Why the NFL has Roman numerals for Super Bowls

Rick Gosselin

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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