Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?

The NFL has used Roman numerals since Super Bowl V. Why has this seemingly archaic tradition lasted?

Charlie Riedel/AP
The Super Bowl XLIX logo is displayed on the University of Phoenix Stadium before the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The venue will also host Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015.

Roman numerals may have gone the way of cursive penmanship for the average American, but once a year, during the Super Bowl, America gets a crash course in counting with letters.

The championship game has been keeping count in Roman numerals since Super Bowl V in 1971, and Roman numerals for the first four Super Bowls were retroactively used. Lamar Hunt, former owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, is credited with the idea of using Roman numerals, according to Chiefs historian Bob Moore.

"It was [Hunt’s] brainchild," said Moore of the numbering system in an interview with Yahoo. "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."

Hunt, who also gave the Super Bowl its name, is one of the founders of the American Football League and was on a committee to organize the first Super Bowl in 1967, when it was still officially called the NFL-AFL Championship.

"The NFL didn't model after the Olympics," Dan Masonson, director of the league's corporate communication, told the AP. 

Instead, NFL and AFL representatives decided to number the games, rather than referring to them by year, to prevent confusion due to the fact that the championship game is played in a different calendar year than the regular season.

The Roman numerals were used to make the game seem more prestigious, back when the Super Bowl was not yet the most watched television event of the year. “It’s much more magisterial,” Moore told the AP.

In the early years, the Roman numerals were simple and recognizable, but they got more complex as the years went on. Many people have complained about the Roman numeral system, saying it is pretentious and outdated.

But the NFL is committed to honoring its roots.

However, for next year's Super Bowl 50, the NFL is taking a one-year break from the traditional Roman numerals and will opt for the Arabic numerals instead. This move was made because of concerns about confusion arising from using only an L, the Roman numeral for 50, in the event's name. The NFL will return to Roman numerals for Super Bowl LI.

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