Why does Super Bowl Use Roman Numerals?

Ever wondered why the National Football League (NFL) of the USA uses Roman numerals to name its most important yearly event, the Super Bowl? It is indeed surprising that Americans use a numbering system from hundreds of years ago and from a different continent.

Well, after nearly 50 years, this is still a controversial subject in the US but the NFL has its reasons. Here are some interesting facts about the Super Bowl and its use of Roman numerals...

What Do The Roman Numerals Indicate in Super Bowl

The NFL uses Roman numerals to chronologically keep track of the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is not named after the year it is held in. Instead, it is named after how many games have been played. For example, Super Bowl XII indicates that you are are talking about the twelfth Super Bowl. The only time Roman numerals were not used was during Super Bowl 50, played on February 7, 2016 to determine the champion of the 2015 season.

The Reason The Super Bowl Uses Roman Numerals

You might expect a historical or a rather complicated story but the Super Bowl has adopted Roman numerals only out of convenience. The aim was to clarify any chronological confusion that might arise due to the dates of the season and the final championship game - the Super Bowl

This is because the season is played regularly between September and December whereas the Super Bowl is played next year, usually in February. For example, the season played in 2018 crowned its Super Bowl winner in February 2019. It is easy to see the chronological confusion that would have arisen if it were named either ‘Super Bowl 2018’ or ‘Super Bowl 2019’. 

Therefore, as 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.

(Source: NFL)

When Were Roman Numerals First Used in Super Bowl?

The first Super Bowl (Super Bowl I) was played in 1967 but it wasn’t until the fifth Super Bowl 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 labeled retrospectively. From that year on, the NFL has been keeping track of its championship games in Roman numerals.

The person who is credited for the idea of Roman numerals is Lamar Hunt who was a former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the founders of the American Football League and who is believed to have given the Super Bowl its iconic name.

What Do the Roman Numerals Mean For the Super Bowl?

The American public and press have been somewhat divided on the use of Roman numerals for naming the Super Bowl. Some find it puzzling, out of date and archaic. According to this argument, ‘Americans are forced to learn the Roman numerals every year, again and again’.

However, it is generally accepted that the Roman numerals are unique to the Super Bowl, they are one of those specific features that make it prestigious, distinct and recognizable. Roman numerals are usually defined as the signature of the Super Bowl.

It’s much more magisterial,” says Bob Moore, a Kansas City Chiefs historian. Moore  explains the excitement that the first use Roman numerals created at the time as follows: "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."

(Source: Csmonitor)

Meanwhile, the NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy summarizes the continued use of Roman numerals in Super Bowl as “Because it is, in many ways, unique to the Super Bowl”. “It provides even more gravitas to an event that’s a tradition that’s decades long. It is unique. At the NFL, we like to stand out and here’s one way that is fun to do so,” says McCarthy. He goes on to state that “We also know that teachers across the country appreciate keeping the Roman numeral system alive.

You can use our user-friendly converter for both number to Roman numerals and Roman numerals to number conversion.

Why Didn’t the NFL Use Roman Numerals for Super Bowl 50?

The NFL did not use Roman numerals for the fiftieth Super Bowl and the game was named Super Bowl 50 instead of Super Bowl L. In 2015, this decision created a lot of controversy. Some even went to the point of suggesting that the NFL should ditch the Roman numerals forever. However, the Roman numerals were only removed for only one year and for marketing purposes.

As the NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy explained at the time, the Roman letter ‘L’ representing the number 50 was associated with losing. Secondly, the NFL designers decided that ‘Super Bowl L’ was not attractive and marketable. After extensive research, they came to the decision that it did not look good on social media, mobile devices or on merchandise like T-shirts and caps.

The perception of negativity and the aesthetic challenges led the NFL to change its tradition for a year. “We spent some time looking at what a block L would look like on its own, and [NFL Creative Services] said, ‘It could be a problem from a creative and design element that the letter L, on its own, without an I after it, looks unusual within the design world” said McCarthy.

(Source: Rollingstone.com)

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