Super Bowl XLVI is upon us! Depending on your understanding of Roman Numerals, this contest could be Super Bowl forty-six, Super Bowl sixty-six, or Super Bowl excelty-something. It will be held in Indianapolis, which also depending on your understanding of Roman Numerals is either the capital of Indiana or the number three.
For those of you who have absolutely no interest in the Super Bowl, have no fear. The Super Bowl as we know it will end in another 3,953 years, when the National Football League runs out of simple Roman Numerals. Of course, if Super Bowl MMMCMXCIX ends in a tie, the game will go into overtime, in which case the event, with commercials, could be extended for another 3 million years.
And for those who do not understand Super Bowl Numerology at all, let me give a brief tutorial.
Super Bowl Numbers, sometimes called Roman Numerals, were developed by ancient Romans as a way to keep track of Star Wars episodes and the royal decedents of the British Monarchy. The numbers also enjoyed a brief run on timepieces before digital sundials made them all but obsolete.
The numerological representation adopted by the Romans is fairly simple: I =1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500, and M=1,000. Lore has it these symbols were derived from physical counterparts. Thus I represented a single finger, V represented an upheld hand holding five splayed digits, X depicted two stacked Vs, and D represented the looped circuit followed by Formula I racing cars at the Indianapolis 500.
Recently unearthed stone tablets suggest, however, that these representations were based on their value in Scrabble. This idea has some merit among football scholars who note that the real problem with Roman Numerals is that there is only one vowel, making yearly Super Bowl delineations difficult to pronounce.
As simple as Roman Numerals appear, there are some rules that make their use confusing. But using football as an analogy, Super Bowl counting can be very clearly demonstrated.
In the Super Bowl, first and ten would normally be written as IX. However, this is an offside infraction, and after a review on the field, the call is reversed, so that IX is literally changed from “one and ten” to “one from ten” which equals nine. Thus, in the Super Bowl, IX would more correctly be identified as second down and 1 yard to go.
Similarly, IIIIth down would draw a penalty for too many men on the field because no letter can be used more than three times consecutively. Thus IIII would be penalized V yards to make it IVth down.
There are other rules applied to Super Bowl Roman Numerals as well, which is why we must have referees in the NFL. Incidentally, NFL is not a real number.
If you are confused, don’t worry. You are not alone. This is why so many teams punt.
It was all much easier in 1967 when the first Super Bowl took place in the Los Angeles Coliseum. At the time it was simply billed as the NFL-AFL Championship Game. It wasn’t until two years later that the popular matchup was officially labeled Super Bowl III. This naming convention by necessity made the original Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl I.
Working back numerically there could not have been a Super Bowl prior to Super Bowl I because there is no Roman numeral for 0. However, gridiron historians recently discovered an ancient playoff match held in the Roman Coliseum somewhere around AD 64. In this first recorded “Super Bowl”, the Lions mauled the Christians 14 to 0 and the Rolling Stones appeared at half time, a performance they would repeat two thousand years later in Super Bowl XL.
As an interesting historical note, LX second television spots at the time went for MCCL sesterces.
This year, in a classic rematch of Super Bowl XLII held IV years ago in the year MMVIII, the New York Giants will take on the New England Patriots. The Giants are led by number X, quarterback Eli Manning, while the Patriots are piloted by number XII, Tom Brady. Madonna, also rated X, will perform at half time.
As usual, the Super Bowl commercials are highly anticipated. This year, with funding from newly formed Super PACs, expect a firestorm of negative ad campaigns as Bud Light (“less filling”) debates Budweiser (“tastes great”) in the King of Beer Caucuses.
And now that you understand Super Bowl numerology, you can count on this being a really great game, even if you have no interest in football. Or math.
So put on your team colors because kickoff is scheduled for VI:XXX Eastern Roman Time. Please set your sundial accordingly.
And for the love of Ceaser, please keep your Giants toga sashed.