Why Is the Biggest Football Game of the Year Called a Bowl?

It’s hard to miss that pinnacle of American football, the Super Bowl. You’ve likely seen or heard the phrase so many times that the words themselves go unnoticed. But let’s take a fresh look: what exactly does the bowl in Super Bowl refer to?

The word bowl is over a thousand years old. It entered English with the meaning that remains most prominent today: “a deep, round dish or basin, used chiefly for holding liquids, food, etc.” Soon after its entry, it began to be used in extended ways to refer to bowl-shaped items or parts of items. The 1800s saw bowl used in reference to bowl-shaped natural basins, and in the early 1900s, the word bowl began to be used to refer to football stadiums.

The first bowl-shaped stadium was the Yale Bowl, built in 1914. The design allowed seating on all sides of the stadium, meaning more observers could fit inside. The design was repeated for the building of the Rose Bowl Stadium, home of the Tournament of Roses Bowl, called the Rose Bowl after 1923. Eventually, sporting events held in these types of stadiums began to be referred to as bowls, paving the way for the phrase bowl game, which refers specifically to a football game played after the regular season by teams representing the best from a region of the country.  

The word stadium comes from the Greek stádion meaning “a measure of length, a race course.” The track at Olympia, where the Olympic Games originated, was one stadion in length (185 meters).