It’s all Lamar Hunt’s fault.
The late owner of the Kansas City Chiefs might have been a visionary, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the modern NFL and originator of the term Super Bowl. Yet, because of him, we get migraines each year trying to figure out which Super Bowl it is.
See, it was Hunt who suggested the NFL use Roman numerals rather than ordinary numbers to identify each Super Bowl. Which means we all have to channel our inner third grader to remember that X is 10 in Roman numerals, L is 50 and you add the numbers from left to right – except when you don’t.
“What’s with all these tough questions?” Philadelphia Eagles safety Corey Graham said Monday night when asked about his familiarity with Roman numerals.
“I remember when I was in Baltimore for 47 and I was struggling with that,” he said. “I’m not that great with them. It’s been a while since I paid attention.”
He’s not the only one.
Let’s be honest: Roman numerals are one of those things we learned because we had to and then promptly forgot, knowing they’d have very little practical application. Like the periodic table or diagrammed sentences. Unless you’re looking for a movie copyright or are having a papal trivia contest, you can easily get through the rest of your life without having to know that XXXVIII equals 38.
At least I think it does.
“I’ve got to go to Google,” Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry confessed.
Said New England Patriots center David Andrews, “The Xs and Vs get pretty confusing.”
Hunt thought using Roman numerals would add pomp and gravitas to the game. Remember, the Super Bowl wasn’t anywhere close to being the unofficial national holiday it is now when it began, and the new league was trying to convey that its new game was a big deal.
“If you just say it’s Super Bowl 58, it’s not as exciting as L-V-I-I-I,” said Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe, who, for the record, spit that out correctly and without hesitation.
Maybe it was that they were easy to figure out in the early years or maybe it’s that people weren’t really paying attention. For whatever reason, the Roman numerals stuck. While the Super Bowl’s logo has changed dramatically throughout the years – remember the city logos? – the Roman numerals have been a constant.
Except for the 50th edition of the Super Bowl. Regular numbers were used for that one because even the NFL can’t make a solitary L look cool or imposing.
The Roman numerals are a uniquely NFL feature, too. No other league uses them for their championships. Then again, no other league numbers its championships, either. You don’t hear the Cleveland Cavaliers say they’re winners of NBA Championship 70, do you? The Chicago Cubs didn’t plaster their World Series memorabilia with “Fall Classic 112 champions,” did they?
“At this point, they’ve been so connected to (the Super Bowl), it’s part of the aura and nostalgia of it,” Andrews said. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
Sure. Until you’re trying to figure out which edition it is.
Or you can just do what Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox does and avoid the idea all together.
“You’re pronouncing it wrong. It’s ramen noodles,” he said. “You’ve got to get the creamy chicken ones. Or the beef.
“You’ve got to put butter in there, a little seasoning salt,” he added. “And not too much water.”
Hey, it’s a better alternative than the numbers soup the NFL gives us every year at Super Bowl time.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.