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Future fans face a daunting task of numbering the Super Bowls.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. You know what that means, right? That means, or often means, one really boring football game with a lopsided score, some stellar, out-of-this-world television ads, and some sort of malfunction - wardrobe or otherwise - during the halftime show.

Oh, and some Roman numerals, too.

This year that would be an 'X' and an 'L,' because you know this is Super Bowl XL, not Super Bowl 40, right? Which brings us to our point. It won't happen during our lifetimes, but we're setting our descendants up for a doozy of a promotional problem. If you thought last year's Super Bowl XXXIX (that would be 39) had a lot of letters, check out this number: CLXXXVIII. That would be Super Bowl 188, to be played in 2154, when the Seahawks' star running back, Shaun Alexander, will be CLXXVI years old.

One-hundred years after that game, Super Bowl CCLXXXVIII (288) will be played in 2254. But that's nothing compared to the letters that will fill TV (no, that's not a 'T' plus five) listings and promotional materials for the big game to be played 9,600 years later. That would be Super Bowl MMMMMM MMMDCCCLXXXVIII.

That's nine M's (each representing 1,000), a D (500), three C's (300), an L (50), three X's (30), a V (5) and three I's (3) for the 9,888th Super Bowl.

Luckily, the Roman numeral system uses a bar over a letter to multiply it by 1,000. Otherwise, Super Bowl M (1,000,000) in the year 1001966 would have 1,000 M's following the words "Super Bowl."

And to think this is a system that people throughout Europe used until the 1500s. Thankfully, Arabic numerals came along to save the day. So why does the Super Bowl use the Roman numerals? Well, for one thing, they do look pretty cool.

But John Nicols, a professor of history and the classics at the University of Oregon, who is LXII years old (you figure that one out), believes it has something to do with the first Super Bowl (which was actually called the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game') being played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Romans, after all, had a little coliseum of their own, you know.

It also has to do with the "spectacle" of it all, Nicols said. The Olympics use Roman numerals, as did a couple of world wars.

Although Roman numerals, invented in about the 7th or 8th centuries B.C., helped in adding or subtracting, they made a nightmare of multiplying, Nicols said. (Quick - what's Super Bowl XVIII times Super Bowl XL?)

Asked what Super Bowl 99999 in the year 101965 translates to in Roman numerals, Nicols brain could be heard rattling in the background. "I'm just gonna have to work it backwards," he said. Here's the answer: Super Bowl MMMMMM MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

MMMCMXCIX.

That's 99 M's, each representing 1,000, plus the rest that represents 999.

But wait. Nicols said there is a way to convert 99,999 to a smaller Roman numeral.

After saying he needed to call back to figure it out, he came up with this: XCIXMCMXCIX. Well, now, that's much better.

Not as good, however, as Super Bowl IVXLCDM (1444) in the year 3410, the only Super Bowl that will contain all of the letters of the Roman numeral alphabet.

Which leaves us with this question: Why don't football players wear Roman numerals on their jerseys?

"I think all football players should (wear) Roman numerals," Nicols said. "Then they wouldn't need their names because the letters would already be there."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 5, 2006
Words:606
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