Why Does the Super Bowl Use Roman Numerals?

If it’s good enough for the ‘Rocky’ franchise, it’s good enough for the NFL.
The Super Bowl has a unique numbering system.
The Super Bowl has a unique numbering system. / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

Every year, tens of millions of people tune into the Super Bowl to find out which football team will be crowned the winner for the current season. In 2024, the Kansas City Chiefs will be standing opposite the San Francisco 49ers. And while it’s the 58th edition of the contest, it’s not referred to as Super Bowl 58. Instead, it’s marketed as Super Bowl LVIII. So why does the National Football League insist on using Roman numerals for this most modern of sporting events?

Simple: The NFL is hoping to avoid confusing you.

The Super Bowl is traditionally held in the year following the beginning of the regular season schedule. The winner of the Chiefs/49ers game will technically be the 2023 Super Bowl champions. If the league opted to follow the lead of the NBA or MLB and label their championship with the year, then it would become difficult to follow. If this were Super Bowl 2024, shouldn’t it really be Super Bowl 2023? And if it were, why it is it being contested in 2024? It’s a semantics issue, but one that would quickly create confusion.

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That doesn’t address why the NFL opts for Roman numerals over numbers. It goes back to clarity: If this were Super Bowl 58, then it’s possible some people might conflate the event name and number with the year. Super Bowl XXII, for example, which was held in 1988, might get mixed up with Super Bowl 2022, which was Super Bowl LVI. It’s simply easier to use Roman numerals to avoid the issue completely.

Who Came Up With the Super Bowl Roman Numerals?

It was actually Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt who suggested that Super Bowls use Roman numerals, which substitute letters for numbers. (X is 10, V is 5, I is 1, and so on.) Hunt, who had noticed some sportswriters using the format, floated the idea to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1970. Prior to that, the first four events used numbers.

It’s not likely Hunt was thinking of avoiding confusion. Instead, Hunt believed the style lent the Super Bowl a kind of gravitas and signaled it was a major event.

“This would further establish the tie to the past and also, in my opinion, add a bit of ‘class’ to our ‘unclassy’ name,” he wrote to Rozelle.

Beginning with Super Bowl V, letters became the norm and the previous events were renamed to follow the format.

The NFL did abandon the system once. For Super Bowl L, the league opted to use Super Bowl 50, since the “L” was typographically odd-looking.

That wasn’t Hunt’s only contribution, either. He’s credited with coining the name Super Bowl.

Of course, all of this presumes the term Super Bowl LVIII will be in heavy rotation. On the sports pages, maybe. But because the NFL has trademarked “Super Bowl,” advertisers and other commercial outlets tend to use phrases like “the big game,” bypassing both the name and the Roman numerals entirely. The NFL even tried trademarking it, to little avail. It's probably just as well: Big Game LVIII doesn't have quite the same ring to it.