It was my husband who pointed out that the Super Bowl industry -- or perhaps, the National Football League -- is almost single-handedly ensuring that our nation's children, generation after generation, understand Roman numerals.

It was my husband who pointed out that the Super Bowl industry -- or perhaps, the National Football League -- is almost single-handedly ensuring that our nation's children, generation after generation, understand Roman numerals.

Some might submit that the Super Bowl isn't carrying the entire burden. Grandfather clocks do their part, as do popes, cornerstones, the Olympics and the people who put the copyright date on film credits and the title pages of books.

I'll grant that when you see that whole list, it's easy to believe that Roman numerals are as ubiquitous as litter and as embedded in American culture as McDonald's. (According to a probably unreliable Internet source, McDonald's has served 100-billion hamburgers so far. One thousand is M, so writing M a million times would make a billion. I'm guessing you'd have to write a million M's 99 more times to make 100 billion, which means if McDonald's decides to join the Super Bowl in the use of the ancient Roman numbering system, it would have to get a much bigger sign.)

My point is, though, no other Roman numerals are as up front and in your face as the ones linked to the Super Bowl. Not even the approaching XXI Olympiad is as conspicuous. No one is saying, "Oh boy! Only three weeks until the ex ex eye Olympiad begins!" People are saying "I love Olympic figure skating," or even "The Olympics is that this year?"

The Super Bowl, on the other hand, slaps that Roman numeral on the television screen every chance it gets: XLIV! XLIV! Even children who have never studied Roman numerals in school would gradually begin to figure it out.

Oh sure, they'd probably start by thinking it says X LIVE, and assuming it's just another thing they're not old enough to know about, but they'd soon realize that it has to do with how many Super Bowls have been played and after than it'd be just a matter of time before they'd put eye-eye and eye-eye together.

"Dad! I can watch the Super Bowl Ex El Eye Vee, right?

Even though it's on a school night? Because Super Bowl Ex El Eye Vee is a big game, and Super Bowl Ex El Vee won't be here for a whole year, right?" the child will be say.

Who knows why the Super Bowl people started in with the Roman numerals in the first place. It was 1967; no one was thinking "What'll we do when we get past V?"

Probably they just wanted to gussy the thing up a little, never dreaming they were setting a precedent for the ages.

"Call the library and find out what this one is," someone probably growls early every season. The library is always glad to help.

They won't have to call in 2011, though, because we already know that'll be Super Bowl Ex El Vee. And the year after that? Ex El Vee Eye, followed by Ex El Vee Eye Eye and so on, until before you know it we're into the L's.

Really, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Super Bowl, for making Roman numerals so understandable, so current, so today.

I wonder if there's an app for that?

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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