Why Super Bowl 2021 is LV in Roman Numerals—The NFL Tradition Explained

One of the Super Bowl's most distinguishable features and one its longest traditions is also the likeliest to leave even the most seasoned football fans perplexed.

The confusion stems from the NFL's usage of Roman numerals to mark each Super Bowl and by the fact football's showpiece event is scheduled for the year following the start of the regular season.

In simple terms, the 2020 NFL season will officially end in 2021, when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

In other words, Super Bowl LV will take place in the same year the 2021 regular season will begin in, with the latter set to end in 2022.

That particular scenario isn't limited to the NFL either. The NBA and NHL, for example, both begin their seasons in the year prior to when it will end and the same applies to the English Premier League.

All three leagues, however, refer to their seasons by indicating both years they cover. For example, we are currently in the middle of the 2020-21 NBA season and of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign.

Meanwhile, the winners are identified by indicating they year in which they have clinched the title. The Los Angeles Lakers are the 2020 NBA champions, while the Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2020 Stanley Cup winners.

The NFL, however, has adopted a different approach and identifies each Super Bowl with a Roman numerals.

"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.

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.

If holding a title game not in the same year as the regular season was confusing, the timing of the adoption of the "Super Bowl" moniker contributed to muddying the waters even further.

The New York Jets' stunning 16-7 upset win over the Baltimore Colts in January 1969, was the first title game to be officially known as the Super Bowl.

Up until then the championship game between the representatives from the National Football League and the American Football League was known, rather unimaginatively, as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

The matchup between the Jets and the Colts was the first to carry the Super Bowl trademark, but was in fact the third title game since the AFL and NFL had devised the idea of a winner-takes-all showdown in 1966.

To complicate matters even further, the AFL and NFL only completed their merger in 1970, leaving Super Bowl V in January 1971 as the first Super Bowl of the modern-era NFL.

In a bid to make its annals more accessible the NFL retroactively renamed its first four championship games to avoid confusion.

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

Raymond James Stadium
A view of Raymond James Stadium on January 30 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV on February 7. Octavio Jones/Getty