By In Stuff


I rarely disagree with my most excellent Sports On Earth colleague Emma Span, Mariano maven, master of mustaches, woman who really knows what is the trouble with the curve. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with her. She might disagree with me a lot, and I couldn’t blame her, but on my end I pretty much think she’s always right, and I am NOT just saying that because she’s one of my editors and could conceivably do terrible things to my stories such as not read them and leave the countless mistakes in there.

But, I have to say on this, Emma is WRONG. I mean it in capital letters. WRONG.

Utterly, completely WRONG.

@emmaspan: Launching a rebellion to force the Super Bowl to stop using roman numerals. If you’re not with me you’re against me.

@JPosnanski: Oh, Emma, I’m against you. I am so against you. Consider me Enemy I. 

* * *

One of the enduring myths of my childhood was that my father was watching the Super Bowl when I was born. This was quite the family story, one that was repeated countless times when I was a boy. It always went the same way: My mother was in labor and my father was in the waiting room watching the Super Bowl. The story was then embellished to make it sound like a 1980s sitcom: You know, my father was watching the game and was uninterested in my birth, maybe he was smoking a cigar, his mother-in-law was walking around all nervous, a family friend kept bumping into nurses, you know, all that Keaton family drama.

I don’t know how old I was when I first did the math and figured out that my father wasn’t just watching ANY Super Bowl. No. I was born in January 1967. And that means he was watching THE Super Bowl. That’s right. Super Bowl I.  The first one. It was so long ago, that they didn’t even call it the Super Bowl then, not officially.* It was the AFL-NFL Championship Game.

*There were some media people, though, who were already calling it the Super Bowl. Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, founder of the AFL, had come up with the name Super Bowl based on a superball his daughter was playing with, and he had told many people about it. The NFL leaders, led by commissioner Pete Rozelle, apparently thought the name a bit unseemly and over-the-top, which is hysterical if you think about it. The NFL thinking something involved with the SUPER BOWL was over the top? Well, it was a different time. Anyway, the media liked the name, so if you go back in the archives of that first game, you will read some reporters calling it the Super Bowl.

It was when I realized the fortuitous timing that this story took on new meaning for me. Suddenly, I felt, you know, blessed. Destined. I wanted to a be a sportswriter, and hey, I was BORN DURING SUPER BOWL I. Not only that, but my beloved father was in the waiting room watching the game. A sportswriter was born!

Then, I’m going to be honest with you, the story took a nasty little turn. See, I was born Jan. 8, 1967. Yes, that COULD have been the day of the first Super Bowl. But it wasn’t. As I found out, Super Bowl I was on Jan. 15, 1967. So now, well, instead of being born on the day of the first Super Bowl, I was actually born one week before. I was actually born on the BYE WEEK SUNDAY of the first Super Bowl.

Well, that figures.

But it got worse. Because I had heard this story so many times, I knew … my father was watching some kind of of football game when I was born. But what game? A college playoff game? A local Cleveland semi-pro game? No. As I have written before, my father was watching THE PLAYOFF BOWL. Yeah. That’s right. The Playoff Bowl. What, you will ask, is the Playoff Bowl? It’s the CONSOLATION GAME they used to play for no reason except to irritate the heck out of Vince Lombardi. Could you even imagine what a consolation game would look like today? Guys wouldn’t even put pads on. It would make preseason football look like the 1958 NFL Championship Game.

So, yeah, it turned out my father’s rapt attention was on the Baltimore Colts’ 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1967 Playoff Bowl the moment I was born, which is not cool, not interesting, not worth the paragraphs I just spent on it. It’s … just … sad.

Why do I tell you all this? It is to explain that I have had a star-crossed connection with the Super Bowl all my life. I have grown up with it, literally. I have marked the years by it.

— I had just turned VIII years old and was vaguely aware when the Steelers beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IX … I only remember the game for being so boring that my father turned it off halfway through and went to play cards.

— I had just turned XVI and got my driver’s license the same week that John Riggins plowed through the Dolphins’ line on fourth and I and just kept running for XLIII yards in Super Bowl XVII.

— I was XVII when the Apple Big Brother commercial played during Super Boxl XVIII. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing it, but I wonder if I really did or if I have just projected myself seeing it since I’ve seen it so many time since.

— I was barely XIX and had just had my first sports story published when the Bears ran roughshod over Tony Eason and the overmatched Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

I remember the Roman numerals because the Super Bowl number is always one above my age.

And of all the great things about the Super Bowl — the oppressive hype, the commercials, the blowouts, the parties, the VI-hour pre game shows, the dreadful halftime shows, the wonderful halftime shows (Prince! In the rain! Singing “Purple Rain!”), the legendary plays, the NFL Films highlight shows — that is the very best thing of all about the Super Bowl: Those Roman numerals.

* * *

Why do I love Super Bowls being counted by Roman numerals? Let me count the ways.

I. Awesome things are counted by Roman numerals. Olympics. Wrestlemanias. “Rocky” movies. Monarchs. “Karate Kid” movies. Popes. Pages at the beginning of books. “Saw” movies. “Highlander” movies. “Superman” movies. “Hangover” movies. “Star Trek” movies.

II. Menace II Society vs. Menace 2 Society vs. Menace To Society. Case rested.

III. Friday the 13th Part VI (Jason Lives) vs. Leonard Part 6. Case Rested Part II.

IV. When you put a Roman numeral after something (and you’re not just doing it to be ironic), you are investing hope in it. Real hope. Nobody ever put an honest Roman numeral after something they thought would be ordinary or second-rate or non-historic. I mean, World Wars get roman numerals. English Kings named Henry get Roman numerals. Final Fantasy video games get Roman numerals.

See, if you put a Roman numeral after your event, your game, your movie, whatever, you are saying: I am expecting big things. I do not believe my thing will be ordinary. I think it will be the biggest thing that ever was — it will be so big that only Roman numerals are big enough to capture its hugeness.

V. Nobody ever thought of putting Roman numerals after the People’s Choice Awards.

VI. Super Bowl XLVII vs. Super Bowl 47? I mean, seriously? Why are we having this discussion?

VII. There is no Roman numeral for zero. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Super Bowl or anything else, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s cool.

* * *

Of course, using Roman numerals for Super Bowls is obnoxious. And self-important. And overbearing. And ludicrous.

This is exactly WHY Roman numerals are perfect for the Super Bowl. It’s almost as if they were MADE for the Super Bowl. Because the Super Bowl is all of those things — obnoxious, self-important, overbearing, ludicrous, you know, in the best of ways. It is billion-dollar planes flying over. It is Paul McCartney screaming “Hello Super Bowl!” It is John Facenda’s voice. It is wardrobe malfunctions. It is Joe Montana pointing out John Candy. It is 2,000 people wandering up to you all week asking, “Buying or selling tickets?” It is insane parties by stars and former stars and wannabe stars. It is supermodels walking around, people wearing Bill Clinton masks, Prince getting asked by a reporter how he likes playing the Super Bowl and pulling a guitar around from his back and jamming into “Johnny Be Goode.”

Remember the scene in “This Is Spinal Tap” when the band first gets the all-black album covers? And everybody hates them except Nigel. And Nigel says: “There is something about this, it’s so black, it’s like, ‘How much more black could this be?’ And the answer is: ‘None. None more black.'”

I use that line all the time when referring to places and things that I love because they are so over-the-top. Las Vegas. Death by Chocolate cake. Louis CK rants. James Ellroy novels. The creations they make in the Food Network Show “Sugar Dome.” The fact that there’s something even CALLED the “Sugar Dome.” If these things were only 95% as extreme, they’d be blah. They’d be Branson and brownies and whatever the name of the semi-funny comedian I saw on TV the other day.

The Super Bowl is like that. If it were not quite so exaggerated, not quite so melodramatic, not quite so excessive … it wouldn’t be worth anything. It would be the Sufficient Bowl. It would be the Watered-Down Bowl. It really would be the Stupor Bowl.

But now it’s just totally in your face. How much more Super Bowl could it be? The answer is: None. None more Super Bowl. It’s greatness is its greatness. It proclaims to be the most important thing that ever happened, nothing more and certainly nothing less. It purports to be life-altering and historic and as significant as anything Alexander the Great ever did. That’s why it works. The Super Bowl offers no irony. The Super Bowl doesn’t wink, and it doesn’t nudge, and it doesn’t shrug.

I remember in 1994 — before Super Bowl XXVIII, in fact, in Atlanta — I saw Frank Sinatra perform. He had a full orchestra with him, of course. He wore a tux. He did the shtick. He sang the songs. And there was no sense of moderation or unpretentiousness or playing it small. Everyone in the place understood the deal. He was Frank Sinatra. He was the legend. We were the audience. We were there to pay our money and be awed. So we paid, he sang “Summer Wind,” and we were supposed to remember it for the rest of our lives. Everyone understood the deal.

That’s the Super Bowl too. It is gaudy and garish and violent and showy and expensive and loud and vain and exciting and boring and fantastic. And you keep track by Roman numerals.

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24 Responses to MDCCCLXXVIII Words

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. DJM says:

    From the looks of it, the “Playoff Bowl” wasn’t just a consolation game, it was the consolation for the NFL Championship Game. That’s like holding bye-week games last season between the Broncos and Texans and the Packers and Saints.

    As you said, unless the games were played in a “Loser Goes To Canadian Football” format, they would be just awful. Oh, and they would still outrate everything on television.

  3. soxmann says:

    So, Joe you have spent your whole life learning these numbers. For most of us, it is a WTF moment when someone talks about Superbowl XMLVIII or whatever. I have no correlation between these symbols and the games.

  4. John Gale says:

    Great read, but I am legitimately shocked that Joe knows what Final Fantasy is. Shocked. How did he learn of it? Did his oldest daughter just play the PC re-release of VII? Was he addicted to VI (the greatest game ever made) in his 20s? Did he just Google famous things associated with Roman numerals?

  5. Brian says:

    Well, technically, only some Wrestlemanias get Roman Numerals. Some get Arabic. Some get weird hybrids

    Here’s the list, by the official name the company has given it each year, guaranteed to bother anyone with even the slightest case of OCD.

    Wrestlemania 2
    Wrestlemania III
    Wrestlemania IV
    Wrestlemania V
    Wrestlemania VI
    Wrestlemania VII
    Wrestlemania VIII
    Wrestlemania IX
    Wrestlemania X
    Wrestlemania XI
    Wrestlemania XII
    Wrestlemania 13 Heat
    Wrestlemania XIV
    Wrestlemania XV
    Wrestlemania 2000
    Wrestlemania X-Seven
    Wrestlemania X8
    Wrestlemania XIX
    Wrestlemania XX
    Wrestlemania 21
    Wrestlemania 22
    Wrestlemania 23
    Wrestlemania XXIV
    The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
    Wrestlemania XXVI
    Wrestlemania XXVII
    Wrestlemania XXVIII

    Wrestlemania 29’s current poster simply says

    Wrestlemania NY NJ

    without a number.

    And yes, I know that Wrestlemania 26 would actually be the 25th anniversary, but tell the WWE, not me.

  6. Frank says:

    When I was a kid, my dad and I accidentally developed a rivalry over pro football. We only got two channels on our tv back then – channel 5 and channel 11. One Sunday afternoon, we were watching a rather boring “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” NFL game on channel 11, and when it went to commercial break, my dad went to the head. I turned to channel 5 and, lo and behold, there was another football game on. My dad was in there long enough for me to figure out that it was an exciting air-born game.

    When my dad came back and changed the channel back to the NFL game on channel 11, I questioned him on what I had just seen. He told me, rather disdainfully, that it was a sorry-old AFL game that was one notch above semi-pro. At that moment, the rivalry was born. I went to the other room and tuned in channel 5. I spent the rest of the season watching Joe Namath, John Hadl, Darryl Lamonica, Jack Kemp, and Len Dawson.

    As fate would have it, that was the year of Super Bowl I, and it occurred on my 7th birthday. We had the world’s first Super Bowl party – well, actually, my birthday party – complete with various relatives.

    I blew out the candles on the cake silently wishing for a Kansas City Chiefs win. It didn’t happen. But the NFL/AFL (later NCF/AFC) rivalry with my dad lasted for the rest of his life.

  7. Mark Daniel says:

    Instead of Roman numerals, they should refer to Super Bowls by year. For example, the Patriots won the 2001 Super Bowl. What? That game was played in 2002? Oh snap!

  8. That’s funny . . . I get MDCCCXCII words.

  9. Chris Smith says:

    “The Sufficient Bowl”. I’m dying here!

  10. Rob Smith says:

    As I read this, my main thought was…. why can’t we have another HOF post to argue about? Roman numerals? I got nothin.

  11. Roman numerals were cool as long as only I’s, V’s and X’s were involved. As soon as L’s, M’s and C’s get in the game it’s math class.

    Too bad we couldn’t just keep adding more X’s. “Super Bowl XXXXXV.”

  12. Rufus says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Rufus says:

    I loved your rant, Joe. I agree, to a point. However, the super bowl has become something that is beyond comprehension; wasn’t it origninally about a GAME? A game that grown men play? Pretentious, yes. Beyond life, no. Too many things are more important. The pageantry is amazing, yes. But reality should always be inserted here. I enjoy entertainment, like the advertisements during the super bowl. Write a blog about that.

  14. NMark W says:

    C’mon, Super Bowl IX was anything but boring if you were a Steeler fan! On that frigid, damp January day into evening in New Orleans at the old Sugar Bowl on Tulane’s campus (because the SuperDome was 6+ months behind schedule and not yet completed) the Steelers toyed with the Vikings much of the game. Pittsburgh was just learning how good they really could be at that point in their maturity while the poor Minnie Vikes were realizing how overmatched they always were when facing AFC Champions. Pittsburgh’s defense in this game and particularly their front four was outstanding in this game. Tarkington’s passes were either being batted down by L.C., Mean Joe, a sick Dwight White and/or Ernie “Arrowhead” Holmes or he was running for his life from them. The Vikings run game was even more pitiful against the Steel Curtain. In the end, seeing “the Chief” Art Rooney raising the trophy in the locker room was as good as it gets for formerly frustrated Pittsburgh fans. We’ll be celebrating the 38th anniversary of that first championship next week in fact!

  15. dbutler16 says:

    I despise Roman numerals. They are archaic and confusing. The Romans were many things, but good mathematicians isn’t one of them.

  16. Lauraine says:

    I just searching this kind of things in search engines. My searching was ending here. Keep up your good work. I bookmarked it for general updates.
    Super Bowl 2013

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