During this year's Super Bowl, you may hear TV announcers talk of "gridiron gladiators." Now, maybe the supersized, superfast, superrich athletes who struggle in the Super Bowl do look a little gladiatorial. But there's a super difference: the Roman gladiator frequently paid for defeat with his life.First BloodThe Romans believed they inherited the idea of gladiatorial contests from the Etruscans, who dominated Italy before Rome's rise. There is, however, no archaeological evidence that the Etruscans did any such thing.On the other hand, the Roman origin of the gladiator--from the Latin gladius, or "sword"--is well documented. In 264 BC, the sons of Junius Brutus Pera honored their father at his funeral by holding a contest featuring three pairs of gladiators.