Why the NFL has Roman numerals for Super Bowls

Courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

By Robert Moore, special contributor

What’s in a Name?

Plenty, believed Lamar Hunt. 

It’s long been known that Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt coined the term, “Super Bowl,” as the name for the NFL’s championship game — a fact later confirmed by letters between Hunt and commissioner Pete Rozelle.

But what is less known is that Hunt also came up with the idea that the title game carry Roman numerals to give the championship “a bit of class to our ‘unclassy’ name,” as he described it. He introduced the idea in a July 10, 1970, letter to Rozelle, and the league formally acted on his suggestion beginning the next year with what became known officially as Super Bowl V.

Numbering the championships began as early as the first game between the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers when several newspaper writers began referring to the championships numerically, but without giving them the status that Hunt suggested.

Years later, Hunt told a writer he had the idea after reading a newspaper column that, he recalled, said something like, “Namath was the turning point in Super Bowl III.”

All this naming and numbering of the championship game had happened by chance but was typical of Hunt, particularly when it had to do with marketing his various sports enterprises. So his ideas for the NFL’s premier event would have come as no surprise to anyone who knew him.

In an ad hoc meeting between select owners of the AFL and NFL in the summer of 1966 to discuss the upcoming championship, Hunt was in the midst of a conversation about the finale to the season  when the men in attendance were confused as to what game he was talking about.

“You know,” he said, “the Super Bowl.”

As has been retold numerous times, the name came to him subconsciously from something his wife, Norma, had given to their children, a toy manufactured by Wham-O, the company responsible for the Hula Hoop. The “Super Ball,” Wham-O called it, was made of compressed rubber but could be bounced over a house if given the right velocity.

While his fellow owners liked the name, Rozelle did not, believing it “corny” and proposed the title, “NFL-AFL World Championship Game” which carried through the first game between the leagues. But by the end of that contest the name “Super Bowl” was already becoming part of the sports lexicon.

Years later, after news of Rozelle’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame had been announced, the NFL commissioner penned a note to Hunt, thanking him for his good wishes on his upcoming induction. He went on to praise a man who had once been an adversary in the war between the two leagues, calling him someone who works “for the best interests of the league in constantly making constructive suggestions.”

Some of those suggestions, as Rozelle saw reason to state, centered around the NFL’s championship game.

In addition to football, Hunt is also a member of the national soccer and tennis halls of fame.


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  1. June 22, 2017

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  2. Kerouac
    September 29, 2017

    Reminds of another entity born 1967 under another title same still on the scene today: a music group christened ‘Chicago Transit Authority’, soon after become an more succinct ‘Chicago’, another younger days love mine along two football leagues finally replacing talk with action.

    So much about the ‘First AFL/NFL World Championship Game’ become ‘Superbowl’ got off on the wrong foot, and required a reboot: a clunky original name, lack of respect NFL and media for the AFL, an undersize crowd, a botched second half kickoff had to be rebooted and – oh yes – the miss a second quarter KC field goal that, were it successful, would have resulted a 10-7 KC lead, their later td added to it.

    Say with the hope only a once nascent fan can muster said might have turned momentum that game had the AFL, even once, gotten the lead, what with Lombardi reportedly shaking like an leaf pre-game prospect the AFL/Chiefs possibly beating the NFL/Packers.

    Hindsight, though it took until the third Championship Game ‘Jets vs Colts’ for the name to officially change to ‘Superbowl’ (though in fact ‘Superbowl’ was already being used in tv & radio broadcasts as well print advertising), the timing was likely perfect as both Superbowl’s I and II were less than Super, if one only looks at the final scores.

    In fact, KC & OAK both were in those games: Chiefs until less than a minute remained 3rd quarter, Raiders until less than 5 minutes the third quarter remained, before each those games got away. People who refer them as ‘routs’ are mistaken – unless they believe 35-10 and 33-14 were already reflected on the scoreboard time of kickoff.

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