Here's Why They Use Roman Numerals For Super Bowl Games

The weather outside may be frightful, but what's delightful about early February is the knowledge that Super Bowl Sunday is just days away. It's a time to gather (either in-person or virtually), break out the comfort food-laden buffet (the diet starts Monday), crack open a cold one, and settle in for an evening of fun. Whether you're in it for the game itself (as Kansas City and Tampa Bay fans are), for the spectacular halftime show, or all the star-studded commercials (we're looking at you, Wayne and Garth!), this year's championship is sure to be a cure for the wintertime blues.

One thing that sets the Super Bowl apart from other sports events is its title. From the earliest days of the game, it has always been referred to by Roman numerals representing the number of years the championship has been played. This year's game, for instance, is referred to as Super Bowl LV; pronounced "55," not "ell-vee." It certainly looks cool — and it's a good refresher for everyone who studied Latin in school — but why such a formal-sounding title for an all-American, down-and-dirty game?

There's a practical reason behind the ancient numerals

The Super Bowl was first played on Jan. 15, 1967 (per Britannica). The game's title has a special designation because it's different from other major-league sports. Unlike pro baseball, basketball, and hockey, the NFL holds just one game between the winners of the NFC and AFC. The other distinction is that the big game takes place in the calendar year following the season. In other words, the upcoming game between the Chiefs and Buccaneers will determine who was the best in 2020.

The NFL's media guide explains: "The Roman numerals were adopted to clarify any confusion that may occur because the NFL Championship Game — the Super Bowl — is played in the year following a chronologically recorded season. Numerals I through IV were added later for the first four Super Bowls" (via CBS Sports). The one exception to this was in 2014, when the NFL dubbed the game Super Bowl 50. Why? The Roman numeral for the number 50 is L, and the organization didn't like the look of "Super Bowl L" (via Sporting News). The tradition resumed the following year.

And so what will next year's game be known as? In Latin, you put a smaller symbol after the larger symbol to signify addition (and before for subtraction, e.g., IV is 4 or 1 before 5). So 56 is represented as LVI, or 50 + 5 + 1, and the following year will be LVII. Fortunately, we have a few more years before we have to deal with Super Bowls LIX and LX.