by Martin Cothran
If you watched the Super Bowl last Sunday—or the promotion that led up to it, you may have noticed that the Roman numerals that have characterized Super Bowl promotional graphics were gone. Last year was the 49th Super Bowl, or, to put it more classically, “Super Bowl XLIX.” This year was the 50th NFL championship game, or “Super Bowl L.”
There was just one problem: There was no L. The NFL chose instead to promote its quinquagenary final game as “Super Bowl 50.”
What happened to the customary Roman numerals? The decision had Latin students in the Masters Class Classical Club in Matthews, North Carolina, wanting to declare war. They wrote the NFL and wanted to know, as the Wall Street Journal put it, why they had “lost a etter.” What happened to the L?
As it turned out, the decision has been in the works for a decennium. The problem was a graphics problem. The lonely little “L” wasn’t visually appealing. For one thing, “L” wasn’t long enough. “There was also the matter of the obvious,” reported the WSJ. “’We took our index finger and thumb and stuck it to our foreheads,’ NFL senior vice president Jaime Weston recalled. ‘[We] were like, ‘Is everyone going to be doing that?’”
So the League elected to lose the letter—at least for this annum.
But the Latin students’ protest did not go unnoticed. Weston got on Skype to discuss the issue with the Latin students, who explained to her their concerns. Weston was reassuring: The League would bring the Latin letters back later, and the Latin students could lay down their linguistic weapons. In fact, next year would be “Super Bowl LI.”
But the League is not totally out of the Latin woods. Super Bowl LXXXVIII is coming up in 38 years. “Try putting that on a hat,” quipped WSJ reporter Jason Gay. But the NFL’s Weston is not too concerned about that. She’ll be an octogenarian by then and probably won’t care anyway.
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