Columns & Blogs

Time to study upon Roman numerals

One team will celebrate under an avalanche of confetti this Sunday, crowned champions of the world, and their fans will be forever confused.

The championship came after the 2008 season, but the championship game was played in 2009. So, are they the 2008 Super Bowl champs? Or the 2009 Super Bowl champs?

The answer: 2008 season, 2009 Super Bowl.

Lucky for us, Pete Rozelle found a way to clear up that mess.

Roman numerals.

The former NFL commissioner decreed that Roman numerals would be affixed to every Super Bowl starting with the fifth one, Super Bowl V. And just so we can differentiate between the Packers’ first two Super Bowl victories, Rozelle had them add Roman numerals after four games had already been played.

Now, football fans everywhere kick themselves for not paying attention during fourth-grade math.

This year, the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers will player in Super Bowl XLIII, which in English is pronounced “43.”

It is the first Super Bowl appearance for the Cardinals. It is the seventh for the Steelers, who won Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, XIV and XL and lost Super Bowl XXX.

Rozelle thought the Roman numerals gave the Super Bowl a sense of importance.

You don’t see them hanging around the World Series, do you? Of course not. Baseball doesn’t need fancy tags.

But the NFL season starts nine months into one year and ends early in the next.

Rozelle figured he would end the confusion as well as dress up the game with an easy way to count the Super Bowls. But then the Vs turned into Xs, and the Is began appearing on the wrong side of the Xs, and the Vs came back, and, oh boy.

“There is a little bit of a challenge to them,” said Scott Boes, principal of Samoset Elementary.

Boes is a former teacher who taught fourth- and fifth-grade math, which means he taught Roman numerals. That’s the law in this state. Third- and fourth-graders must learn how to add and subtract like the ancient Romans.

This skill will pay off when they watch the credits of a movie to know when it was made, want to know which Rocky movie they are watching or which Super Bowl was won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Boes enjoyed learning Roman numerals when he was a kid and enjoyed teaching them when he was a teacher.

You remember them, right? I is one, V is five, X is 10, L is 50, C is 100, D is 500 and M is 1,000.

If the I is after the V or the X, you add. If it is before, you subtract. Same with the X. One X before L means you are in the 40s. One X after the L means you have entered the 60s.


“We’re always confused,” Boes said, noting that the school year begins in one year and ends in the next. “You may have graduated in ’75, but you spent half the school year in ’74.”

We see Roman numerals on the faces of some watches and clocks, to number pages in the forwards of some books, to count the volumes of encyclopedias.

Popes, kings and queens use Roman numerals.

So do some men.

Bruce Edward Davis II is backup linebacker for the Steelers.

You may wonder, What would the sports world be like if Roman numerals still ruled the day?

Joe DiMaggio would have hit in LVI straight games in MCMXLI. Hank Aaron would have finished with DCCLV career home runs.

Dan Marino would have passed for MMMMMLXXXIV yards in MCMLXXXIV.

You have to admit, it looks more impressive that Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game and not C. Start your engines. It’s the Daytona D!

Boes said he is often asked why Roman numerals are still taught in grade schools. He’s not really sure.

“I can guess,” he said. “We do deal with Roman numerals. And you say, ‘OK. Tell me when?’ And I say, ‘At the end of movies and with Super Bowls.’ ”