Super Bowl XLI: Roman Numerology

Every year when Super Bowl season rolls around, I find a lot to complain about—the unbearable hype, the absurd expenditures, the unbridled Americanism of it all. And, as usual, the Eagles aren’t playing! But, even though aesthetically the Super Bowl is uninspired and garish, and the football is a poor contest between teams I don’t even hate (I can’t muster the energy to despise the Colts, despite that Manning fellow), the big game still offers little pleasures — like Roman numerals. The World Series may have a wonderfully imperialist name and hockey players may fight for the regal Lord Stanley Cup, but only the Super Bowl is counted by capital letters. This year is Super Bowl XLI. That’s 41 for those of you who don’t do crossword puzzles.

Roman numerals don’t come up too often anymore. They are used for monarchs (Xerxes II) or popes (Benedict XVI). They split up plays (Act II, Scene 3. Miami. A heath. Enter Grossman), or scientific papers (Chapter 4: The Thermodynamics of Sport, Section iii: The Spiral). They count movie sequels (Sylvester Stallone is currently filming “Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra”). In all of these examples, though, the numerals are pretty simple. Even Stallone balked at the idea of “Rocky VI.” He named his latest, the sixth in the series, “Rocky Balboa.” Very imaginative, Sly! But the Super Bowl is not afraid of being complex. Two years ago we had Super Bowl XXXIX. It takes a minute to wrap your head around that, like when you trying to figure out what year an old movie was made or what the cornerstone on a building says. Super Bowl MDCCCXCIX? Huh?

I like to think of the first Big Game in 1967 as just “Super Bowl” without the “I” like “Rocky” or “First Blood.” In fact, it was really called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.” It wasn’t until Super Bowl III that the event got its silly moniker. (Supposedly, Lamar Hunt named it after watching his daughter play with a Super Ball). I also like to think that the helmets were made of the leather back then, and so were the players. They weren’t. These days the helmets are synthetic, and so are the players. This year’s halftime performer, the incredible Prince (Shall we call him “Prince I”?), is certainly synthetic, or made at least from some unearthly material.

I also like to imagine that “Super Bowl” was an old-fashioned ground war. It wasn’t. Bart Starr threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Nor was it an exciting game. The Packers killed the Chiefs, 35-10. If the Roman numerals, like the slow motion footage, the bombastic music, and the grandiloquent voiceovers of NFL Films, are meant to elevate the Super Bowl into epic, they can only go so far. Many of the following XXXIX games have been blowouts. In fact, I’ve probably watched every Super Bowl since I achieved consciousness, and I can remember very few.

But there is one that comes to mind – again and again. I had just turned VIII years old (The Super Bowl used to fall right around my birthday, but is now weeks later). My parents had gone to New Orleans for a vacation that coincided with the game. They had planned the trip months before, not knowing that the Eagles would win the NFC, and then lucked out. Still, my folks didn’t bother to pay thousands for tickets to the Superdome. They watched from a bar in the French Quarter.

I was staying at my grandmother’s house where my brother and my uncles gathered around the TV. I’m not sure when I started crying. It might have started early, during the pre-game segment honoring the Iran hostages. Or it might have started at the end of the first quarter. The unheralded Raiders were already beating us, 14-0. Or maybe the costumes in the halftime Mardi Gras Spectacular set me off. But I remember crying as Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who had thrown 12 interceptions all year, threw his third pick of the day, and the Eagles became the first team to lose the Super Bowl to a Wild Card. It was a romp, 27-10. The game was tragic. My parents were far away. But I think I also sensed the rage in the air, the real rage of older, more seasoned Eagles fans. I wailed and wailed. It was epic. It was XV.

I am still wailing XXVI years later…

— Tyson    Jan 29, 04:20 PM    #

My mother tells me I need a fact checker. She says she was there at the Superdome for that epic loss.

Austin    Jan 29, 04:31 PM    #

Yeah. I was four and I remember that your parents went to the game.

EJ Murphy    Jan 30, 07:39 PM    #