Why Is the Biggest Football Game of the Year Called a Bowl?


It’s hard to miss that pinnacle of American football, the Super Bowl. You’ve likely seen or heard the phrase so many times that the words themselves go unnoticed. But let’s take a fresh look: what exactly does the bowl in Super Bowl refer to?

The word bowl is over a thousand years old. It entered English with the meaning that remains most prominent today: “a deep, round dish or basin, used chiefly for holding liquids, food, etc.” Soon after its entry, it began to be used in extended ways to refer to bowl-shaped items or parts of items. The 1800s saw bowl used in reference to bowl-shaped natural basins, and in the early 1900s, the word bowl began to be used to refer to football stadiums.

The first bowl-shaped stadium was the Yale Bowl, built in 1914. The design allowed seating on all sides of the stadium, meaning more observers could fit inside. The design was repeated for the building of the Rose Bowl Stadium, home of the Tournament of Roses Bowl, called the Rose Bowl after 1923. Eventually, sporting events held in these types of stadiums began to be referred to as bowls, paving the way for the phrase bowl game, which refers specifically to a football game played after the regular season by teams representing the best from a region of the country.  

The word stadium comes from the Greek stádion meaning “a measure of length, a race course.” The track at Olympia, where the Olympic Games originated, was one stadion in length (185 meters).


  1. AllWordsConsidered -  February 3, 2015 - 12:59 pm

    Thank you for this article, D.c. “Trivia” deserves a more respectable name, in my opinion, because it enriches the experience of my existence. “Enrichia” won’t cut it, but that’s a separate matter. Thanks again!

  2. Sean -  February 2, 2015 - 2:16 pm

    I can put this in a few words
    “OMFG BEST ARTICLE EVER YEAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  3. Arianna -  February 2, 2015 - 10:23 am


  4. Steve -  February 2, 2013 - 1:30 pm

    What about morator-ium? I don’t believe “ium” makes it an unusually big delay, right?

  5. wordjunkie -  February 11, 2011 - 12:57 pm

    It’s funny, I was just discussing this very topic with my husband the other day. Thanks, Hot Word!

    @FB- I’m sorry that you do not take an interest in the additional articles that Dictionary.com provides. As has been previously stated, it is not necessary for you to peruse the site beyond your immediate needs. Feel free to ignore the “clutter”, if you’d like. The rest of us, for the most part, do enjoy it. I would also like to add that, by definition, the article does not qualify as “gossip”.

    • john -  February 3, 2015 - 3:31 pm

      you are right

  6. kevin -  February 8, 2011 - 6:54 am

    super bowl was emanated from the afl president,his kid was bouncing a super ball,member them, hence,he came up with the the super bowl. true story.the nascent enception was not so moribund.go long dingleberry

    • donna -  February 5, 2015 - 12:50 am

      Unless I am mistaken, was emanated is superfluous and should simply be stated, emanated. Enception should begin with an i, not an e.

  7. Taboondocks -  February 6, 2011 - 4:21 pm

    Regarding this article, I do, in fact, appreciate the content and overall purpose; which is to inform, of course. I spent many years sporadically wondering why the everest of all consecutive football seasons was called the ‘Super Bowl.’ I eventually settled on the likelihood that I would never find out, not that I was ever a big football fan to begin with. Thanks to the Hot Word Blog though, that is no longer the reality with which I live. I know it’s probably not as big a deal as I’m making it, but thanks for elucidating the history and purpose behind the name of football’s pinnacle.

    @clivebeesly: Can you tell me exactly how FB is a “creep?” Is it because he gets his news and gossip from Google News and not, say, Entertainment Tonight, or The Insider? Or, is it because he actually believes Wikipedia, a, for the most part, open public source, to be more reliable than this site? Or, and this is an extremely far stretch here, is it because he comes on here and criticizes the integrity of this site and its officials? Either way, I don’t see how he’s a creep from anything he’s posted, even if I do disagree with most, if not all of his post.

    • Mk IV -  January 8, 2015 - 11:51 am

      Where’s the like button on this link? Hell YEA!

      • Sean -  February 2, 2015 - 2:17 pm

        On top

  8. SUPERBOWL | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 6, 2011 - 3:40 pm

    [...] “SUPER BOWEL” Sunday in America — watching Gladiators with padding and rules — in massive coliseums. — The Romans had nothing on US consumptive fools — oxymoronic within definition — us rabble snacking on nachos and re-fried beuns — oxymoronic within our human bean condition. — Don’t forget the chicken wings and gallons and gallons of BEERS. — If only for a few hours of reverent catharsis and belching and farting and projectile vomit, exposing “tears for fears” — and the occasional unnamed comet. — Been there done that — had enough. — Today is SUPERBOWL XLV with appropriate Roman Numerals — Most of US Americans need nor want an Empire — afraid of our own shadows, simply acting Nacho Momma tough. — There’s a need to say we’re the best — in something, — with marketing doing the rest. — White guys in suits wanta lock people out of the Melting Pot, — while preaching brimstone and coal fire. — A Vietnam Vet Bird once told us, “It’s a Big Nothin.” — …Definition is the test — or not. “Mea Culpa”. — It’s been twenty years since with Bird we wrote “Any World I’m Welcome to” a story, not the song, based on how he felt after Vietnam. — “Sorry ‘Bout that. It ain’t nothin but a Thang” — Geronimo corrected us this morning — about what the Grunts were saying. — He’d been there done that — was decorated — went to the WALL and heard all 58,202 names while working at the Washington Cathedral when others were simply there praying. — What’s this got to do with the SUPER-BOWL XLV? — Vietnam was heating up when Super Bowl I first started — for ’66 in ’67. — God’s children go to heaven. — The money will “WAG the DOG” with distraction — As we once said before “Atlas didn’t Shrug, he farted.” — Of course, it was only a “Super Game” — Ask Geronimo, “Sorry ‘Bout that. Ain’t nothin but a Thang” stole the rapper — and its coming abstractions. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme P.S: Mr.Albert our English teacher, when JFK was assassinated by the Texas Mafia, said, “Life is not a Super Bowl of cherries” — though we know there’s always some berry around. — The story we wrote with the Bird Man, — we eventually read it in the New Yorker and we didn’t make a sound. — Of course the story was much better and embellished and detailed and it forgot to add our name. — The Professor had passed it along. — That didn’t matter very much as the 58,202 names on the WALL and we’re not talking about the Pink Floyd song — that both Bird and Geronimo and many others — in that seven layered Super Bowl of human beans and Nacho Momma still consider their sisters and brothers. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  9. haha -  February 6, 2011 - 11:33 am

    Good getting fb! Football isn’t just for convicts lol :)

  10. knitfreak13 -  February 6, 2011 - 8:26 am

    dude, seriously? football is America’s most watched sport! how could you say something like that? and if you want to be specific, i love football. ALOT of people love football. just because you may not like it doesnt mean other people dont like it.

    • Frog -  February 3, 2015 - 4:48 pm

      Football is dumb well not the sport itself but the way people act because of it.

  11. Laticia -  February 5, 2011 - 9:18 pm

    Football is for convicts. Thoughts?

  12. clivebeesley -  February 5, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    Thats right Cupid you tell him .
    he’s a creep!

  13. mayx -  February 5, 2011 - 6:40 pm

    who here likes football anyways??

    • V MONEY -  November 13, 2015 - 6:29 am

      Im sure 95% of the people posting comments like football

  14. Stef -  February 5, 2011 - 6:37 pm

    @FB: Dude,anyone could go on Wiki and change the information there so it’s basically (mostly) lies. As everyone knows, companies, TV, websites, etc. have ads because they get paid to have them and a lot of people find these articles and many others useful so if you want a plain dictionary or thesauras go out and buy the books.

  15. clivebeesley -  February 5, 2011 - 5:22 pm


  16. clivebeesley -  February 5, 2011 - 5:20 pm

    Pay attention “FB” Since when is the above article got anything to do
    with “news and gossip”(your words) As far as I’m concerned that was
    an informative piece of work.none of it could be classified as “Trivial
    infornmation” If however you feel cheated because you “Pay”and the
    majority dont, perhaps you should restrict your verble activities and
    acerbic thoughts to “ALL” the sites You pay monies.Please feel free
    to answer.but try and keep your cash problems to your self,or conversly
    stay away from this Free site,and stay with your own kind.!
    Best wishes Clive. Crowborough England.

  17. Cupid -  February 5, 2011 - 4:40 pm

    Hey “FB”. Guess what?! Dictionary.com is still a great thesaurus and dictionary reference; it is just adding in fun facts for users who want to know a little bit more about where the words they are commonly using originated from. If you have a problem with it, then DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK!!! In addition, just like any other website that can send you e-mails, there is a way to turn them off! So stop whining!

    As for the Wikipedia remark, all I have to say is, really? You prefer an inaccurate website that can be edited by anyone, to one that provides you with true bonus knowledge? That shows what kind of a person you are, now doesn’t it.

  18. Brian -  February 5, 2011 - 11:21 am

    Fascinating article. Thanks! BTW, what is the etymology of the word “lengt”?

  19. ag -  February 5, 2011 - 10:16 am

    HAHA at last the number 1 spot!!! its a touchdown!!! lol

  20. Melissa -  February 5, 2011 - 7:27 am

    I love derivatives! THX

  21. FB -  February 5, 2011 - 6:50 am

    I’m going to say the same thing I said elsewhere. I’m a paying premium subscriber who wants dictionary.com to be just a dictionary/thesaurus –a tool for writing, not a news and gossip service. Now every time I use the thesaurus I get all this clutter–most of which is trivial information (such as the above article). My AT&T email service does the same thing (and I pay for it too). If I want news/gossip I can go to Google News.

    I assume the motivation for all the trivia and advertising that clutters the service is greed, or perhaps the stupid idea that dictionary.com must be like all the other websites and try to do it all, thus not doing well what it’s supposed to be doing. Dictionary.com had a good thing but seems to be in the process of ruining it. It might want to learn from Wikipedia how to do it right. And I don’t even have to pay for Wikipedia. I did make a small contribution to the service, but at least that was money well spent.

  22. ugly dude -  February 5, 2011 - 6:38 am

    good explanation. Perhaps you can now explain why the Americans call it football, and yet the ball rarely comes into contact with a foot

  23. Elizabeth -  February 5, 2011 - 6:22 am

    Depeche Mode gave a great concert at the Rose Bowl in 1988. (Nothing to do with this, I know. Sorry =))

  24. Tammy -  February 5, 2011 - 6:11 am

    I heard the guy who came up with the name Super Bowl was watching his daughter play with a super ball. And the rest is history


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