super bowl

11 Most Scandalous Moments in Super Bowl History

Words: Chris Brinlee Jr.

A retrospective on sex, crime and politics over the past 50 years. 

With the Super Bowl celebrating its 50th anniversary we looked back at some of its most scandalous moments from the past years. While many are aware of the hype surrounding Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction, few may know some of these more sinister stories from the NFL’s history.

1. Patriots’ Spy Games (Super Bowl XLII)

In 2007, the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick were smacked with $750,000 in fines after being investigated for videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from an unauthorized location. The fiasco was dubbed “Spygate” after additional allegations surfaced, stating that they also filmed the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXXVI walkthrough practice in 2002. The incident created the Patriots’ notorious reputation for cheating.

blackout new orleans

The Superdome in New Orleans after a sudden power outage that lasted 34 minutes in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII. 

© Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

2. Lights Out in New Orleans (Super Bowl XLVII)

In 2013, the lights went out in the Superdome, sparking an electrifying controversy that would lead many to call “foul play.” The 34-minute power outage was caused by a device that was installed two months prior; and was supposed to prevent blackouts from happening. Before the abnormality, the Baltimore Ravens had been leading the 49ers, 28-6. When the lights came back on, so did San Francisco’s offense; the 49ers closed the gap. Conspiracy or not, the Ravens prevailed, winning 34-31.

3. All bets were on Len Dawson (Super Bowl IV)

Quarterback Len Dawson’s 1969-1970 season with the Kansas City Chiefs was off to a miserable start. A knee injury in the second game sidelined him for six games. Later that year, his dad died. Soon afterwards his plays caused the team to lose their last regular season game to Oakland. Despite all of that misfortune, the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl. Dawson’s turbulent season wasn’t over though; just before game day he was linked to a bookie carrying $400,000 along with Dawson’s phone number. Accused of betting on the game, Dawson was detained for a week—but fortunately the charges were dropped.

4. Prince’s Perceived Phallus (Super Bowl XLI)

After Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction, the NFL decided to tone down halftime performances for the next couple of Super Bowls by hiring aging performers like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. In 2007, they took a bit more chance by hiring Prince. The Emmy-nominated performance seemed to go off without a hitch—that is until a silhouetted camera shot of the artist formerly known emerged, along with what looked like an erection.

tom brady

New Englang Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looking very concerned during Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.

© Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

5. Deflategate (Super Bowl XLIX)

Simple physics determines that soft balls are easier to catch than hard ones; that’s the premise of the latest scandal surrounding the Patriots. The transgression came to light when Tom Brady threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson, a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, during the AFC Championship Game. Jackson then turned the ball over to the Colts’ equipment manager, who noticed that it (along with 10 other Patriots’ balls) was underinflated. The Patriots defeated the Colts 45-7, stealing their place in Super Bowl XLIX—which the Patriots also went on to win.

6. Eugene Robinson’s Sexual Solicitation (Super Bowl XXXIII)

The night before the Big Game against defending champions the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons safety Eugene Robinson accepted the Bart Starr Award for “outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.” Later that night he was arrested after offering an undercover Miami police officer $40 for sex. Needless to say, the next day his game was off, the Falcons lost, and Robinson had to return the Bart Starr Award. Ouch.

7. Tank Johnson’s Career Tanked (Super Bowl XLI)

In November 2005, Tank Johnson was arrested at a nightclub in Chicago for the possession of a handgun in his SUV. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge and was sentenced to 18 months probation. Then in December 2006; six weeks before the Bears went to Super Bowl XLI, a police search of his home uncovered the unlawful possession of six more firearms—while Johnson was still on probation. He had to go on trial and beg to be allowed to leave Illinois for the game. His plea was granted, but the Bears lost 29-17 to the Colts; a few months later Johnson was arrested again in Arizona. That was the last straw and Johnson’s career tanked again.

8. Tucson Scored a Comcast Double Play (Super Bowl XLIII)

We’re not talking about bundled cable and internet when we say that Comcast viewers in Tuscon got more than they bargained for during the Big Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. Viewers were treated to a 37 second long clip of full frontal male nudity when former Comcast employee Frank Gonzales hacked into the broadcast. Outraged viewers were offered an apology in the form of a $10 credit from the embarrassed cable giant.

ray lewis super bowl

 Ray Lewis, along with a group of friends, were involved in a fight after Super Bowl XXXIV which resulted in two mens’ deaths.

© Rob Tringali / Getty Images

9. Ray Lewis and the Mystery Murderers (Super Bowl XXXIV)

In January 2000, Ray Lewis—a linebacker for the Ravens—went down to the dirty south to see the St. Louis Rams topple the the Tennessee Titans in Atlanta. After a Super Bowl party, a fight broke out between Lewis and his companions and another group of people, which resulted in two men being stabbed to death. Lewis was arrested, but accepted a plea agreement to have the murder charges dropped in exchange for a testimony against his friends—who would be acquitted six months later. No other suspects have been arrested; the murders remain a mystery today.

prince super bowl

Prince performs during the ‘Pepsi Halftime Show’ during Super Bowl XLI.

© B. Bahr / Getty Images

10. Barrett Robbins’ Bender in Tijuana (Super Bowl XXXVII)

Oakland Raiders center Barret Robbins didn’t show up for the biggest game of his life as his team faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Diego. Six years later, he would reveal why in an interview with Bryant Gumbel. Turns out, he was bipolar and the football star skipped his hotel and headed south of the border to Tijuana, Mexico—to party. “I was in a very bad state of mind at that point,” Robbins said. “In my mind we had already won the Super Bowl and we were already celebrating.” Too bad the Raiders didn’t win; they haven’t made it to the Super Bowl since.

11. Stanley Wilson’s Coked Up Bathroom Breakdown (Super Bowl XXIII)

Stanley Wilson, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, loved cocaine. He loved it so much that he missed the entire 1985 and 1987 seasons due to its use. Wilson loved football too though, so he stayed clean all year leading up to 1988’s Super Bowl, where his team would face the 49ers. What Wilson apparently didn’t love was pressure; the night before the Big Game he slipped out of the Bengals’ final team meeting to “go grab some playbooks.” Twenty minutes later he still hadn’t returned; running backs coach Jim Anderson found him “sweating and shivering” on the bathroom floor. “White powder was evident on his nose and upper lip.” Not only did the Bengals lose to the 49ers, 20-16—but Wilson was banned from the NFL for good.

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