Super Bowl: NFL, stop with the Roman numerals

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The Washington Post's LaVar Arrington, Liz Clarke, Paul Tenorio and Jonathan Forsythe offer their Super Bowl XLV predictions.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 12:10 AM

We've been putting up with this nonsense for XLIV years. Enough. Why can't this Sunday's NFL championship game be called Super Bowl 45?

The Roman numerals were cute at first. The first few Super Bowls weren't even called Super Bowls. Once the name came along, the numbers followed, and the first few years were okay. Super Bowl V? Kind of cool. Super Bowl X? Still following along. XXX was easy.

Then came No. 40. XXXX, right? Wrong. XL, of course - 50 (L) minus 10 (X). Everyone knows that! The big game dropped from a 4X to an extra-large, right before our eyes, like a contestant on "Biggest Loser."

But okay, so using that theory, Super Bowl 49 would be IL, right? Wrong. In 2015, we'll call it XLIX. And then comes Super Bowl L in 2016, er, sorry, in MMXVI.

That's one of the problems with this system: You have to be able to subtract to translate Roman numerals. Studies already show that America's youngsters are falling behind the rest of the world in math. So we have to rub that in their faces on our biggest national holiday?

Roman numerals are fine in names - the world needs guys nicknamed Trey. Roman numerals are also fine for numbering "Saw" movies and Popes and . . . that's all. That's enough.

So why do Roman numerals belong at the Super Bowl? Did we gripe about the Redskins' switch to a III-IV defense this season? Do we covet tickets on the L-yard line? Do we enjoy a good XXIV-XXI victory in overtime?

Most sports don't use Roman numerals. The World Series has been going on twice as long as the Super Bowl, but it doesn't feel the need to be all pompous about it. The Olympics use Roman numerals - the Games of the XXIVLCM Olympiad, or whatever - but does the NFL really want to model itself after the International Olympic Committee? Most folks just call them the 2012 Olympics, or the London Olympics, or the 2012 London Olympics. Simple.

Why can't we have the 2011 Super Bowl? Why does the NFL think it's so special?

Because we've all told the NFL how special it is. It's torn up our calendar, changed our TV viewing habits (Monday games, Thursday games, Sunday night games) and wreaked havoc on America's productivity (two words: fantasy football). We've let it do these things because, hey, we enjoy it. But why do we have to learn Roman numerals just because Roger Goodell says so?

It's not like the knowledge is really transferrable to the real world. Clock faces sometimes use Roman numerals, but they only use 12 of them, and let's face it, most of us can read clocks that have no numbers whatsoever.

I'd have no objection to learning, say, the metric system, even in my dotage, because a lot of the world is already using it. Good incentive. Why should I have to decode Roman numerals once a year? The Romans don't even have to do that, for Pete's sake.

Some of these Super Bowl numbers look more like text slang than monikers for the supposed greatest day of our collective lives. Someone could slip in a reference to Super Bowl ROTFL or Super Bowl TMI, and no one would know the difference.

The system reached the apex of ridiculousness in 2004, when Super Bowl XXXVIII was held in Houston. Given the limited attention span of the Twitter generation, I'm surprised anyone . . .

Sorry, forgot what I was going to say.

But at least then, we were still dealing with I, V and X. Now L has been added to the mix. Assuming the NFL is still around in 56 years - and would you bet against it? - C will be next, then D, then M.

Let's end the madness now, Roger Goodell, if not for this generation, then for our distant descendants who'll have to suffer through Super Bowl MMMCMXCIX.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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