Super Bowl LIV: The Tradition and Facts Behind Roman Numerals Explained

One of the Super Bowl's longest traditions is also one of the most confusing.

At one stage or another, football fans, pundits and players have all found themselves trying to work out which number the Roman numerals used to recognize the NFL championship game correspond to.

Major sporting events across the globe are simply referred to by the year in which they are held—think of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the 2019 NBA Finals or the 2020 World Series, to name a few.

The majority of other leagues, from the NBA to the NHL and the English Premier League, refer to their seasons by indicating both years they cover.

For example, we are currently in the middle of the 2019-20 NBA season and of the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

Meanwhile, the winners are identified by indicating they year in which they have clinched the title.

The Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA champions, while the St. Louis Blues are the 2019 Stanley Cup winners.

In calendar terms, the NFL falls into the same category of most of its illustrious counterparts.

Football's regular season spans from September to December, while the playoffs and the Super Bowl are generally scheduled for January and February of the following year.

The current NFL season, for example, began in 2019, and will end in February 2020.

Each Super Bowl, however, has its own denomination in Roman numerals to avoid any kind of confusion.

Whichever team between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs comes out on top in Miami on Sunday, will be referred to as Super Bowl LIV champion.

"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.

If the decision to refer to the NFL championship by a number rather than a year was aimed at simplifying proceedings, the timing of the introduction of the Super Bowl moniker muddled the waters.

The name was not adopted until 1969, when the annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game had already reached its third edition.

In simpler terms, that meant the first Super Bowl was in fact Super Bowl III and its two predecessors were retroactively renamed Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II to avoid further confusion.

"Numerals I through IV were added later for the first four Super Bowls," the NFL media guide adds.

Therefore, the first Super Bowl of the post-merger era was actually Super Bowl V, much like the first three movies of the Star Wars franchise 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.

Super Bowl LIV
The Super Bowl XLIV logo on January 27, 2020 in Miami, USA. The Super Bowl XLIV will take place in the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, and it will be played on Sunday, February, 2. Eduardo Munoz/VIEWpress/Getty