The Super Bowl Won't Be the Same Without Roman Numerals

The original team sports venue lent its name to the original Super Bowl venue. Super Bowl "50" is an L of a way to show gratitude to ancient Rome. Tony Gentile

This Sunday, Super Bowl 50 (otherwise known as "the First No L") will be played in Northern California. This will be the first NFL title bout since the "1968 AFL-NFL Championship Game" to be contested without a Roman numeral at the end of the name. While the league insists this is simply a one-year hiatus (from the Latin hiatus, a masculine-gender noun meaning gap or opening) for branding purposes, it seems like unsportsmanlike conduct from a league that owes so much of its success to the ancient Romans, and a modicum (a small amount) of success to 20th-century quarterback Roman Gabriel.

In 1967, the inaugural Super Bowl, between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, was played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which takes both its name and its peristyle architectural design directly from the Roman Colosseum. With apologies to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the Colosseum is the granddaddy of 'em all. It was erected in 80 A.D. and is believed to have sat upwards of 50,000 spectators for gladiatorial matches, wild-animal fights and mock naval battles. You think Army-Navy is cool? How about Navy-Navy?

The Colosseum, much like the Roman populace, was centuries ahead of its time: Luxury boxes, water fountains and latrines were part of the decor (beauty or elegance). Kudos to the Roman emperor Vespasian, by the way, for situating it in central Rome and not out in the Etruscan suburbs. The Appian Way may have been a marvel of civil engineering, but it was not built for game-day traffic.

Nearly two full millennia (the plural of millennium, "thousand year," from mille [thousand] plus annus [year]) later, modern man has only slightly improved upon the Colosseum's fundamental design. In numerous instances, such as University of Phoenix Stadium, man has aesthetically regressed. If the Colosseum were still functional, Al Davis probably would have moved the Raiders there for a season, or at least threatened to do so.

And while the Greeks may have invented modern-day sports as we know them, the Romans certainly refined the idea of team sports. Christians versus lions, for example. Imagine an era in which the lions were perennially the favored side.

To the Romans, we also owe the concept of sports violence, which is the fuel that powers the Super Bowl's global popularity. What is Joe Theismann's lower leg snapping compared with a gladiator plunging a trident through his opponent's abdomen (belly)? And while this may be a non sequitur, let us remember that gladiators and NFL players wore helmets. That Rome was sacked in 410 A.D., while Peyton Manning will be sacked at least four times on Sunday. That Marcus Aurelius was once the leader of Rome, while DeMarcus Ware is the leader of the Broncos' defense. Et cetera, et cetera.

For the 21st-century NFL fan who finds the question "Blue cheese or ranch?" vexing, it may be too much to expect fluency in Roman numerals. They may understand what a C-note denotes—$100—but do they understand why? Some likely confused last year's Super Bowl enumeration, XLIX, with the call letters of a country-music radio station. So, yes, in terms of simplicity, 50 is more accessible than L, just as Arabic numerals are more familiar to us than Roman numerals.

And to be fair, misrepresentation and misnomers are rampant when it comes to NFL championship-game history. As you are aware, this is the 50th Super Bowl, but the first two were not even referred to with numbers at the time. The NFL launched in 1920 and began staging a scheduled postseason championship game in 1933. (Prior to that year, the team with the best record was declared champion.) Officially, then, Sunday's contest between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will be the 84th NFL championship game and the 47th since the merger of the National Football League and the upstart American Football League following Super Bowl III in 1969.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton speaks with the Super Bowl 50 logo behind him. USA Today Sports/Reuters

Roughly a year and a half ago, when the NFL announced it would be suspending the use of Roman numerals for one Super Bowl, Jaime Weston, the league' vice president of brands, explained that L wasn't "as pleasing to the eye."

Maybe. Or maybe the NFL simply lacks imagination. Carpe diem, Roger Goodell. What is so abhorrent about a Super Bowl L when you consider that the game's inaugural MVP, in each of its first two editions, was a man named Bart Starr? Two L's, meet two r's.

Even the word super is a Latin hand-me-down, meaning above or beyond. The use of Roman numerals to count Super Bowls was always vestigial and idiosyncratic, but that was also what lent the game some of its charm. Sort of like the Green Bay Packers…who, by the way, won those first two Super Bowls.

It might be understandable if this year's Super Bowl were being staged in Honolulu, home of the 50th state (and Hawaii Five-O). But it is not. It is being held in a stadium (yet another word that is a vestige of ancient Rome) whose tenants, the San Francisco 49ers, originally played in a venue named Kezar Stadium. Kezar is a derivation of Caesar, or ruler. You may be in favor of the number 50. Not me. I prefer the L-way.