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Is the Championship Game Number Up?

Posted Jun 12, 2014

NFL to scrap Roman numerals for Super Bowl “50”

News that the NFL would forego the use of Roman numerals for the 50th Super Bowl drew praise from people who believe the concept is unwieldy and has seen its day.  For those unfamiliar with the practice, Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt had originated the idea of numbering the championship game that way, much as he had suggested the name Super Bowl and the notion that the championship trophy should be named after Vince Lombardi.

The league has used Roman numerals to designate the game since Super Bowl V in 1971.  Indeed, the game was first called the AFL-NFL championship but the name Super Bowl quickly caught on and was formally adopted.

Hunt believed in creating grandeur for his sports enterprises and incorporating Roman numerals, the kind you might find in some ancient text identifying classic periods in world history, would give the AFL-NFL (or later the AFC-NFC) game exactly that.  Stature was what the game should have, he thought, and this was one way to give it, how some would say, a touch of “class.”    

While the current plan calls for the suspension of the practice for just a year, there are some that would like to see it disappear forever.  Back in 2011, Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton called the use of Roman numerals for the big game “nonsense.”  In an attempt at more sarcasm than snark, she smirked, “did we gripe about the Redskins’ switch to a III-IV defense this season?” 

She clearly misunderstood Hunt’s purpose.  Still, does she have a point that over time has the practice become a bit unwieldy?  It will be odd when Super MMMC… - well, you get the point - rolls around don’t you think?

This is clearly what the NFL office was considering when taking this step – even though the numerals will return for Super Bowl LI in Houston in 2017, it says.  The whole issue says Jaime Weston, the league’s vice president of brand and creative marketing, comes down to the numeral, “L” not being pleasing to the eye.  (Note: I seriously doubt that pro football had a “brand and creative marketing” department at the time Hunt got the AFL going and all involved came up with the particulars for the big game.)  But given the days in which we live now, it is unlikely today’s students would, how you say “get it” anyway – the use of Roman numerals not being what it once was.

How Hunt would have reacted to the recent news is pure speculation.  As he said many times, however, many of the early concepts for the Super Bowl were not tested and if they were, they might have been quickly dismissed.  After all, he said he had only “kiddingly called it ‘The Super Bowl,’ a name that obviously can be improved upon.” 

Or so he thought.
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