clear that you could not simply refer to the Super Bowl in the same way that you refer to the season itself. Being an autumnal and winter game, the season is played in one calendar year while the playoffs and Super Bowl are played in January (and now February) of the following calendar year. So Tom Brady won his last Super Bowl in 2021, but it was the culmination of the 2020 season.

Back in June of 1966, when the NFL and AFL agreed to merge for the 1970 season, they also agreed an interim deal whereby each league would send their champion to meet in a winner-take-all decider after each of their seasons had ended. To avoid any confusion amongst the fans, the decision was taken to assign a number to this new NFL-AFL Championship Game. Since college games of this sort had traditionally been referred to as Bowl Games, the word naturally associated itself in the popular mind with the contest. Lamar Hunt, while negotiating the new game, began referring to it informally as the “Super Bowl” and the name, though not official, stuck.

By the time the actual merger took place, four years later, the Super Bowl was so entrenched in the football fans’ calendar that it was officially rebranded, making the name, as well as the use of Roman numerals, official for Super Bowl V. The previous NFL-AFL Championship Games 1-4 were retroactively renamed Super Bowl I-IV and the league never looked back.

"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. Numerals I through IV were added later for the first four Super Bowls."

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But why Roman numerals?

Quite simply, Lamar Hunt felt that using Roman numerals would give the game added pomp and gravitas in the public mind. And the years have proven him correct. No other annual sporting event carries as much pageantry or anticipation.

All Super Bowls since V have used Roman numerals, with the exception of 50. For such a landmark event, the NFL tried out 73 different logos before finally settling on “50”. The following year, the Super Bowl reverted to form and went with LI.

In just over a week’s time, we will all sit down to enjoy the greatest show on earth. Whoever wins and in whichever numeric system it is written, the Super Bowl promises to bring all the magic of its previous LV editions.


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