Why is it called the Super Bowl, anyway? And why Roman numerals? A primer for non-sports fans

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It's that time again, arguably the biggest event in the sports calendar. It's the time when all the Publix stores run out of chicken wings, beer and cheese dip and an alarming number of your sports-fan friends, family and coworkers put on colorful oversized shirts with numbers on them and devote all their time, energy, casual conversations and screaming solely to a really big football game. The Super Bowl.

Even if you are not a sports fan, or at least not an American football fan, you probably know a fair amount about the Super Bowl just from cultural osmosis. But if you'd like to understand what everyone around you is talking about, here's a quick primer.

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What is the Super Bowl?

The biggest American football game and television event of the year.

The National Football League (NFL) currently comprises all the pro football teams, but once upon a time there were multiple competing leagues. In 1966, rivals the NFL and the American Football League (AFL) agreed to have a big playoff game between the best teams of each league (think DC superheroes vs. Marvel superheroes but with a football) and in 1967 they held the first AFL–NFL World Championship Game, continuing the fine American tradition of "world" championships limited to the United States. Within a few years, the game became known as the Super Bowl and it just got bigger and bigger.

After the two leagues merged in 1970 to become the current NFL, it then split into two groups roughly along the same lines as the original leagues and kept going as they had been.

The winning team gets the Vince Lombardi trophy, named after the coach of the Green Bay Packers, the team that won the first two Super Bowls.

Zach Ertz carries the Vince Lombardi trophy at the NFL's Super Bowl Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center on Feb. 4, 2023.
Zach Ertz carries the Vince Lombardi trophy at the NFL's Super Bowl Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center on Feb. 4, 2023.

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Who's playing at Super Bowl LVII in 2023?

The Kansas City Chiefs (AFC winner) are facing off against the Philadelphia Eagles (NFC winner).

The Chiefs have red helmets, the Eagles' helmets are green, if that helps.

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Why is it called the Super Bowl, anyway?

Surprisingly, it doesn't refer to the omnipresent chip and dip bowls in millions of sports-loving households everywhere. Big football playoffs started to be referred to as "bowls" after the Pasadena Tournament of Roses in 1923 was held at the new Rose Bowl Stadium which, yes, looked like a bowl. (Not everything in football is complicated).

That particular game became known as the Rose Bowl, and other football contests — the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and more — started using the name to exploit the Rose Bowl's popularity because marketing was a thing then, too.

But first it was the "AFL–NFL World Championship Game," and in that first year the execs were already looking for a less-cumbersome name for it. Lamar Hunt, then-owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, called the game the Super Bowl in meetings and when talking to the press.

In a memo to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, he wrote, I have kiddingly called it the Super Bowl, which obviously can be improved upon.”

Rozelle didn't like it. But a local newspaper quoted Hunt, the name caught on, advertisers and fans loved it, and by the third year "Super Bowl" had become the official name.

Hunt later said he was probably thinking of the Super Ball toy his daughter was playing with, which is why (this is true) if you go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame you'll see a toy rubber ball proudly on display.

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Why do Super Bowls use Roman numerals? What does LVII mean?

That was Lamar Hunt's idea, too. According to the NFL: "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."

And they added pomp and gravitas and a gladiatorial feel, which Hunt liked, something that helped establish this unknown new game as a major event.

Remember hearing about Roman numerals in high school and then never ever thinking about them again, except maybe while watching movie credits? L stands for 50, V means five, and I is one, so this means this year's game is Super Bowl 57.

Why not just call it Super Bowl 57? Too late now, the tradition is locked in.

How many people watch the Super Bowl?

It is impossible to overestimate the popularity and cultural impact of the Super Bowl. Last year's Super Bowl had more than 100 million viewers. According to the NFL, over 208 million people watched Super Bowl LVI when you add in streaming viewers, and that's just counting the legal ones. In 2020, about 69% of all U.S. homes with television had the game on.

It's also one of the biggest sources of absenteeism in the U.S. In a 2021 report, the Workforce Institute estimated that 16.1 million employees said they planned to miss work on the Monday after Super Bowl LV, with 8.8 million taking paid time off and 4.4 million admitting they were already planning their sick day.

According to Nielsen, a company that has been measuring television audiences since the 50s, 30 of the 32 most-watched single-network television broadcasts of all time have been Super Bowls.

This explains the ads.

Why are Super Bowl ads so popular?

For a lot of people the whole purpose of the Super Bowl each year is to provide a venue for the Super Bowl ads.

Because of the massive audience, networks can command the highest rates for advertising (and they do). In return, advertisers take the opportunity to present their strangest, funniest, sexiest, most heartwarming and above all most-sharable ads before, during and after the Super Bowl. The ads, often shot with production values rivaling movies and filled with A-list celebrities, have become a cultural icon of their own, with people searching out the commercials on YouTube and media sites.

This year Fox is charging a record $7 million for a 30-second ad, according to Forbes, or $233,000 a second, and fans can expect to see Alicia Silverstone reprise her "Clueless" role for Rakuten, the cast of "Breaking Bad" reunite to sell Frito Lay's PopCorners veteran rock stars complaining about office environments for human resources company Workday, Serena Williams returning for Michelob ULTRA, Sylvester Stallone climbing a mountain carving of his own face to promote Paramount+, and many more.

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When is the 2023 Super Bowl? How can I watch it?

This year’s Super Bowl will take place on Sunday, February 12, with kickoff at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona scheduled at 6:30 p.m. EST but with no end of pregame coverage before then. It will be aired on Fox and Fox Deportes.

The game will be live-streamed on FoxSports.com and the Fox Sports app. Live TV streaming services YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV will also feature the Super Bowl via Fox. Super Bowl 57 also can be streamed live on fuboTV.

Since 2022, Super Bowls are played on the second Sunday in February.

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Who's performing at Super Bowl 2023?

Even people who hate football will tune in for the halftime show, which famously brings in some of the world's biggest stars for the biggest one-show audience most of them will ever have. Previous halftime performers have included the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, U2, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Katy Perry, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and Prince.

This year, Chris Stapleton will perform the national anthem and nine-time Grammy award-winner Rihanna will perform at halftime with (possibly) some surprise guests.

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What will everyone be talking about in Super Bowl LVII?

Every Super Bowl has added drama and historical significance on top of the actual game, and this one has a few doozies.

  • In almost 60 years of games, this will be the first Super Bowl with two Black quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes, facing off against each other. Hurts is the Eagles' QB and Maholmes plays for the Chiefs.

  • This will be the first Super Bowl with brothers on opposite teams: Jason Kelce (a center for the Eagles) and Travis Kelce (a tight-end for the Chiefs).

  • It's the Andy Reid Bowl. The coach for one team (Kansas City Chiefs) started off his head coaching career with the other team (Philadelphia Eagles). Coaching is a small world though; he'll be the fifth coach to face a former team in the Super Bowl.

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What is the Superb Owl?

The annual Superb Owl migration has two sources.

Every year, as the big game approaches, people googling for information often put the space in the wrong place and searches for "superb owl" spike in the beginning of February, providing puzzled football fans everything they ever wanted to know about the nocturnal avian creatures. In previous years Google has capitalized on this, offering Super Bowl information anyway with owls added to team logos.

And the NFL cracks down hard on any sources (besides media and sports coverage) that try to use their heavily trademarked, copyrighted "Super Bowl" name for, well, practically everything. Advertisers trying to get the attention of football fans instead call it The Big Game or the Championship Game to avoid dark-suited people with menacing briefcases.

In 2014 Stephen Colbert used "Superb Owl" coverage in his ongoing sports segments on "The Colbert Report" but it was already a social media inside joke for people mocking the NFL's heavy-handed cease & desist letters. The "Superb Owl" Reddit group (/r/superbowl), created in 2011 and now boasting over 400,000 members, limits all posts to be owl-related. "Superb Owl" was even a Jeopardy category in 2019.

Now every February your Twitter feed will slowly fill with owl pictures. Just accept it.

What are Super Bowl squares? How do Super Bowl squares work? How do you play?

When the biggest football game of the year just isn't interesting enough, you can add your own game to it. Super Bowl squares is random, gives you something to talk about during the slow bits, and you can win money at it.

Super Bowl squares is a game played with a 10x10 grid of 100 squares with a different team's name on the left side and the top. Each square has a price. If it's a buck per, $5 lets you put your initials on five squares, $10 gets you 10, and so on. At this point no one has any idea what numbers will end up on which square so no actual skill or football knowledge is required.

Now randomly assign the numbers 0-9 to the tops of all the columns and the side of each of the rows (just pick 'em, or use one of the many random num ber generators online). You now have a grid where every square is the intersection of two numbers.

At the end of the game, check the score. For example, if you initialed a box that lined up at Chiefs 6 and Eagles 2, and the score ended in Chiefs something-6 and the Eagles something-2 (only the last number of the score counts), you win the pot. You also can split it up by checking score at the end of every quarter with part of the payout going to that winner.

You can get a printable sheet for Super Bowl LVII here.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Super Bowl facts for non-sports fans: Why roman numerals; how to watch