The National Football League is so popular, it can get away with applying Roman numerals to its championship game. It is a corporate colossus that vigilantly protects its trademarked terms, like the words “Super Bowl,” “Super Sunday,” “NFL” and the names of teams.
Each year it sends out cease-and-desist letters to businesses and advertising firms demanding that such terms not be used for commercial purposes.
But now the NFL is pushing into Cal and Stanford territory.
The NFL wants to trademark the phrase “The Big Game.”
The league quietly began the process a year ago in an attempt to undermine companies that engage in so-called ambush marketing of the Super Bowl — that is, efforts by unlicensed companies to leverage the hype surrounding the game for commercial promotions.
One way that advertisers who aren’t NFL sponsors typically attach themselves to the Super Bowl is simply to refer to it as “The Big Game.” As in, “Get your flat-screen TV in time for the Big Game.”
What is a generic term for most people becomes a very specific term in the lamp-blacked eyes of the NFL.
But the Big Game also has a very specific application for Stanford University and UC Berkeley, whose annual football game dates back to 1892. It has been known as the Big Game since 1902, according to San Francisco author Ron Fimrite, who is writing a history of Cal football.
As Bob Murphy, a former Stanford baseball player who has been an analyst on Stanford radio broadcasts for many years, said, “This game started way before there was anything called the National Football League. Besides, it’s such a common expression, I don’t know how you would trademark it. It’s like copyrighting ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ It’s kind of silly.”