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Super Bowl 50: NFL takes a hiatus from Roman numerals and uses Arabic ones instead

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Why would the NFL take a break from Roman numerals? L, apparently, just isn't that attractive. Dani Bostick weighs on in the decision to drop Roman numerals for this historic Super Bowl, and shares a few other details about this season's world championship.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Details about Super Bowl 50 were released this week, which you can find in my FAQ below. What hit home for me, however, was the NFL’s decision to abandon Roman numerals in favor of Arabic numerals. While this decision was announced nearly a year ago, the sad realization sunk in as the official Super Bowl 50, #SB50, site was launched and for the first time in over three decades, Arabic numbers were used instead of Roman numerals. This decision makes even less sense and appears downright arbitrary (imagine that, the arbitrariness in the NFL!), since next year they are planning on going back to Roman numerals. So, Super Bowl 51 in 2017 will be LI.

What was the impetus behind the decision? L, apparently, is not as visually appealing as 50. There have certainly been other years in which the Roman numerals were unwieldy or inconvenient.

Super Bowl 30 would have appeared more appropriate than XXX, though in 1996 most people’s experience with XXX would probably be on an accidental road-trip detour through a shady part of town, maybe near a truck-stop, not one’s own computer. And, XL, looks more like a shirt size than a number, but they didn't write it out as 40 to avoid that association.

Likewise, Super Bowl 38 would have looked better than XXXVIII, which, at six characters, barely fit on Super Bowl swag. In 2004, 2015 seemed very far off, but XXXVIII was so unwieldy that it probably made future-oriented fans look forward to a single-character Super Bowl number. L should have been that numeral. Instead, the powers-that-be decided to break from a tradition that had been unchallenged since Super Bowl V (and that is V the Roman numeral, not V for Victory) thirty-four years ago when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle heeded the advice of NFL-legend and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt who thought Roman numerals would lend more gravitas to the championship game. That shift has certainly given the Super Bowl a feeling of timelessness and importance that Arabic numbers cannot match.

The NFL’s decision is the numerological version of the Oregon Ducks uniforms or the Boise State field. Yes, we have access to super-crazy holographic, quad-color, duck-skin (does that even exist?) fabric, but does that mean the Ducks need to take advantage of every sartorial innovation that they encounter? I would say "no." Likewise, whoever thought to part from tradition and make a field Cookie-Monster blue was, in a word, wrong.

Does the NFL need to switch to another numeric system because it looks better? Or, because segments of the NFL fan base could look at "L" and think, "Huh, what does L stand for? Why are we using letters now?" Again, my answer is "no." Roman numerals are part of NFL tradition, and dropping them in the interest of aesthetics is a travesty. As long as we’re concerned about aesthetics, maybe to appeal to the female fan base, the NFL can put some pretty scrolling and floral patterns on the field instead of regular lines, and stencil "Live, Laugh, Love" on the side of the stadium.

FAQ on Super Bowl 50

Where is Super Bowl 50 taking place?

San Francisco, where the average February high is 60, and the low is 48.  The first Super Bowl was played in California, so this choice also has historical significance. Another historical connection is that the Roman numerals were not used until Super Bowl V. They were changed retroactively. So, while I clearly disagree with the decision to use 50 instead of L, there is an Arabic numeral connection between the two Super Bowls in addition to a geographic one.

Wait, are they playing in that baseball stadium?

No! In case you missed it, the 49ers now have their own stadium and won’t need to play football games among baseball diamonds for the first part of the season. I went to the Levi’s Stadium website hoping to find out about all the new flashy features and amenities, but under Stadium Info, I was met with a lot of information on sustainability and art. Not what I was expecting, but I guess it is good to know Levi’s Stadium isn’t single-handedly responsible for the California drought and that if I end up at the Super Bowl there will be some cool 49ers art on display.

When is the Super Bowl?

February 7, 2016. That is 260 days from today.

Who is playing in the Super Bowl?

All I can say, is we dodged the Madden curse, so I am not going to speculate, hope, or otherwise entertain that question.