Time For The Super Bowl To Drop Roman Numerals?

Time to end a 41 year tradition?

Some people are wondering if it isn’t time for the NFL to ditch Roman numerals, especially considering that the 50th Anniversary of the one of the world’s biggest sporting events will be symbolized by the letter L if they don’t:

The NFL is four years away from its 50th Super Bowl, which means it is already trying to plan around a peculiar self-inflicted marketing nuisance: How can the world’s most powerful sports league get around putting a big, fat “L” on hundreds of thousands of souvenir T-shirts?

The first thing the winning players will do when Sunday’s game ends is drape themselves in celebratory gear emblazoned with the Super Bowl logo. This year, that logo consists of the Lombardi Trophy above the silver Roman numerals XLVI.

But come 2016, the Roman numeral for Super Bowl L happens to be the lone letter that most connotes losing.

“Wouldn’t that be a nice time to switch over to Arabic numerals?” said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising.

The NFL has been using Roman numerals to identify each Super Bowl game since Super Bowl V in 1971 when then-Commissioner Pete Rozzelle made the move in the apparently belief that it would help add to the hype of a game that, at that point, still had not reached the level of hype and anticipation that surrounds it today. On some level, the Roman numerals probably have added a level of mystique and importance to the game that something like “Super Bowl 22” probably wouldn’t do. Without the Roman numerals, in fact, it’s quite probable that the nomenclature would evolved into something similar to what other sports do and that, this year, we’d be getting ready for the “2012 Super Bowl” or something similar.

One could also argue that, at some point, there’s not really any need to number the games at all. Baseball certainly doesn’t do it. Otherwise the Texas Rangers would have been meeting the St. Louis Cardinals in World Series CVII. Of course, it’s different for the NFL. They’ve used Roman numerals to name each Super Bowl for 42 years now. Changing it is going to seem odd and may actually harm the brand a little bit.

What to do about the L in 2016, then? Well, there are a couple ideas:

In the next four years, the NFL may unearth new means of interpretation for the L. McCarthy dryly noted it could stand for “learning” or “love.” Just as Super Bowl XL in 2006 was tailor-made for apparel, Dorfman suggested the NFL could spin Super Bowl L as the largest Super Bowl ever.

Then there is the option of awarding Super Bowl L to a city that might integrate the Roman numeral into a logo. Colts owner Jim Irsay said this week that London remained a possibility for Super Bowl L. The site of the first Super Bowl, Los Angeles, currently lacks an NFL franchise but is considered a contender for the 2016 game. “We’re well aware of where the first Super Bowl was held,” McCarthy said.

The Los Angeles option would seem the most sensible, both because it would bring the game back to the place that it started half a century before and because I’m not sure that playing the game outside the United States makes all that much sense to begin with. When it comes down to the question of whether to keep the Roman numerals or dump them, though, I’ve got to say that I come down on the side of tradition. Besides, who doesn’t want to be around for Super Bowl XCVIII?

H/T: Ann Althouse, who has a poll up about this issue.

Photo via IBD Times

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. “Oh no, don’t tell me that you too are converting to decimal…”


  2. DRS says:

    To be followed by the next important question: wings or drumsticks?

  3. Tillman says:

    They played Super Bowl XXX. I mean, really? L is your breaking point?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Tillman: Good point.

    I do find the numbering system contrived and, at this point, more confusing than helpful. I can recall off the top of my head the years in which the Cowboys played all eight of their Super Bowls. I would really have to scramble to tell you what number was associated with each game.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    Keep the Roman Numerals.
    Add Drum Circles at Half-Time.

  6. Nikki says:

    Add Drum Circles at Half-Time.

    Couldn’t hurt. The resulting ceremonial Sacred Dance, though, might be a bit too much for family viewing.

  7. PJ says:

    “Wouldn’t that be a nice time to switch over to Arabic numerals?” said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising.

    Arabic numerals? What’s next? Sharia Law?

  8. Franklin says:

    Wow, what a monumentally stupid idea to throw away all that tradition because one year doesn’t sound that great (although the London idea is perfect, IMHO). The 54th game would be SuperBowl LIV, would it not? That’s kind of cool … mmm Liv Tyler …

  9. rodney dill says:

    I prefer

    Super Bowl 110010

  10. Dood says:

    Think about the high school students! Sure, you guys had “Rocky I – VII” to teach us Roman numerals. What do we have? Nothing, except the Super Bowl — and now you want to take that away? You might as well be burying Roman numerals forever for the lazy high school students for generations to come.