Super Bowl ‘ell

[As published in the January-February issue of Midtown Magazine.]

Panthers fans, here’s hoping by the time you read this, our as-yet-undefeated team has come even closer to playing in the Super Bowl out in San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium. This is a memorable year to make the Super Bowl, what with its alleged 50th anniversary. Too bad that’s incorrect…

Anyone who thinks 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the NFC champion and the AFC champion playing each other in the Super Bowl, is wrong on just about every detail. First, the 50th time something occurs is not the 50th anniversary – it’s the 49th. That’s because the first time it happens, it’s the original event, not an anniversary. For example, Super Bowl II was the first anniversary of the Super Bowl. But there never really was a Super Bowl II, anyway.

Confused? Don’t worry – so is the NFL. It all started in January 1967, with the first “Super Bowl.” Only that’s not what they called it at the time. Back then, there were two leagues – the long-standing National Football League (NFL) and the more recent upstarts, the American Football League (AFL). The NFL ignored the AFL for several years, looking at them the way we look at the Canadian Football League today – pointless.

But a rivalry grew during the 60s, mostly over which league could throw a more obscene amount of money at a college kid just for playing a game. And at the end of both leagues’ 1966 season, their respective champion teams met in what would later be known as Super Bowl I. Know what it was called then? “The First World Championship Game AFL vs. NFL.” No, really.

Those are the words used in the logo for that game. Officially, historical references call it “the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” And it was the first one, so sometimes they refer to it by the fancier moniker, “the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”

In January 1968, the second one took place. Know what they called it? “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” No, really.

I’ve found no reference to any sort of number used for that one. In fact, it’s difficult to find a reference to that name, even without a number. I think it was part of a massive cover-up, after someone created the name “Super Bowl” as a less egotistical title than “world championship” for the best two teams from only one country of the world.

This happened before the third match-up of the AFL and NFL champions, in January 1969. That was the first time the new name was used, yet it was known as Super Bowl 3. I still wonder if a young George Lucas wasn’t involved in that numbering scheme. (I’m waiting for the special edition DVD, in which the Colts shot first.)

Regardless, someone made the decision to apply the “Super Bowl” name retroactively to the first two Championship Games. In January 1970, Super Bowl 4 saw the AFL and NFL champions meet for the last time, as the AFL and NFL soon merged into a league called – wait for it – the NFL.

It literally took an act of Congress to legalize the merger and approve of the gargantuan monopoly that we still know and loathe today as the NFL, but that’s what happened. And in order to keep milking the championship cash cow, the NFL set up two arbitrary conferences – the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). These were further divided into divisions by a secretary pulling team names out of a vase. No, really.

Regardless, in January 1971, the NFL’s respective conference champions met for the first time in, you guessed it, Super Bowl V. It should be noted that, according to ESPN, the league has used Roman numerals to count its Super Bowls ever since, for a string of 45 Super Bowls. This implies they used Arabic numerals for the previous two (as well as the first two, which weren’t really Super Bowls, anyway, but which would have been known as Super Bowl 1 and Super Bowl 2). But in any article I’ve found, the first four are referred to by Roman numerals.

Why is this important? Let’s be honest – nothing I write about is important. Still, it’s key to what’s happening in February 2016. It’s supposedly the 50th Super Bowl (even though the first and second didn’t use that name and the third and fourth were the only two played between two different leagues, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s only the 46th of its kind), and it seems someone doesn’t like the idea of representing that number using its Roman numeral equivalent: L. Apparently, the NFL wants to get the ‘L’ out.

Why, you ask? According to ESPN, it’s “because the ‘L’ isn’t as pleasing to the eye.” No, really.

Ten years ago, someone in the NFL realized an ‘L’ was coming soon, when they designed the Roman numeral logo for the 40th Super Bowl (or 36th, by my standards). That’s when they encountered that ‘L’ for the first time, as XL is the Roman numeral equivalent of 40. Listen to this brilliant quote from Jaime Weston, NFL vice president of brand and creative: “Up until that point, we had only worked with X’s, V’s and I’s. And, at that moment, that’s when we started to wonder: What will happen when we get to 50?”

Well, Jaime, I’m no Roman mathematician, but my bet would be at that point, you’d be looking at a single ‘L.’ True to bureaucratic form, though, the league assigned a team to study this conundrum, once again inspiring the rest of us to wonder why we pay these people more than we pay people who actually studied in college.

Regardless, a crack team of marketers spent 14 months working on a logo for this year’s Super Bowl, and Weston actually admitted in public that they went through 73 versions of it. Seventy-three! In Roman numerals, that’s LXXIII. To my mind, it’s about 71 too many.

Nevertheless, they determined somewhere in those 73 efforts that the letter ‘L’ doesn’t look very nice. This strikes me as an odd opinion for an organization whose acronym ends in said letter.

Regardless, for one year only, they are moving away from Roman numerals, and this year’s game will be known as, “Super Bowl 50.” They have now saved our eyes from being put through ‘L’ – thank you, NF50! Might I suggest you make a couple of other changes? Perhaps at the end of the game, the winning coach should receive the 50ombardi Trophy – right there in 50evi’s Stadium.

And it’s a good thing you chose Coldplay over J-50o for the halftime show; their lowercase ‘l’ is far less offensive than her uppercase. You’re taking enough risks with the date – February 7. If someone is looking at their calendar upside-down, all they’re going to see is that big, ugly ‘L’ again!

Seriously, they didn’t like that one letter? What the ‘L’ is that about? If I had to pick a Roman numeral to avoid, I’d have picked the 30th Super Bowl, whose Roman numeral made the game look like an adult film. Then there was last year’s – XLIX. That one looked like a vanity plate you’d expect to see on an Ex-Lax company car.

But since when do football fans care about looks? This game is going to be watched mostly by drunken, overweight, old guys wearing nothing fancier than an undershirt or body paint in their team’s colors. And the team arguably most associated with the Super Bowl – the Pittsburgh Steelers, having won the most – doesn’t eve bother to put their logo on both sides of their helmets. Yet the brand VP thinks we’re worried about aesthetics.

Bloody ‘L.’

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at; thanks!
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2 Responses to Super Bowl ‘ell

  1. Terri Tompkins says:

    Methinks the decision to leave the Roman numerals and use the numerical 50 has more to do with so many people not having a clue about Roman numerals! Let’s face it… there are those among us who can barely recognize “50”, and some of them may be sketchy about counting that high. Oh, and the aforementioned… will all be voting (one way or another). Great article, Dan!

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