Posted: Friday February 3, 2006 11:45AM; Updated: Friday February 3, 2006 11:45AM
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There's poetry in numbers, and, occasionally, in letters masquerading as numbers. The NFL's insistence on using Roman numerals to identify Super Bowls, regardless of how unwieldy they can be (quick, who won XXXVIII?), has finally paid off big time. This year the most bloated event on the sports calendar has the name -- Super Bowl XL -- to prove it, and the catchy enumeration is one reason there are predictions that merchandising sales for the game will eclipse those for the previous XXXIX. It's the Super Bowl for a super-sized age, Generation XL.
With that in mind, after this year the Roman numerals should go the way of the Roman Empire. The NFL can't top XL for marketing potential -- this is, literally, as big as the game can get -- and it will be another 10 years (Super Bowl L) before a Super Bowl rolls off the tongue so easily. And, sorry, but the system is useless for identifying games. I have it on instant recall that the Dolphins team I lived and died by as a kid lost Super Bowls in 1983 and '85. But it's never sunk in that Miami went down in Super Bowls XVII and XIX. Ironically, the only Roman games I can identify (the Packers won I and II, the Jets took III) weren't originally called that. The NFL didn't start attaching Roman digits until Super Bowl V.
I'm sure there are some out there who have committed every X, I and V to memory, but let's face it: We're heading into an area of Roman math that most Americans don't understand. Soon figuring out which Super Bowl you're watching will be as difficult as divining the year a film was made as the closing credits zoom by. (Just to fit the logo, every T-shirt for Super Bowl LXXXVII will have to be size XXXL.) Plus, the modern Super Bowl has outgrown any gladiatorial gravitas Roman numerals lent the early games. We don't need fancy numbers to tell us the game is important. We have the Rolling Stones (combined age: CCXLVI) and Jenna Jameson (the XXX star is hosting a party in Detroit tonight) for that. The Super Bowl is never just about X's and O's. But enough with the X's, V's and I's.