Urban legends involving sports entities such as the National Football League fascinate and entertain us for a variety of reasons. In some instances, the legends are so ridiculous and outlandish that we yearn for them to be true if only because they enrich the reputations of the individuals involved in the stories. Other tales embarrass personalities you may have rooted against during games and competitions for whatever reasons. Then, of course, there are the existing urban legends regarding rumors that some games, specifically championship match-ups, were fixed because of gambling purposes or because people tasked with running the NFL wanted the outcomes of those contests to be predetermined for whatever reasons. It’s never been proven any Super Bowl has been fixed, but these urban legends make for interesting conversations.
Do you believe covers from a popular video game series can negatively affect the careers of NFL Superstars? Did a player actually place a curse on a team after he was traded by that organization? Will we ever know the whole truth about the urban legend that suggests arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL purposely deflated footballs all to gain an advantage ahead of a conference championship game? Some of these NFL urban legends may leave you scratching your head and left wondering what you are willing to believe, while others are more plausible. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that you're an NFL conspiracy theorist after you review these league urban legends that may or may not have some truth behind them.
15 15. The Madden Curse
One of the more famous NFL urban legends that exists involves the idea that players featured on the covers of Madden video games were “cursed” for that season.
Let us explain; Troy Polamalu missed nearly half of the campaign after he was used for the Madden 10 cover. Former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis proved to be nothing more than a one-year-wonder who faded far from our memories after his likeness was used for Madden 12. Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was on the cover of Madden 06, and he was sidelined for the rest of the subsequent season after he suffered an injury in a Week 9 contest. Even New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been affected by the curse that comes with being the face of this video game series.
14 14. Colin Kaepernick Blackballed
This is a current NFL urban legend that may turn out to be more truth than fiction. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a controversial figure in the summer of 2016 when he decided to kneel during renditions of the national anthem ahead of games as a form of peaceful protest.
The Niners and Kaepernick parted ways following the 2016 campaign, and he remains without a gig in the NFL even though logic suggests he could help several teams currently starting lackluster signal-callers. The theory here is that NFL owners have unofficially blackballed Kaepernick all because they want to avoid fan backlash that could come with signing the QB even though other NFL players have either sat or knelt during the anthem. Perhaps Kap will eventually make his way back into the league and put this urban legend to rest.
13 13. Super Bowl XLII Fixed
The 2007 New England Patriots notched victories in 18 straight contests ahead of Super Bowl XLII, and the Pats even defeated the New York Giants, their championship-game opponents, during the ’07 regular season. Understandably, New England was a heavy favorite in the odds and among experts who predicted the outcome of the contest ahead of the final Sunday of the season.
As you likely know, the Giants managed to stun the Patriots to the tune of 17-14 for what is, to date, the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. The day before the game, the Boston Herald released a story that the Patriots videotaped the St. Louis Rams’ walk-through ahead of Super Bowl XXXVI. Was the outcome of Super Bowl XLII fixed as a way to punish the Patriots for prior crimes?
12 12. Donovan McNabb Puked at Super Bowl XXXIX
Even 11 years after this NFL urban legend first saw the light of day, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb still found himself having to deny that he threw up on the field during the fourth quarter of his team’s Super Bowl XXXIX showdown with the New England Patriots.
McNabb did, in fact, lose his lunch during a different game in the past, and several former teammates suggested that the QB couldn’t handle the pressure and the heat during the final frame of the championship contest. As far back as 2005, the NFL and television networks had cameras everywhere at the Super Bowl. It is nearly impossible to believe somebody somewhere wouldn’t have at least taken a picture of McNabb booting inside the huddle during that year’s most-watched football game. Think of this what you will.
11 11. Bo Jackson Really Did Know Everything
You can actually pick your favorite urban legend regarding Bo Jackson, the former NFL running back who also had a stint in Major League Baseball and may have been one of the greatest overall athletes of his time. One story suggests Jackson ran a sub-4.2 40-yard dash ahead of the 1986 NFL Draft, a figure that would’ve had him roughly as fast as Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter of the past 120 years, in such a race.
Another unconfirmed report from the Auburn Undercover website claimed Jackson produced memorable performances on basketball courts and diving boards while in college. In fairness, Jackson hasn’t gone out of the way to silence rumors about these tall tales over the past two decades, and nobody can blame him for helping to grow his own reputation.
10 10. Jimmy Hoffa Buried at Giants Stadium
Some out there would suggest this NFL urban legend was proven to be completely fiction after the destruction of Giants Stadium. The story goes former (alleged) mafia leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in late July 1975, and that his remains were cut up and then buried in the west end zone of the former home of the New York Giants and New York Jets. MetLife Stadium replacing Giants Stadium made the old venue surplus to requirements, so Giants Stadium was ultimately destroyed.
As far as we know, no human remains were found anywhere in that swampy part of East Rutherford, New Jersey during that construction project, which resulted in some believing Hoffa was, instead, buried at a dump somewhere else in the state; or maybe that’s just what certain people want us all to think.
9 9. Ray Guy Used Helium in Footballs
Ray Guy is widely respected as the greatest punter of his generation and in the history of the NFL, and he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for all that he achieved throughout his amazing career. Some, specifically Billy “White Shoes” Johnson of the Houston Oilers, apparently thought Guy had some additional help during at least a portion of his career.
The Oilers reportedly tested one of the footballs Guy punted during a game in 1977 for helium, suggesting he had doctored the balls to guarantee his punts would have more hang-time. There remains no indication helium was ever found to be in a single ball Guy used while in the NFL or in college, and there is no scientific evidence that shows filling a football with helium will provide any advantage to a punter, placekicker or a quarterback.
8 8. Super Bowl III Was Fixed
Super Bowl III between the Baltimore Colts and New York Jets remains one of the most famous football games in history for a variety of reasons. New York quarterback Joe Namath, one of the biggest stars in the league at the time, guaranteed victory even though the Jets were heavy underdogs, and Gang Green followed through on Broadway Joe’s words and notched the shocking win.
The urban legend here claims those running the league wanted the New York team to win in order to validate the merger between the NFL and AFL and, as a result, increase the overall popularity of the sport. For what it’s worth, there is no real evidence the game was fixed regardless of how poorly Baltimore quarterback Earl Morall played while on the field.
7 7. Cleveland Browns Named After Joe Louis
The Cleveland Browns were named after legendary coach Paul Brown. Everybody knows that to be true; or at least we think we do. According to an urban legend that has sparked plenty of debates over the years, Brown was not keen on having a franchise named after him, but the club was eventually named the Browns regardless of his wishes.
The coach responded by suggesting the franchise was named after boxer Joe Louis, who was known as “The Brown Bomber” during his career. There isn’t much evidence that shows the Browns were ever actually referred to as the “Brown Bombers” in the 1940s, and the franchise has even gone out of the way to announce neither Louis nor his nickname had anything to do with the club being referred to as the Browns.
6 6. Deion Sanders Ran at the Combine in Street Shoes
Deion Sanders very much so earned his “Prime Time” nickname during his entertaining career, and he does well to continue to flash that persona as an analyst. One of the most humorous urban legends that has hovered over Sanders’ reputation is that he put on a unique show at the 1989 NFL Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash and kept on running right through the tunnel to fulfill the promise he would leave immediately after completing that one test.
A part of the legend that isn’t quite accurate is that Sanders emerged from his car wearing street shoes, ran the 40 yards and then called it a day. This urban legend has been proven false during television segments, but those of us who weren’t there on that day can still believe “Prime” would pull such a stunt off.
5 5. Andre the Giant in the NFL?
One wouldn’t have to search long and far to find urban legends regarding former World Wrestling Federation champion Andre The Giant. After all, Andre was known to be able to out-drink just about any human on the planet. This story involves Andre allegedly being scouted by the Washington Redskins to play as a lineman and/or a linebacker in the 1970s.
Originally from France, the larger-than-life wrestling personality had zero experience playing even a down of organized football at any point ahead of the Redskins’ alleged interest in him, and the 7-foot-4 wrestler and actor never signed with the Redskins or any other team. It has since been suggested that any link between the Redskins and Andre was merely a gimmick used for publicity, and it’s probably for the best for all involved he didn’t give the NFL a try.
4 4. Curse of Bobby Layne
Some may be surprised to learn there exists an entire website dedicated to this famous urban legend. Quarterback Bobby Layne guided the Detroit Lions to three NFL championships during the 1950s, but the Lions traded his services to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1958 season.
Per the tale, Layne stated that the Lions would “not win for 50 years” following the trade. While this quote was never published at the time Layne supposedly spoke those words, history tells us the Lions have not won a league championship since 1957. Just as bad, if not worse, is that the Lions haven’t even won a conference championship since the creation of the Super Bowl. This supposed curse has technically expired per the timeline, but some Detroit fans may feel it’s still very real.
3 3. No MVP for Marshawn
Just about everybody watching the final minute of the Super Bowl XLIX contest between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots believed Seattle was going to hand the football to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line for a go-ahead score. Instead, quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, and the interception he threw clinched the title for the Patriots.
Per the urban legend, somebody, presumably an official working for the NFL, called down to the Seahawks to demand the club not give the ball to Lynch to prevent him from winning MVP. Lynch had made a mockery of press events in the past and in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, and his rocky relationship with the media is said to be a reason for the birth of this urban legend that probably isn’t true.
2 2. Super Bowl XL Fixed
The officiating at Super Bowl XL between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers was immediately criticized by fans and analysts after the Steelers were the beneficiaries of multiple questionable calls en route to winning the title. Why would the NFL have wanted the Steelers to defeat the Seahawks in this instance? Maybe the league desired the more popular side, Pittsburgh in this instance, to win. Perhaps it had something to do with Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis being from Detroit, the host of Super Bowl XL.
Bettis, a beloved fan favorite, retired following this game. More likely, though, is that the refs had an awful evening when it mattered most, although there remain plenty of Seattle fans who believe, in their hearts, the fix was in and their beloved Seahawks never had a chance.
1 1. Tom Brady Didn’t Deflate Footballs
In fairness to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, he has denied any wrongdoing regarding the “Deflategate” scandal that emerged following the 2015 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. It also shouldn’t be ignored the Patriots defeated the Colts 45-7, a final score that suggests Brady could’ve used deflated beach balls when throwing against the Indianapolis defense.
Still, this is the Patriots we’re talking about, and the club’s history of allegedly violating certain league rules does make us scratch our heads and wonder if there isn’t some truth behind the idea that Brady and company would do whatever possible to gain even the slightest advantage. Whatever the case, Brady ultimately served a four-game ban even though he has maintained his innocence for over two years.
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