What Number Is LIII and Why Does the NFL Use Roman Numerals for the Super Bowl?

Along with the halftime show, Roman numerals are one of the most recognizable features of the Super Bowl.

While other major sporting events are simply identified by the year in which they are held, each Super Bowl has its own individual denomination.

This year is no different, as the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams go head-to-head in Atlanta in Super Bowl LIII.

Or, in other words, the 53rd edition of the Super Bowl.

While some might find the use of Roman numerals puzzling, the reason behind it is far from complicated.

"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," the NFL media guide states.

"Numerals I through IV were added later for the first four Super Bowls."

It is easy to see why sticking with chronological order might lead to confusion. The NFL regular season spans from September to December, but reaches its climax in January and February of the following year.

This season, for example, has gone into the history books as the 2018 NFL regular season but the Super Bowl is set to be played in 2019.

The majority of other leagues, from the NBA to MLB, the NHL and the English Premier League refer to their seasons by indicating both years they cover. Meanwhile, the winners are identified by indicating they year in which they have clinched the title.

For example, the Golden State Warriors are the 2018 NBA champions, even though the season began in 2017.

To add a further layer of confusion, the moniker Super Bowl was not adopted until Super Bowl III, which took place in 1969.

Two years earlier, the NFL and its-then rival American Football League, had agreed to an annual meeting pitting the two leagues' champion team as part of the NFL-AFL merger.

However, the 1967 and 1968 meetings were known as AFL-NFL World Championship Game and were then retroactively relabelled Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

The first Super Bowl in its current guise took place in 1971, when the NFL-AFL merger was complete and each of the two league was redesigned as a conference.

Therefore, the first NFL Super Bowl was actually Super Bowl V, much like the first three movies of the Star Wars are in fact episode four, five and six when taken in chronological order.

The only time the NFL steered away from Roman numerals was in 2016, when the title game was referred to as Super Bowl 50, as opposed to L.

At least the decision spared Panthers fans countless references to "taking the L"—a colloquial term that indicates suffering a defeat—as Carolina lost 24-10 to the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara, California.

Super Bowl LIII
Detail of the Lombardi Trophy and the helmets of the New England Patriots (left) and the Los Angeles Rams prior to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaking during a press conference during Super Bowl LIII Week at the NFL Media Center inside the Georgia World Congress Center on January 30 in Atlanta, Georgia. Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
What Number Is LIII and Why Does the NFL Use Roman Numerals for the Super Bowl? | Sports