Wondering About Those Super Bowl Roman Numerals?

So, Roman numerals. Look, I know it might be embarrassing, but really, don't be too hard on yourself. I guarantee you that plenty of people, even people who're worldly, intelligent, and sharp-witted, are still left clueless when staring at a mish-mash of Xs, Vs, and Ls. At my high school, this was a topic of discussion for... a couple hours, tops? Basically, it's easy to forget. You may have already guessed why I'm bringing this up — what does Super Bowl XLIX stand for?

Luckily, this is about as easily researched a question as can be. Sunday will mark year 49 of the NFL's championship game, giving us all a convenient, simple lesson in how those upper-level numerals work. Here's the gist:

  • X refers to ten, while L refers to 50.
  • X preceding L essentially means "10 below 50." To use a relatable example from popular culture, the first Star Wars film ever released was Episode IV: A New Hope — I, meaning one, less than V, meaning five. So, Episode Four! The same rule applies here, with the first two numerals "XL" indicate that this Super Bowl is in the 40s.
  • From there, it's a lot easier! The last two numerals, "IX," mean nine. One less than ten, see? In other words, "Super Bowl XLIX" means "Super Bowl 49" — yet another reason this Bay Area native is rankled that the 49ers didn't even make the playoffs this year.

Incidentally, deciphering Roman numerals is a chore you won't have to deal with come next year's big game. On the occasion of the Super Bowl's half-century anniversary, the NFL will be ditching the numerals in favor of a simple "Super Bowl 50," ostensibly out of fear that "Super Bowl L" will look weird and cause confusion. As the Christian Science Monitor notes, the roman numeral convention has a long history, though it hasn't always been in effect — its first use was in 1971, the fifth time the AFC and NFC held a championship round.

Anyways, hopefully this will help you seem like the smart one at your Super Bowl viewing party this Sunday! Or the reasonably well-informed one, at least — rest assured, a lot less people know their numerals than you might expect.