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.