The Roman Numeral Bowl: Are You Ready For Some Football?

The Super Bowl is without a doubt one of the biggest sporting events in the world (World Cup fans, feel free to weigh in here), and an unofficial national holiday in the United States. But, do you know how the Super Bowl got its name? It may (or may not) be related to a toy ball.

How did the super bowl get its name?

In the 1960s, pro football was split into two leagues, the established NFL and the newly-formed AFL (American Football League). Eventually, they would merge, and a competitive game for the title of best in the NFL was a byproduct of the merger. When the league tried to come up with a game name, says “World Series of Football,” “The Big One,” and “Pro Bowl” were considered. But, the first one was a copy of Major League Baseball, and “Pro Bowl” would have conflicted with the annual NFL all-star game.

The first best-of-the-best game between the Packers and Chiefs in January, 1967 ended up carrying the rather straightforward name of “AFL-NFL Championship Game.” Catchy? No. The next two games after used the rather bland “World Championship Game” name.

The Atlantic mentions the legend that Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt coined the term “Super Bowl” after his daughter’s toy Super Ball. But, newspapers were already using the term “Super Bowl” for the championship game well before the first “Super Bowl” game was played, so believe what you want.

Bottom line: “AFL-NFL Championship Sunday” is not nearly as catchy as “Super Bowl Sunday.” And, in the NFL, marketing is everything.

What does the bowl in super bowl mean?

Glad you asked. In the early 1900’s, bowl began to be used to described bowl-like stadiums. The first of these stadiums was built for Yale in 1914 and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was soon to follow. Soon enough, football games held in similarly-designed stadiums were called bowl games.

Why do the super bowl games have roman numerals?

Well, the powers that be tacked on the roman numerals to the end of Super Bowl to distinguish the games from each other. However, since there were already four games before the official first “Super Bowl,” it started at Super Bowl 5. Er, “V.”

The only Super Bowl game to not use roman numerals was Super Bowl 50. The roman numeral for 50 is L, and because NFL ad designers couldn’t do anything with an L logo (in fact it looks like a typo), they used the number 50. Now, we’re back to roman numerals for the foreseeable future. Chris Chase of USA Today summed it up: “Foregoing the use of Super Bowl L drew some early criticism that the league was dumbing things down for America, as if clinging to an archaic counting system that was obviously created without any foresight means we’re a nation of dunces. That’s nonsense. Roman numerals are like cursive: meaningless in the real world and not as pretty to look at as people think.”

Do you have a soft spot for roman numerals? If you think you know your Vs from your Is, take our roman numeral quiz!

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