NFL Rankings: The 32 Most Embarrassing Moments in History
Let's face it.
As popular as the NFL has grown over the years, there have been a few missteps along the way.
Some were taken by the league, teams or individuals, and occurred both on and off the field.
In a time when fans are enduring a lockout, maybe, just maybe it will give some fans a perverse pleasure to look back at some of the most embarrassing moments the NFL has had over the years.
In compiling this list of the top 32 to represent each team in the league, even though some teams won't appear on this list and some might show up over and over again, I tried to cover events that might make a fan chuckle as well as the times that might be more than a little painful to some of us.
Admittedly, there are a couple of incidents that just didn't make the cut but probably should have.
Former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Orlando Brown suffered a serious eye injury when referee Jeff Triplette accidentally hit him with a penalty flag. Brown was never the same player and eventually settled a lawsuit with the NFL.
Heck, kicker Mike Vanderjagt should have a whole wing in this hall of shame, not for missing several clutch field goals by the size of small countries, but for his constantly open mouth, which once caused the even-keeled Peyton Manning to refer to Vanderjagt as, "our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off."
Manning added, "The sad thing is, he's a good kicker. He's a good kicker, but he's an idiot.” (Courtesy of CNNSI.com).
Oh yeah, Manning made this comments at the relaxed atmosphere known as the Pro Bowl.
Regardless of my choices, I want your feedback. Am I forgetting something obvious or more deserving of being on this list?
Do you disagree with some of the choices? If so, why?
Have at it!
32. Buddy vs. Kevin, the Rumble on the Sideline
NFL coaches are expected to act with a kind of decorum that you couldn't possibly expect from players.
Well, except when Houston Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride were involved.
Ryan had previously voiced his displeasure over Gilbride's tendency to throw the football late in games. Then, in the 1993 regular season finale against the Jets, after quarterback Cody Carlson fumbled a snap before halftime, the two got into a verbal altercation which ended with a Ryan punch straight to Gilbride's jaw.
The incident somewhat diminished the accomplishments of Ryan's defense in Houston, although he was chosen as the Arizona Cardinals' new head coach in 1994 largely based on his work with the Oilers.
31. The Existence of the USFL
Personally, I enjoyed spring football from 1983-1985, but there is little doubt that the rival league was an embarrassment for the NFL for the simple reason that it took so many stars away from the primary league for even a small period of time.
Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Gary Zimmerman, Frank Minnifield and Reggie White all got their start in the other league.
Heck, Minnifield sued the Arizona Wranglers just so he could leave for the NFL in 1984.
Who knows how brightly the stars would have shone in the NFL for the likes of Anthony Carter, Mike Rozier, Doug Williams, Marcus Dupree, Ricky Sanders, Joe Cribbs, Kent Hull, Kelvin Bryant, Kevin Mack and Mel Gray if they hadn't spent some of their prime years in the USFL.
Yes, the NFL does owe a lot of its innovations, including the two-point conversation, to the competing league, but the 1986 USFL antitrust lawsuit against the NFL (which was technically won by the USFL but the pittance in damages forced the league to fold) was just one more dark moment in NFL history.
30. Botching the Coin Flip?
The day is Thanksgiving, November 26, 1998. Football ranks up there with the roasted turkey and too-stuffed guests. Ironically, a few notable NFL embarrassments occurred on this important holiday as you'll learn by going through this list.
Everyone expects referees to miss a call here and again. It doesn't mean that we all tolerate the gaffe, but it’s not a surprise.
But, the coin flip?
Yet, that's what might have happened on Turkey Day to Phil Luckett with the overtime coin toss. Jerome Bettis appeared to call "tails," but Luckett insisted that Bettis had called "heads" and then "tails." As a result the Lions were awarded the ball and scored on their first possession to win the game.
While audio evidence appears to support Luckett's claim of a "hea-tails," the arbitrary nature of a coin toss was exposed to the football-frenzied nation.
While the NFL introduced new overtime rules for the playoffs in 2010, it seems as though the league has never been completely comfortable with any overtime format.
29. Super Bowl Problems Part I, Barret Robbins Goes AWOL
There are certain moments that you just don't get. With all due respect for people who suffer from mental illnesses, when Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl Center Barrett Robbins went missing the day before Super Bowl XXXVII, not many people knew what to think—except the worst.
When Robbins finally showed up that Saturday he was incoherent (although the initial report was that Robbins forgot to take his anti-depression medication). Raiders coaches were forced to leave him off the roster and the team fell to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.
You can't say that the Raiders lost the Super Bowl solely because of Robbins' absence, but you can't excuse it as a non-factor either. The revelation that Robbins had been on a drinking binge in Tijuana infuriated fans and embarrassed the league.
After a short time in a treatment center, Robbins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, not depression.
Robbins was later was shot three times and arrested for attempted murder during a brawl with police in 2005. Revelations of a long history of drug abuse only underscored the tragic and embarrassing story of this talented player.
According to the Associated Press, Robbins was sent back to prison earlier this year after he was charged with cocaine possession.
28. Super Bowl Problems Part II, Eugene Robinson's Moral Compass Goes South
Before Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, safety Eugene Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons received the Bart Starr Award from Athletes in Action for "high moral character."
In response, he left his wife in the team hotel the night before a game and tried to solicit a prostitute. Only to find out that the lady of the evening was an undercover cop.
The next day, the Falcons got busted by the Denver Broncos, 34-19.
Robinson didn't fare much better in the game than he did looking for love.
He was burned by Rod Smith on an 80-yard touchdown reception that put Denver up 17-3 in the second quarter.
27. Bounty Bowl
On November 23, 1989, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Dallas by a score of 27-0 on Thanksgiving.
However, the game will always be known as Bounty Bowl for the post-game allegation from Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson that Philly coach Buddy Ryan had taken out a "bounty" (or price for a knocking a player out of the game) on Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas.
Johnson's claims were hard to deny considering Zendejas, a former kicker for the Eagles, left the game the game with a concussion following a hard tackle by Eagles linebacker Jessie Small.
Ryan hardly denied the allegations, and during the rematch two weeks later (dubbed Bounty Bowl II) Eagles fans responded with their own bounty, in front of a nationally televised audience, specifically targeting anyone they could hit with snowballs, ice and beer, including Cowboys coaches and players, Eagles coaches and players, referees and the broadcast booth.
26. Super Bowl Problems Part III, Hollywood Henderson's Habit
The embarrassment wasn't that the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-31, in Super Bowl XIII. The shame came from Cowboy Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, who forced a Terry Bradshaw fumble in the game thanks in part to a mixture of water and cocaine that he took before the game and in the third quarter.
Henderson's drug use continued until November 1983, when he was arrested for smoking cocaine with two teenage girls. He was accused of threatening them with a gun and sexually assaulting them. Henderson claimed that he exchanged the drugs for consensual sex. He pleaded no contest to the charges and served two years in prison and additional time for drug rehabilitation.
He claims to be sober ever since and after winning $28 million dollars in the Texas state lottery in 2000, Henderson has done a lot of charity work.
However, he serves as a constant reminder that prowess shown in the NFL's showcase event isn't always as pure as it appears.
25.Super Bowl Problems Part IV, the Wardrobe Malfunction
It’s pretty bad when a new term is introduced into American society due to a disgraceful and embarrassing event. The halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII unfortunately earned this distinction when Justin Timberlake tore away Janet Jackson's clothes to reveal her breast and a nipple shield.
The incident, whether intentional or not, overshadowed an exciting Super Bowl in which the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, and led to countless complaints and an FCC crackdown on indecency in entertainment.
Coincidentally, Timberlake's career has if anything skyrocketed since the incident, while Janet Jackson has become largely irrelevant.
24.The Dennis Miller Experiment
When comedian Dennis Miller was hired as a color commentator for Monday Night Football in 2000, it must have seemed like a good idea to someone.
That someone should never work in television again.
Miller's references and commentary were often understood only by a few people and maybe only himself.
The "common man" was clearly befuddled and Miller's gig mercifully ended after two seasons.
23. 73-0 in a Championship Game
The 1940 NFL Championship Game wasn't a rout. It was a humiliation. In defeating the Washington Redskins 73-0, the Chicago Bears recorded the most one-sided victory in league history.
According to the Washington Post, the Bears scored their ninth touchdown on a double-reverse.
That doesn't exactly sound like sportsmanship to me.
However, the lopsided victory was probably inevitable given that Washington threw eight interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdown.
Perhaps, the worst part was that it was a home game for Washington in Griffith Stadium with over 36,000 people in attendance.
At least at the start.
22. The Whizzinator
OK, I admit, the mere mention of the Whizzinator makes me laugh.
But seriously, what was Onterrio Smith thinking when he tried to carry the fraudulent "beat a drug-test" kit that comes with dried urine and a fake penis into the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in 2005?
OK, he wasn't thinking. But, he sure spawned a lot of jokes at the NFL's expense.
The third drug offense for Smith suspended him for the season and he never played in the NFL again.
21. Poor Grant Union High School
I actually need to thank Wikipedia. Otherwise, I would have never known that both Onterrio Smith and Donte Stallworth went to Grant Union High School in Sacramento, California.
That's not exactly a good legacy for the school on this list.
I know that the school has had several distinguished graduates over the years, so if you are a former "Pacer" please don't be offended.
While Smith's offense was somewhat humorous, Stallworth's was clearly not.
On the morning of March 14, 2009, a legally drunk Stallworth accidentally struck and killed pedestrian Mario Reyes with his Bentley. Stallworth was convicted of Manslaughter and DUI charges and served 24 days in jail of a 30-day sentence.
The small sentence infuriated many people and they were hardly mollified by his year-long suspension from the NFL.
20. Marino Goes Out to the Tune of 62-7
Losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars 62-7 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs was bad enough for the Miami Dolphins.
Far worse was that it was legendary quarterback and Miami icon Dan Marino's last game.
According to CNNSI.com, Marino said, "I know we didn't compete at all. We played horrible. I never experienced a game like this in my life. Ever since I was a little kid I never been in a game like this."
Marino threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles before being pulled early in the second half, but this was a total team loss.
The Jaguars were exceptionally balanced in the rout, with 263 yards passing and 257 more on the ground.
The rout was the biggest one in AFC playoff history.
19. Howard Cosell's Mouth Gets the Best of Him
Howard Cosell was one heck of a broadcaster, even if he was loud, brash, and obnoxious.
But, on September 5th, 1983, he crossed the line. Referring to Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett as a "little monkey" was inexcusable.
Worse yet, Cosell tried to defend his actions and refused to apologize.
He left the Monday Night Football booth after the season.
18. The Love Boat
On October 6th, 2005, approximately 17 key members of the Minnesota Vikings (including Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie and Fred Smoot) went out on Lake Minnetonka along with approximately 70 to 80 other people, many of which were apparently prostitutes, on a couple of boats.
What exactly happened that evening is not quite clear, but an alleged variety of sex acts took place in front of the boat's crew members.
The aftermath of accusations, fines and jokes became a drawn-out, seven-month spectacle that the NFL would like to forget but probably never will.
17. Haynesworth's Stomp
Albert Haynesworth is the definition of a troubled, star-crossed player.
At times he can be a dominant defensive tackle, but other times he is a lazy, undisciplined player.
His stomping on the head of Dallas offensive lineman Andre Gurode after the Cowboys scored in an October, 2006, contest is something else entirely.
The vicious attack opened a wound on Gurode's head that required about 30 stitches. Another embarrassing element of the incident is that Haynesworth was only ejected after he removed his helmet in protest of a 15-yard penalty resulting from the stomp.
Haynesworth was suspended five games, which was the longest in NFL history for an on-field incident.
Gurode did not seek criminal charges against Haynesworth but he probably should have.
16. Titans Owner Gives a Salute
It was bad enough that Bud Adams moved the Houston Oilers to Tennessee hence the birth of the Titans. The departure of other NFL teams for greener pastures caused far more of an uproar.
However, Adams' behavior on November 15,2009 was another matter entirely. Adams was caught on video give the middle finger salute towards the Buffalo bench after the Titans dispatched the Bills 41-14.
Commissioner Roger Goodell had been in Adams' box during the game but apparently left before the gesture. Adams was fined $250,000.
To give you a frame of reference, Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for Spygate.
15. Rae Carruth
There isn't much to say about this one. Carruth conspired to murder his pregnant girlfriend. He stopped his car in front of Cherica Adams' vehichle as another vehicle stopped alongside her, and the passenger, Van Brett Watkins, a friend of Carruth's, shot her.
The unborn child was thankfully saved, but Adams tragically passed away. Carruth became a fugitive and was found in the trunk of his car.
Sad, tragic and embarrassing.
14. Vick Is Bad Newz
Most of you know the story by now, so let's make this brief. Vick, in the prime of his NFL career, pleaded guilty to federal charges in August 2007 for his role in the operation of an illegal dog fighting ring (Bad Newz Kennels).
He served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement. His lost salary and financial irresponsibility led Vick to file for bankruptcy.
The NFL lost one of its star attractions for two seasons. More importantly, dogs were tortured and killed, leading many fans to question the morality of letting Vick back into the league, despite his unquestioned dynamic on-the-field characteristics.
13. The Minnesota Draft Snafu
It seemed like a pretty clear-cut process for the first round of the 2003 draft. A team had 15 minutes to make their first-round selection and get the name of the player on a card given to the commission.
The Minnesota Vikings had the seventh pick overall, but apparently forgot about the invention of the clock.
The 15 minutes expired and the next two teams in the draft order, the Jacksonville Jaguars (selected quarterback Byron Leftwich) and Carolina Panthers (selected offensive tackle Jordan Gross) rushed to jump ahead of the Vikings.
Minnesota still got a heck of a player in defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but their slide to pick nine was the beginning of several indictments of then-head coach Mike Tice and the Minnesota Vikings organization.
12. Leon Lett Part I
Leon Lett was an exceptionally talented football player.
His brain also tended to leave him on occasion.
In 1993, at Super Bowl XXVII, with the Dallas Cowboys owning a commanding 52-17 lead over the Buffalo Bills, Lett recovered a fumble at the Bills' 45-yard line and rumbled towards the end zone for an exclamation point to the game.
However, he slowed down and stretched the ball out as reached the goal-line. Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe slapped the ball out of the end zone for a touchback instead of a touchdown.
While the play had no impact on the game, the boneheaded move certainly got as much television replay as the rest of the game combined.
11. Leon Lett Part II
Lett's poor luck would continue the very next season.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, the Cowboys held a 14-13 lead over the Miami Dolphins with 15 seconds left in the game.
In a rare snowstorm, Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich had his 41-yard field goal attempt blocked.
As the ball lay on the frozen turf, with his teammates celebrating, Lett inexplicably tried to pick it up. He slipped on the ice, and Miami recovered the muffed ball.
Had Lett not touched the ball, Dallas automatically would have gained possession and won the game.
Stoyanovich booted his second attempt through the uprights as time expired for a 16-14 Miami victory.
10. The Tuck Rule
In the 2002 AFC Divisional playoff game, the Oakland Raiders led the New England Patriots 13-10 late in the fourth quarter.
Then controversy struck in the heavy snowstorm. With the Patriots driving, Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who dropped the football. Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert fell on the ball and was initially credited with a recovered fumble which would have likely ended the game.
Citing a little-known rule (OK, no one had heard of the rule at the time), the referees determined that because Brady had been bringing the ball forward before attempting to bring it back down into his body, the play would be ruled an incompleted pass.
The Patriots, having been given new life, went on to win the game and that year's Super Bowl.
The "tuck rule" still arguably makes little sense and has barely ever been used since the dubious moment.
9. Yepremian's Pass
I've met and talked to Garo Yepremian. You won't find a much nicer man.
The fact remains that he butchered the only shutout in Super Bowl history and took a little of the focus off the only undefeated NFL team in the modern era.
With the Miami Dolphins leading the Washington Redskins 14-0 late with just over two minutes left in the game, Yepremian lined up for a field goal that would have given Miami a 17-0 victory in a season where they went 17-0.
Instead, the Redskins' Bill Brundige blocked the ball. Instead of falling on the ball, he picked the ball up and threw perhaps the worst pass in history. The ball slipped from Yepremian and went almost straight up into the air. Then, Yepremian batted it back up in the air and right into the arms of Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who returned it for the touchdown.
The Dolphins held on for a 14-7 win, but the play still lives in infamy through tape and YouTube.
8. Spygate Scandal
It's really not a good public relations move for your league when your three-time Super Bowl champion gets busted for allegations of cheating. However, that's exactly what happened when the New England Patriots were forced to give up a first-round draft choice, fined $250,000 and the aforementioned Belichick was fined an additional half a million dollars for video taping the coaches' signals of other teams.
As embarrassing as this was to the league, it was the resulting behavior that proved equally disturbing.
The Patriots complied with an order to turn over all video tapes. The NFL reviewed them and then destroyed the materials.
Several people, including U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, wondered why the materials had been destroyed.
Later, a Patriots video assistant told the media that he had information and materials regarding New England taping the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI. Although Walsh had provided Patriots taping of coaches' signals from 2000 to 20002, he did not produce an actual tape of the walkthrough and further penalties were not imposed.
7. Mike Tice Is at It Again
In March 2005, the NFL investigated Tice for organizing and profiting from a Super Bowl ticket scalping operation.
The league fined him $100,000 and ultimately helped lead to the Vikings to deciding not to renew his contract after the 2005 season. Mike Tice was also the head coach who presided during the "Love Boat" scandal.
Being eliminated from playoff contention that year didn't help either.
Tice's behavior off the field often made him look like a cartoon character rather than a head coach, which was not the image the NFL clearly wanted to present.
6. Don't Ask Jim Marshall for Directions
I promise this is the last time I pick on the Minnesota Vikings.
Marshall was a heck of a defensive end as a member of the famed Purple People Eaters line that also featured Carl Eller, Alan Page and Gary Larsen.
But on October 25, 1964, against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall committed one of the most mind-numbing mistakes in NFL history.
He recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards with it into the end zone—that being his team's own end zone. He threw the ball away to celebrate "his touchdown," which resulted in a safety for the Niners.
The Vikings won anyway, 27-22.
5. The Colts Bolt in the Middle of the Night
There is so much more to this moment than I can do justice to in this space, but you can't pack up your team in a bunch of moving trucks in the middle of the night to relocate your franchise and not make this list.
Unable to get a new stadium in Baltimore, owner Robert Irsay finally decided to move the storied franchise to Indianapolis.
How he did it would become infamous. Fearing that the state government would seize the franchise, Mayflower moving trucks were dispatched to the team's training complex at 2:00 a.m. on March 29th, 1984.
Legend has it that each of the moving trucks took a slightly different route in departing Maryland to confuse the state police.
I couldn't even make this up for a movie script.
By 10 a.m., the Colts were completely gone from Baltimore and one of the more bush-league moments in NFL history was in the books.
4. The Creamsicles Get Creamed Again, Again and Again
When you lose your first 26 games in the NFL like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did, there had to be serious thoughts of booting the team from the league.
Alas, the Bucs made it through and even won a Super Bowl.
However, for the 1976 and 1977 seasons, the team was the ultimate embarassment.
3. Moving Injustice, Part II
Believe it or not, LeBron James is not the most hated man in Cleveland. For those under the age of 30, that must come as a shock, but the unwanted distinction will probably always belong to former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell.
After promising not to move the Browns on several occasions and blasting Robert Irsay for the Colts move, he took the team to Baltimore in 1996.
At least this time, the owner left the team name, colors and heritage behind and the Cleveland Browns were reborn in 1999.
Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, as a brand new franchise, they have yet to reach their prior glory while the Baltimore Ravens have won a Super Bowl.
As for Modell, there is still a "death watch" on the Internet devoted "to his honor."
2. The Current Lockout
As we head into the fourth month of the NFL lockout of its players, the simple fact remains that the two sides still haven't agreed on how to split billions of dollars.
If only the common man had such problems.
There have been strikes before, but in much more reasonable economic times.
In a word: embarrassing.
1. O.J. Simpson
This has to be the most embarrassing moment in the history of the NFL because its one of the most shameful incidents in the history of American society.
While there are still some who profess O.J. Simpson's innocence in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, there is no denying the stain it left on American culture. Simpson was found not guilty in a murder trial, but found responsible for the deaths in a civil trial.
From the moment Simpson was chased along the freeway in the infamous white Ford Bronco, to the unrelenting media coverage, to lawyer Johnnie Cochran's catch phrases, to the verdict that divided a nation, the cruel impact of those events that occurred 17 years ago are still being felt today.
Simpson was a great football player and the first running back to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
But even though he was acquitted of the murders in a courtroom, he was guilty in the court of most public opinion and has been ostracized from mainstream society. His legacy for most will be as a murderer regardless of any verdict.
He's currently serving time for armed robbery and kidnapping in a confrontation over sports memorabilia.
The NFL has spent the last 17 years trying to wipe away any vestige of the former Buffalo Bill. The rest of society could only be so lucky.
Arguably, the most recognizable alleged murderer in American history could have played any sport, but he played football and is the No. 1 embarrassment on this list.
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