Have you ever watched your favorite NFL team play on Sunday and think that everyone was out to get them? From the referees to the executives in the boxes and all the way to the league office, there are fans out there that think their team is the target of a conspiracy. Growing up in Michigan, I got to hear a lot of Lions fans come up with some wild theories about why the league has kept them out of the Super Bowl for more than half a century now.
Still, the theories don’t have much merit, but there are some ones out there that do. These are theories that make you squint at your computer screen for a little bit and think that there’s factual evidence behind them. While perhaps the NBA has two of the most popular sports conspiracy theories out there, the NFL has its fair share.
Let’s take a look at some of those theories that quite a few people are ready to believe. From rigging big games, moving teams and keeping the media on a string, here are 15 NFL conspiracy theories that are crazy...but not that crazy.
15 NFL Wanted The LA Chargers And Vegas Raiders
Recent reports have said that NFL owners are upset with Chargers owner Dean Spanos for moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles. However, recent theories also say that the league actually wanted the Chargers to move north, so that it would block a Raiders return to Los Angeles. The Raiders moving back to LA would make sense as they have history there, but it opens up a new market in Las Vegas.
Much of the stigma that sports gambling once had in Sin City has died down, and the NFL is ready to test new waters. With the Raiders obviously looking to move because of stadium issues, teaming up with a casino magnate like Sheldon Adelson was going to be the way to do so without alienating the fanbase too badly. The NFL doesn’t like Oakland while Vegas is willing to play ball, leading to the Chargers filling what would have been the Raiders’ spot in LA. Plus, Mark Davis and Stan Kroenke would have been a weird pairing.
14 Marino To Miami
The 1983 NFL Draft was filled with some Hall of Fame talent that started at the top with John Elway, and also included Jim Kelly early on. Another quarterback expected to go early was Dan Marino out of Pitt, but he slid all the way to 27th when the Dolphins selected him. The Dolphins were in a perfect place directly in front of the Redskins, who had Bobby Beathard ready to scoop up Marino.
A big reason for Marino’s slip was because there were rumors that he was on drugs in college, but it has never been proven. So where did the rumors come from? Students and coaches at Pitt, or people among the NFL? One conspiracy says that the Dolphins were the ones that planted the seeds so that he would fall to the 27th spot so that they wouldn’t have to trade up and show their hand.
13 Giants Make A Run
In 1997, the New York Giants hired Jim Fassel to be their head coach, replacing Dan Reeves. The Giants had a solid first season under the new coach at 10-5-1, winning the NFC East but getting bounced out in the first round in the process. The next two years, the Giants failed to reach a winning record and Fassel was facing some questions. Then, in 2000, the team made an unexpected run all the way to the Super Bowl.
Among their games was a 41-0 drubbing of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, one that has come under scrutiny. Conspiracy theorists say that the Vikings were much too solid to be held down by a margin like that, so there must have been cheating. The Giants were accused by some fans (and even players) of tapping into headsets, so that they knew what plays were coming at all times.
12 Riding Into The Sunset
Winning a Super Bowl is hard, especially since you are competing against 31 other teams and there’s really only a handful of teams that seem to be in the mix on a yearly basis. However, there have been plenty of great players that have announced their retirement weeks or months in advance of the next Super Bowl, only to go off into the sunset with a win. It makes for a good story, but how authentic is that?
Think of some of the all-time greats to go out on top. Ray Lewis of the Ravens, Jerome Bettis of the Steelers, Peyton Manning and John Elway (twice) of the Broncos. Conspiracy theorists like to believe that the NFL has it set up so that these players who have announced that they are heading into their last game make for a good story. As you know, good stories equal ratings, and there’s never enough eyeballs on the game.
11 Hoffa’s Burial
One of the most notorious mobsters in American history, Jimmy Hoffa spent more than a decade as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Hoffa had been dodging the law and competitors for years, and it seemed like it finally caught up with him while he was in his 60's, disappearing in July 1975. Nobody could find out where he went, but the conspiracy theory was that he was buried at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Hoffa was declared dead in 1982 after not being found, but his remains couldn’t be found, either. Many members of the media have made reference to the theory, and it was even put to the test on the popular show “Mythbusters”. Although they couldn’t find any evidence of Hoffa’s remains at Giants Stadium, there are still some people he lies in the earth below.
10 Blacking Out
The NFL loves it when they can really sell a story leading into the Super Bowl, as the storylines can boost viewership numbers. Heading into Super Bowl XLVII between the Ravens and the 49ers, the only thing that was working was the match-up between head coaching brothers Jim and John Harbaugh. The interest wasn’t enough for most fans, and they really started getting bored when the Ravens led 28-6 in the third quarter.
That’s when the lights suddenly went out at the Superdome in New Orleans, and people started to tune back in. Was it a terrorist attack? A publicity stunt? People were interested in what was happening. With people coming back to their TV sets to find out what was going on, some think that the NFL had the plug pulled on the power so people would tune into what would eventually become a nailbiter.
The controversy of Deflategate started during the 2014 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Colts. New England would end up winning the game handily, with a score of 45-7. The real talk afterward, though, was about how the Patriots possibly used deflated footballs to improve their grip. The “findings” would eventually land a large fine for the Patriots, a loss of a draft pick and a four-game suspension for Tom Brady.
Though there wasn’t much evidence of the deflation, the heavy punishment was upheld. Conspiracy theorists (especially in New England) believe that the owners around the league were waiting for an opportunity to punish the Patriots since they were able to skate by with a light punishment from the “Spygate” scandal. The conspiracy also says that Bill Belichick knows the right people, since he was able to avoid punishment this time around.
8 Nothing To See Here
Speaking of Deflategate, Spygate and other controversies that seem tame compared to real issues, perhaps the league wants you talking. While you do hear about issues of domestic violence and concussions from the NFL, those typically come from the mainstream media. Sports networks mainly focus on the increase of celebration penalties and antics from players like Odell Beckham, Jr. to draw attention.
The more people are talking about minute things like dancing in the end zone or punching kicking nets, the less people are talking about former players suffering from CTE. Perhaps the league has swayed these small talking points. Not only does it distract during the season, but it keeps the league relevant in the offseason.
7 Fake News
We now connect the dots a second time to string together three different conspiracy theories. This one says that the NFL has a lot of leverage when it comes to talking points from the media. Sure, CNN is going to talk about serious NFL issues, but how many NFL fans are getting their sports news from CNN? It’s more likely that they get the news from ESPN, and the popular network news like NBC, FOX or CBS.
What do all of those networks have in common? They all broadcast NFL games. It would hurt their ratings for what is their biggest show of the week if some of the NFL’s serious problems were to come to light. The theorists say that the NFL tells these networks what to talk about when it comes to their league, choosing to ignite trash talk rivalries instead of potentially problematic stories.
6 Pro Bowl Field Goals
Adam Vinatieri is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. After 10 seasons with the Patriots and another 11 with the Colts, Vinatieri has connected on 530 of his 629 field goal attempts, good for 84.3 percent. Very seldom does Vinatieri have a bad game, but during the Pro Bowl in January 2015, he would end up missing two extra points. This happened to be the same Pro Bowl where the uprights were narrowed from 18 feet to 14 feet.
The NFL has been experimenting with the kicking game to make it more difficult, and Vinatieri wasn’t having it according to theorists. By missing the extra points where they normally would have went in, the league wouldn’t be tempted to make the 14 feet uprights permanent. To make it seem not obvious, he did kick a couple of field goals and make one extra point.
5 Replacement Refs
During the summer of 2012, the NFL and league referees could not agree to a collective bargaining deal. Since the season had to continue with or without the referees, the league decided to use replacement refs from around the nation, picking them out of colleges from all levels. The results, needless to say, were catastrophic, culminating with the Seahawks-Packers controversial ending.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the actual referees were in cahoots with the replacements, giving them a little extra boost in pay for making the salaried refs look good. The Monday Night fiasco was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the referees were finally able to get the deal they were looking for from the league, bringing them back to work in Week 4 of the 2012 season.
4 O.J. Was Innocent
In the trail of the century, former NFL star O.J. Simpson was found not guilty on the charges of murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman. While the verdict was met with a lot of controversy, there are still plenty of people that believe they are right on either side. One conspiracy theory says that OJ was completely innocent, but the actual murderer didn’t fall far from the tree.
The theory says that it was actually Simpson's son, Jason, who was known to carry knives and have very violent tendencies. Jason did not have an alibi for the night of the murders, which were classified as "rage killings." Jason's timesheet from work was also written in hand after the fact instead of being punched in, adding more fire to this theory. The theory ends with OJ covering for his son as he was a more recognizable name with a good reputation with the mainstream, giving him a better chance of getting declared not guilty.
3 Oil Slick
The 2006 NFL Playoffs saw the emergence of quarterback Tony Romo from Eastern Illinois, who would lead the Cowboys to a Wild Card spot at 9-7. Down 21-20 late in the game, Romo (who was the field goal holder) bobbled the snap for what would have been a game winning 19-yard field goal. Romo was almost able to score after scooping the ball up, but was stopped just short of the goal line.
The theory here is that the Seahawks were able to sneak in a ball that had been slicked up, causing Romo to fumble. The ball that was used appeared to be very glossy, and the Seahawks were able to get the ball in during the long review on the previous play. Even Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur said it was obvious that the ball was switched out, causing the Seahawks to win the game.
2 Super Bowl III
In 1966, it was announced that the NFL and AFL would merge into one league starting with the 1970 season. Before that, however, the leagues would meet at the end of the season for a championship game that would eventually become the Super Bowl. In the first two games, the Packers were able to easily get by the AFL's Chiefs (35-10) and Raiders (33-14). People were starting to doubt the merger, especially since the NFL's Colts were 18 point favorites against the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
Still, Jets quarterback Joe Namath would promise that the Jets would end up winning straight up, and they did by a score of 16-7. Theorists believe that the Jets had no chance, and that the leagues agreed to let the Jets win to make the merger smoother. The AFL followed up with one more win in Super Bowl IV, and the Super Bowl would become a phenomenon as teams seemed to be on a level playing field.
1 Patriot’s Day
After losing Super Bowl XXXI to the Packers, the New England Patriots were in a state of decline. They would finish 9-7 the year after, then 8-8 and finally a paltry 5-11 in 2000. Things looked grim once again, as they lost their opener to the Bengals and their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The tragedies of 9/11 also happened after the first game. Then, things started to change for the Patriots.
Tom Brady came in as the quarterback and all of a sudden, the Patriots started winning games left and right. They made their way (controversially) through the playoffs and upset the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Theorists believe that the Patriots were bailed out in the AFC Championship Game against the Raiders to drum up the patriotism that Americans were feeling after 9/11, making it a true American underdog story about grit and determination. The ratings were massive.