Top 10 Controversies in Super Bowl History

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2013

Top 10 Controversies in Super Bowl History

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    Super Bowl Sunday is something of a holiday in the United States. People who normally don't pay a whole lot of attention to the NFL become huge fans for just one day. It is also a way for the league to gain more fans around the world. 

    Needless to say, the NFL wants everything to go perfectly. It doesn't want another wardrobe malfunction or the three disastrous calls that went against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

    With that in mind, there have been multiple controversies surrounding the grandest game of them all. Today's article focuses on 10 such episodes.

Eugene Robinson Arrested Prior to Super Bowl XXXIII

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    Eugene Robinson had always been considered a standup guy around the world of the National Football League. From his work in charities and for youth, the former defensive back appears to be above the character issues we have seen among other NFL players over the years.

    In fact, Robinson received Athletes in Action's Bart Starr Award on the eve of Super Bowl XXXIII. This award is given to players who represent outstanding character on and off the field as well as within the community.

    But a bizarre thing happened the night Robinson received this prestigious honor: He was arrested by an undercover police officer for solicitation in a seedy part of Miami (via CNN/SI). This occurred mere hours before his Atlanta Falcons took on the Denver Broncos in the big game.

    Robinson later agreed to return the award, but the controversy didn't end with his arrest (via USA Today).

    The safety gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass from John Elway to Rod Smith and was beat on another play in Atlanta's embarrassing 34-19 loss to the Broncos.

    Pure conjecture, but his lack of sleep the night prior to the game probably had something to do with his poor performance on the football field.

    For what it's worth, Robinson wasn't alone in attempting to pay for sex, at least according to other members of the Falcons (via New York Times):

    Some Atlanta Falcon players said today that they were not surprised when their teammate, Eugene Robinson, was arrested on a charge of soliciting a prostitute in a seedy section of Miami the night before Super Bowl XXXIII. After all, some of them said, other Falcons had been there several times for the same purpose.

    IThe real takeaway is that Robinson's character never rebounded from this idiotic lapse in judgement.

Officiating in Super Bowl XL

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    If it wasn't bad enough that the Seattle Seahawks had to take on a Pittsburgh Steelers team that finished third in scoring defense and fifth in scoring differential in Super Bowl XL, they also had to take on an officiating unit that seemed to have it out for them. 

    There was not just one call that made a difference in Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory. No, there were at least three different questionable calls that went to the winning team.

    Super Bowl XL was among the most controversially officiated games in Super Bowl history. 

    An early offensive pass interference call against Seattle took seven points off the board. Later in the game, a "phantom" holding call took another seven points off the board.

    In addition, officials allowed a one-yard touchdown run by Ben Roethlisbeger when it wasn't even conclusive on replay.

    Overall, there were three or four calls that handed Pittsburgh a minimum of 14 points, or so many skeptics of the officiating crew believed.

    Outside of mistakes by the officials, it looks like Seattle outplayed its opponent in this one: 

    Super Bowl XL Box Score
    Team 1st Downs Time of Possession Total Yards
    Seattle 20 33:02 396
    Pittsburgh 14 26:58 339

    For his part, head official Bill Leavy came out in 2010 and admitted to missing some calls:

    It was a tough thing for me. I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights and I think about it constantly. I'll go to my grave wishing that I'd been better. I know that I did my best at that time, but it wasn't good enough. When we make mistakes, you've got to step up and own them. It's something that all officials have to deal with, but unfortunately when you have to deal with it in the Super Bowl, it's difficult.

    While it's great to see an official admit mistakes that might have cost a team the Super Bowl, I am pretty sure fans in the Pacific Northwest will not give him a mulligan anytime soon.

Wardrobe Malfunction

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    In retrospect, I had several nice dreams involving Janet Jackson when I was a hormone-driven adolescent. I'm pretty sure that many of my male readers can attest to the same thing.

    But none of us expected that dream to become a reality on live television during the Super Bowl. 

    The now infamous scene was set during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII when Jackson and fellow singer Justin Timberlake took the stage in Houston. Timberlake proceeded to tear at the clothing over Jackson's right breast, ripping it clear from her body and exposing her to hundreds of millions of football fans. 

    Obviously, this performance drew the ire of mainstream America.

    Members of Congress, the Parents Television Council and executives at CBS all expressed outrage at the incident. Then-Senator Zell Miller had the following to say about decency in American culture in a speech that focused on "Nipplegate":

    Yes, there's a deficit to be concerned about—a deficit of decency. So, as the sand empties through my hourglass at warp speed—and with my time running out in this Senate and on this earth, I feel compelled to speak out. For I truly believe that at times like this, silence is not golden. It is yellow.

    CBS, which broadcasted the Super Bowl, was fined a record $550,000 for the incident (via the Associated Press). Meanwhile, MTV, which produced the halftime show, hasn't taken part in one again.

Namath Guarantees Victory

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    Before Joe Namath was drunkenly hitting on Suzy Kolber on Monday Night Football, he was a trendsetter of sorts in the late '60s and '70s.

    In reality, the Hall of Fame quarterback represented exactly what it meant to be a modern-day quarterback in the professional sports world. He had ladies flocking to him and his fur coat, typically while sipping on an alcoholic beverage. 

    Oh, what a life.

    Namath then took it up a notch by guaranteeing that the upstart New York Jets from the American Football League would defeat an NFL-champion Baltimore Colts team that was a 28-point favorite in Super Bowl III, saying, "We'll win the game. I guarantee you."

    With those seven words, the history of the Super Bowl would be forever changed.

    Even as the cocky Namath guaranteed victory, teammates didn't seem to be too pleased with what had to be considered bulletin board material for Johnny Unitas' Colts.

    Former Jets defensive back Johnny Sample had the following to say about the guarantee (via the Pro Football Hall of Fame):

    Joe told me, "I said something tonight that's gonna be all over the news tomorrow." I asked him: "What the heck did you say?" He told me he guaranteed we'd win the game. I said, "Man, you didn't say that." He said yeah, he did.

    The thing was, we all thought we'd win the game. We had studied film on the Colts and we were really confident. But a guarantee? ... I said, "Yeah, Joe, we're gonna win, but you shouldn't have said it."

    As it turned out, New York pulled off what is still the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.

Stanley Wilson's Cocaine Addiction

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    It really is classless to make fun of someone's addiction, whether you do so in the court of public opinion or behind closed doors. 

    With that in mind, Stanley Wilson's actions prior to Super Bowl XXIII should not be made a joke.

    The running back, recovering from a drug addiction, relapsed just mere hours before the Cincinnati Bengals took on Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in the big game.

    The lead running back told teammates he was going to get his playbook. Assistant coach Jim Anderson found Wilson 20 minutes later high on cocaine. The following is a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer focusing on the situation as it happened:

    Upstairs in his room, Wilson saw the white powder. The devil takes many forms. One of them looks like white powder in a plastic bag. Wilson was already a two-time loser under the NFL's drug policy. The league suspended him the entire 1987 season. Once more and he would be banned for life.

    Cocaine had once put Wilson in the hospital four times in 11 months. He knew its lure. He also knew it could kill him. “Cocaine is seductive, man,” he said that September. “Mentally, you're not convinced it's hurting you. (But) I don't think about the end of my football career if I use again. I think about dying.”

    Wilson did not play in the Super Bowl. As a three-time violator of the substance abuse program, the talented running back was banned for life (via Esquire).

    In 1999, Wilson was arrested and later convicted of stealing $130,000 in property from a house in Beverly Hills, Calif. He is still serving a 22-year sentence in a state prison (via CNN/SI).

Barret Robbins Goes AWOL

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    As a Bay Area native, Barret Robbins' mysterious disappearing act prior to the Super Bowl really hit home. 

    Let me give you a little bit of a background.

    Robbins, a former Pro Bowl center, is bipolar, which can cause mood swings, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Apparently, he went off depression medication prior to the Oakland Raiders taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.

    Oakland's then-head coach, Bill Callahan had the following to say about the Robbins situation as it broke (via CNN/SI):

    Barret Robbins was incoherent and didn't know where he was the night before the Super Bowl, Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan said Wednesday in his first public comments about the troubled All-Pro center.

    Instead of suiting up for the Raiders, it appears that Robbins was going on an alcohol-fueled bender in Tijuana, which made him miss the game.

    Not until after this incident was Robbins diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

    His life has been on a continued downturn since "retiring" from the NFL. In 2009, Robbins was pulled over and arrested for possession of cocaine. He spent 18 months in prison. Prior to that, Robbins plead out to attempted murder and was sentenced to five years' probation for another incident (via Pro Football Talk). 

Tank Johnson Plays 'Loaded'

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    No, Tank Johnson didn't take shots of tequila in Tijuana and show up to Super Bowl XLI "ready" to play. Instead, the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle thought it made sense to come loaded with a myriad of firearms that likened him to a gangster. 

    Johnson was arrested in December of 2006 on multiple charges, including possession of drugs and ammo. This AP report (via ESPN) pretty much sums up the whole mess:

    Police seized about 550 rounds of ammunition from the home of Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson during a raid last month, according to new court documents.

    The ammunition was discovered in Johnson's kitchen, basement, garage and bedroom.

    Police also found six guns, marijuana and unlabeled pills believed to be the prescription painkiller hydrocodone.

    The report continued:

    It was the third arrest in 18 months for Johnson, who must stay at home except to go to work and needs permission to leave Illinois until a court decides whether he violated his probation on a 2005 gun charge.

    A circuit court judge eventually lifted Johnson's travel ban and allowed him to travel to Miami for Super Bowl XLI (AP, via ESPN).

    Johnson ended up recording a half-sack in Chicago's 29-17 loss at the hands of Manning and the Colts. 

Brett Favre Takes Bourbon Street Literally

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    Brett Favre, who admittedly had some drug and alcohol problems back in his heyday (via CNN/SI), partied it up on Bourbon Street in New Orleans prior to Super Bowl XXXI.

    This can't be too surprising to anyone who has ever been to New Orleans. After all, temptation is all over the place, especially for star athletes.

    What makes Brett's run-in with the nightlife so interesting is the following note from Fox Sports:

    In the midst of winning one of his three NFL Most Valuable Player awards in 1996, Brett Favre's off-field story had gained as much attention as his on-field play - the admission that he battled addiction to alcohol and painkilling medication.

    So, more than a few eyebrows were raised during Super Bowl week when the Packers QB was allegedly seen partying with beer in hand on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Favre and the team downplayed the sightings, but more mumbles were heard when Favre reportedly got dry heaves before kickoff on game day.

    Green Bay went on to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots, which pretty much calmed down this controversy.

    That said, it was the beginning of numerous off-field incidents that gave Favre a black eye around the media for the remainder of his career. 

The Double Kickoff

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    Imagine this scenario taking place during Super Bowl XLVII next month in New Orleans.

    CBS is late coming back from halftime because it is too busy interviewing Simon Cowell on the sidelines. The officials get word that hundreds of millions around the world missed the opening kickoff of the second half.

    In order to make sure that the large television audience catches the whole game, head referee Jerome Boger decides that the Baltimore Ravens have to kick off again in order for CBS to be able to broadcast it live.

    I am pretty sure CBS would get fined more money for their actions than the $550,000 that the FCC dropped on the major network following "Nipplegate."

    As it is, this situation presented itself in the very first Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in 1967. NBC was so busy interviewing the legend that is Bob Hope that it missed Don Chandler's kickoff to open the second half.

    Fox Sports had the following to say about the situation: "No worries, NBC just extinguished the play from the record books."

    Oh, the power of television.

    I couldn't have said it better myself. If the power of television was so big back then, what makes us think CBS couldn't pull off the same thing 46 years later?

    Pat Summerall, a former broadcast partner of the great John Madden, had sideline duties in the initial Super Bowl:

    CBS sideline reporter Pat Summerall was asked to walk over and tell Packers' coach Vince Lombardi what had happened. Having played for Lombardi previously, Summerall refused to go near the coach under such circumstances.

    Can you blame him?

New England Patriots and 'Spygate'

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    Following the "Spygate" scandal that engulfed the New England Patriots in September of 2007, in which the franchise was penalized heavily for videotaping an opponent's defensive signals, the Pats faced similar allegations the day before Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

    The Boston Herald reported that prior to the Patriots taking on the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, they videotaped St. Louis practices (via ESPN):

    An unnamed source close to the team during the 2001 season said that following the Patriots' walk-through at the Louisiana Superdome, a member of the team's video staff stayed behind and taped the Rams' walk-through -- a non-contact, no-pads practice at reduced speed in which a team goes through its plays.

    The cameraman was not asked to identify himself or produce a press pass and later rode the media shuttle back to the Patriots' hotel, the source told the Herald.

    This story was denied by the Patriots organization, and nothing else has come out of it. Both external and internal investigations seem to indicate that the source was mistaken.

    In fact, the Herald later issued an apology for the original story.

    Nonetheless, this was all the craze leading up to the Super Bowl. Was New England cheating? Who was involved? And what would the punishments be? 

    In the end, New England ended up being downed by the Giants 17-14, ruining its shot at a perfect season.

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