What number is the Super Bowl this year? Explaining the NFL’s Roman numeral system for 2021

You’ve surely seen it everywhere you’ve looked as the Super Bowl approached: “LV.” Those two letters accompany this year’s Super Bowl everywhere, because it’s Super Bowl LV.

No, it’s not in Las Vegas, and what fun would that be during a global pandemic? Honestly, still probably pretty fun. Maybe not that safe, though.

Regardless, you’re here to know what that “LV” means, and you probably know that it’s a number being displayed in Roman numerals. But what number? And why Roman numerals? Why does the NFL do this to us?

There may never be an answer to why the NFL does what it does, but at least LV is a factual, easy answer, once you get to know Roman numerals.

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What number is the Super Bowl this year?

In Roman numerals, LV equals 55. 

Roman numerals amount to addition and subtraction problems once you know what the individual symbols/letters represent. All numbers are represented by the following symbols:

1 5 10 50 100 500 1,000

LV is a relatively easy one. You take the L, which stands for 50, and since V is to its right, you add the 5 that V represents and get 55. 

Where it can get trickier is when subtraction comes into play like in last year’s Super Bowl LIV. There, you start with the 50, but since a smaller value I is to the left of the larger value V, you subtract that 1 value from the 5 value. So IV represents the value 4, and since it’s to the right of the larger L meaning 50, it adds up to 54.

Thankfully, LV is a simple one, and the next three Super Bowls should be, too. Super Bowls LVI, LVII and LVIII all just allow you to add up left-to-right with the L for 50, V for 5 and the I for 1.

Roman numerals chart

(SN illustration)

Why does the Super Bowl use Roman numerals?

The NFL began using Roman numerals to refer to Super Bowls starting with the fifth Super Bowl, which took place in January 1971. Here is the explanation from the NFL’s media guide:

“The Roman numerals were adopted to clarify any confusion that may occur because the NFL championship game — the Super Bowl — is played in the year following a chronologically recorded season. Numerals I through IV were added later for the first four Super Bowls.”

So that explains why the NFL doesn’t refer to each Super Bowl by year. The 2020 regular season features its Super Bowl in 2021, for example.

What’s less obvious from that explanation is why the NFL doesn’t just use the numerals — known as Arabic — we’re all used to. Super Bowl 55, for example, just means its the 55th Super Bowl and doesn’t have anything to do with 2020, 2021 or 2055 for that matter. That seems like it’d be straightforward enough. 

MORE: Super Bowl logo has become ‘corporate, soulless’ like ‘NFL itself’

What about Super Bowl 50?

In 2014, the NFL announced Super Bowl 50 would be displayed with Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals. It was a logical one-year exception, because who would’ve wanted to play in Super Bowl L?

“When we developed the Super Bowl XL logo, that was the first time we looked at the letter L,” NFL vice president of brand and creative Jaime Weston said at the time. “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?”

The league returned to Roman numerals for Super Bowl 51 (LI). The next three Super Bowls to be played in years that only feature one letter would be scheduled as Super Bowls 100, 500 and 1,000 — Super Bowls C, D and M, respectively. Otherwise, it’ll be multiple letters depicting Roman numeral values for each Super Bowl going forward. 

Anything to keep the Roman Empire alive, right? 

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