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The Super Bowl and Roman numerals: A match made in Kansas City

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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A view of the Benson Tower in New Orleans with a Super Bowl XLVII logo. (USA Today Sports)

NEW ORLEANS – It is the most American of occasions, the showpiece of the most American of all sports, so why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals to denote its grand event every year?

No other major American sport uses the Roman counting system, one formerly familiar to school kids around the country but now essentially obsolete to the iPad generation. Yet the Super Bowl persists with the tradition, has no desire or plan to change it, and the ancient characters will continue to appear just as they have since 1971.

That was the year when what was supposed to be Super Bowl 5 became Super Bowl V, at the insistence of pioneering sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the most significant figures in the growth in the game’s popularity.

The Baltimore Colts emerged victorious that year, outlasting the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 thanks to a winning field goal in the dying seconds.

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Lamar Hunt (Getty Images)

Hunt was a man with plenty of ideas, most of them good. It was he who also coined the term Super Bowl ‐ coming from the children's toy, a "Super Ball" – and his numbering concept was considered successful enough to retain. The system has even been retroactively incorporated for Super Bowls I through IV.

"It was his brainchild," said Bob Moore, historian for the Chiefs. "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."

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Hunt, who died aged 74 in 2006, was a stakeholder in seven different sports franchises and has been inducted into eight different ‘Halls of Fame’, but amid his multitude of achievements he was, according to his son, Clark, to be particularly proud of suggesting Roman numerals for the Super Bowl.

"It has been in place ever since," NFL official historian Joe Horrigan told Yahoo! Sports. "It is part of the Super Bowl culture, it is an established part of the magic of the Super Bowl.”

No discussions have been held to consider changing to a more common numbering system even with Super Bowl 50, sorry, Super Bowl L, just three years away.

"If you asked me to count up using Roman numbers I wouldn't even know how to do it," said San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner. "But it's a good thing. It's the Super Bowl, man."

The fans love it too, according to a small sampling of opinion gathered on the streets of New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon.

"I don’t think you need anything to make the Super Bowl even more dramatic," said mother of three and Saints fan Ree Nygren. "But it does add something to it, it is kind of cool and timeless and important-sounding. There is no point in changing it, although it won’t be quite the same once it become Ls rather than Xs."

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