The NFL has suffered a number of scandals over its 100-plus year existence. From “Spygate” and “Deflategate” to an aerial battle ring and libel lawsuits, here are eight examples of cheating, betting or bad behavior that have sparked controversy and left the football league with black eyes.
1. 1925: Pottsville Maroons vs. Chicago Cardinals
In December 1925, the Pottsville (Pa.) Maroons, who played in the NFL from 1925 to 1928, beat the Chicago Cardinals, 21-7, to claim the league title. At the time, the NFL champion was the team with the best regular season record. “As for the Chicago Cardinals,” the Chicago Tribune later wrote, “Pottsville, Pa., is the hub of the National Professional Football League.”
But then things got weird.
The following week, Pottsville played an exhibition against Notre Dame University Powerhouse in Philadelphia, in defiance of the NFL’s ruling that the game undermined the territory of the Frankford, Pa. Yellow Jackets. NFL President Joe Carr suspended Pottsville from the league, rendering him ineligible for the championship he won on the field.
Sensing a chance to overtake the Maroons in the standings and win the NFL title, the Cardinals quickly scheduled and won two more games. In one of the games, a 59-0 victory in Chicago, the Milwaukee Badgers used four high school players who were drafted to play by Cardinals half-back Art Folz. Carr banned Folz from the NFL for his chicane, but Chicago was still crowned NFL champion in 1925.
2. 1963: Bad Bets by Paul Hornung and Alex Karras
In 1963, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle indefinitely suspended two of his biggest stars, Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, for betting on football games and partnering with players. Karras, an All-Pro defensive tackle, and Hornung, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame in 1956, regularly wagered hundreds of dollars on games.
“I did wrong,Hornung said at the time. “I should be penalized. In a statement, Rozelle noted that the two had not pitched games: “There is no evidence that an NFL player has done less than his best playing a game.”
Both players were reinstated after 11 months, after Hornung agreed to stay away from Las Vegas, the gambling mecca, and Karras sold a Detroit bar which police said was “frequented by known thugs “.
Hornung, who died in 2020. was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1986; Karras, who died in 2012, joined him in 2020.
3. 1976: George Atkinson vs. Chuck Noll
In the first game of the 1976 season, Oakland Raiders defensive back George Atkinson hit Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann in one game. The next day, Steelers coach Chuck Noll complained about Atkinson, telling the media, “There is a certain criminal element in every aspect of society. Apparently we have it in the NFL too.
Atkinson sued Noll for libel, and while the jury sided with Noll in the 10-day trial, he mentioned his own player, cornerback Mel Blount, as part of “the criminal element. “. Blount sued Noll, but he dropped his $ 6 million lawsuit after an eight-week suspension from training camp.
4. 1984: Baltimore Colts pass town
Unhappy with declining attendance and an outdated stadium, Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay has repeatedly threatened to move his team to a new city. But no one expected the team to flee to Indianapolis in a fleet of moving vans in the middle of the night. Indianapolis had offered Irsay a heartfelt deal to leave the longtime Colts home.
After the Maryland legislature passed a bill on March 27, 1984, allowing Baltimore to seize the team via a prominent estate, the Colts left their premises the following night during a blizzard. The move was accomplished quickly – and at no cost to the Colts – by the Mayflower moving company, run by a friend of the mayor of Indianapolis.
“There was something entirely fitting about Robert Irsay taking off at night, during a storm, without even the common decency to inform the mayor of Baltimore of his decision,” wrote the Baltimore Sun. “What a pity that Baltimore’s love affair with the Colts ends in such an unseemly affair. “
In 1996, the NFL returned to Baltimore, which drew the Cleveland Browns.
5. 2007 and 2015: New England Patriots scandals
In the 2007 “Spygate” scandal, the Patriots were accused of recording the defensive signals of the New York Jets during a game. “I respect the integrity of the game and always have and always will,” New England coach Bill Belichick said in a statement after the recording was revealed. But four days after the incident, the NFL fined Belichick $ 500,000 and the Patriots had to forgo a first-round pick. The team was also fined $ 250,000.
The NFL destroyed the Jets’ “Spygate” game strip, a move that remains controversial.
Eight years later, New England quarterback Tom Brady was accused of intentionally deflating footballs ahead of the Patriots’ 45-7 win in the 2014 AFC Championship game against the Colts in ‘Indianapolis. The tactics would have given the quarterback a better grip on football.
After a lengthy “Deflategate” investigation, the NFL suspended Brady for four games because he was “generally aware” of the scheme, fined the Patriots $ 1 million and removed two draft picks. New England still won the Super Bowl that season.
6. 2007: Michael Vick’s Dog Fighting Ring
In 2007, federal authorities accused Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick of leading an illegal network of interstate air combat through his Bad Newz Kennels. Allegations against the star quarterback included extortion, gambling and violent executions of dogs. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called Vick’s actions “cruel and reprehensible” and suspended him indefinitely. But the league was more concerned with his “betting fundraising actions” and “the quarterback’s association with illegal gambling.”
After pleading guilty, Vick spent 21 months in federal prison before returning to the NFL in 2009 with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2010 he made the Pro Bowl and won the Comeback Player of the Year.
7. 2012: “Bountygate” of the Saints of New Orleans
In the “Bountygate” scandal, the NFL suspended several Saints, including head coach Sean Payton and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma, for involvement in a scheme, allegedly run by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, in which players were receiving bonus for injuring opposing players.
Vilma, a linebacker, reportedly offered $ 10,000 to anyone who knocked out quarterbacks Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings or Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs in 2009, with the money allegedly provided by Williams. Vilma and Payton have been suspended for the season. Three other defensive players and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis have also been suspended for several games. Williams was suspended indefinitely but reinstated later.
In Payton’s absence, Joe Vitt was appointed interim head coach, but was later suspended by the NFL for learning about the bonus system and not intervening. For the first six games of the season. the Saints were coached by offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. The Saints, 13-3 in 2011, finished 7-9 in 2012 and set a record for most yards allowed in a season by any defense.
8. 2014: The Ray Rice Domestic Violence Scandal
In July 2014, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, for two games for assaulting his fiancee in an elevator in Atlantic City, NJ Goodell initially defended the light suspension, telling reporters: ” He was responsible for his actions. He admits that he made a horrible mistake, that it is unacceptable, by his standards and by our standards. “
But after TMZ released a second, more graphic video of Rice knocking out his fiancee, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell made the suspension indefinite. A court appeal reinstated Rice later in the season, but he never played professional football again.