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Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?

As we prepare for the 58th edition of the National Football League final, we study why the league adopted the old numerals instead of modern numbers.

An image of a football with a Super Bowl LVIII logo covers a fence at Allegiant Stadium on February 01, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s been some playoff run. There were some shocks and some stunning performances. All that has landed us within touching down distance of Super Bowl LVIII, which will see the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, February 11, at the Allegiant Stadium, Nevada.

So we’re all set, right? What if someone asks you which edition this is or how many have come before? We’re still writing the game date using the good old Hindu–Arabic numeral system (the symbols representing 0-9 and the concept of place value), but we’ve flipped to Roman numerals for the Super Bowl name. What’s going on?

Understanding NFL seasons and the Super Bowl

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

In June of 1966, when the NFL and AFL agreed to merge for the 1970 season, they also agreed to an interim deal whereby each league would send their champion to meet in a winner-take-all decider after each season 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 with the contest in the popular mind. While negotiating the new game, Lamar Hunt 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, an 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.

Why are Roman numerals used?

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. The NFL tried out 73 different logos for such a landmark event before finally settling on “50″. The Super Bowl reverted to form the following year and went with LI.

In just a few days, we will all sit down to enjoy what many Americans call 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 LVI editions.