It’s a tradition as old as singer Rick Astley: Graphic designers huddle in libraries and coffee shops (anywhere that a newspaper might have accidentally fallen open to the sports page) and snicker at how hideous that year’s Super Bowl logo is. Then we sniffle and wish that someone would pay us what the Super Bowl logo designers got paid.
First a note about the Super Bowl, Roman numerals, and years: Each year, the Super Bowl determines the champion of the season that started the previous September. Because the bulk of the regular season and the playoffs are played in different calendar years, the NFL opts to use Roman numerals, which no one can read anyway, to identify its championship game. So, for instance, when the Saints beat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV yesterday (in the year 2010, for our visitors from the future), the game determined the champion of the 2009 NFL season.
When the first Super Bowl was played in 1967, the logo was designed by the commissioner’s 9-year-old nephew on an Etch A Sketch* because Microsoft WordArt had not yet been invented. Since then, the Super Bowl logo has evolved considerably to include bold Roman numerals, bold beer-bottle-inspired composition, and bold color palettes of blue and some warm color (except Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, when by law all sports-related graphic design featured teal and purple).
Some logos have included elements that speak to the location of the event, like Super Bowl XXI, played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California; Super Bowl XXXVII, which includes San Diego’s Point Loma lighthouse; and Super Bowl XLII, which features the shape of the state of Arizona. Some evoke a sense of place through color, like the tropical-feeling blue and orange of Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
You can see every Super Bowl logo at www.sportslogos.net/team.php?id=593. It’s interesting to see them all in one place, as they reflect a change in design sensibilities and capabilities over the decades, from the simple, type-based logos of the early years to the complex recent iterations, clearly generated on computers. My favorite is Super Bowl XIII, played in 1979, which I believe is an homage not only to the country’s biggest sporting event, but also to the advent of the dot matrix printer.
I’m interested to see what happens in 2016, when the Roman numeral for the 50th Super Bowl will be, simply, the letter L. I’m hoping the logo will be a big, bold Helvetica L, preferably in black.
*Not really. The commissioner’s nephew was probably 12 or 13.