The gang at FOX NFL Sunday’s pregame show are always poking fun at Terry Bradshaw’s lack of intellect, with Terry often leading the way himself. But the reputation of Bradshaw as a dumb jock was put out in the open during Super Bowl week before the Steelers and Cowboys hooked up following the 1978 season. While being interviewed, quotable Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson told reporters that Bradshaw “Couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘C’ and the ‘T.’” Bradshaw (pictured with Henderson pursuing) had the last laugh by throwing four touchdown passes in a Super Bowl MVP performance during Pittsburgh’s 35-31 win.
Another notorious halftime show was spiced up, though not to Spice Channel levels, by the one and only Prince. Only the purple one would dare test the NFL’s morally and politically correct stance during his halftime show with his interesting guitar placement while playing Purple Rain. Behind a giant sheet, Prince’s silhouette generated plenty of media debate over whether he had gone too far.
Media began scrambling when another Saturday night Super Bowl casualty became known before Super Bowl XXXVII between Tampa Bay and Oakland, as word leaked that Raiders head coach Bill Callahan had sent Pro Bowl center Barrett Robbins home from the San Diego Super Bowl site. The immediate reports alleged that Robbins had ventured south of the border to Tijuana, Mexico, for a binge-drinking episode. Later the depth of Robbins’ issues came to light — he was suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder. The Raiders went on to lose, 48-21, without their star center.
Brett Favre was in the midst of winning one of his three NFL Most Valuable Player awards in 1996. But his off-the-field story had gained almost as much attention as his on-field play — his admission that he had been battling addiction to alcohol and painkilling medication. So more than a few eyebrows were raised during Super Bowl week when the Packers quarterback was allegedly seen partying with beer in hand on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Favre and the Packers downplayed the alleged sightings, but even more mumbles were heard when Favre reportedly got the dry heaves before kickoff on game day (the Packers said he was suffering from the flu). Favre still went out and led Green Bay to a 35-21 Super Bowl win over the Patriots.
With the NFL becoming America’s most prominent sports institution, an added burden of moral high ground has been focused on the league and its players — including two who became controversial figures during Super Bowl week for off-field, police-related incidents. Before Super Bowl XX, New England star Irving Fryar (pictured, left) was the subject of many questions after mysterious cuts on his fingers became public. Word quickly got out that Fryar’s cuts resulted from a scuffle with his wife two weeks before the Super Bowl.
Before Super Bowl XLI between the Colts and Bears, the focus of the negative media glare was Chicago DT Tank Johnson — who had been arrested for the third time in 18 months just six weeks prior to the game after a police raid turned up several unregistered guns and two assault rifles. The Bears suspended Johnson for one game, but a judge allowed Johnson to leave the state of Illinois to play. Lucky for Johnson, it was more lenient NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s final season before Roger Goodell took over the league office, as Goodell then suspended Johnson for the first half of the 2008 season.
Early during the unbeaten regular season by the 2008 New England Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick had become embroiled in the sideshow known as “Spygate” — accused of illegally using members of his staff to videotape the signals used by members of opposing coaching staffs. Belichick had been forced to apologize after Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a substantial fine against the organization –— including the loss of a first-round draft pick. The topic died down by the time the playoffs and Super Bowl rolled around, but exploded again when the day before the game a Boston Herald report cited former Patriots employee Matt Walsh hinting that Belichick had authorized him to tape a Rams practice walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI. Walsh eventually became exposed as a shaky source, and the author of the story was disciplined, demoted and embarrassed. But this was a definite distraction as the Patriots played for their legacy against the Giants, and lost, 17-14.
In the all-too-familiar Super Bowl eve story gone wrong, Bengals fullback Stanley Wilson (pictured) failed to show up for a Saturday night team meeting after telling some of his teammates that he forgot his playbook in his room. The Bengals players and coaches became concerned, then were shocked to find Wilson on the floor of his hotel-room bathroom in the midst of a serious cocaine overdose — shaken, sweaty and confused. Wilson never got his chance to play in the Super Bowl, and the Bengals lost to the 49ers without him, 20-16.
Ray Lewis (pictured) has never hidden from the spotlight, but one incident that stains his past remains his arrest on the night after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta in a case that involved the fatal stabbing of two men. Although murder charges were eventually dropped, Lewis was convicted of obstruction of justice. When the Ravens made the Super Bowl the next year, the morality story of the week centered around the Pro Bowl linebacker and the incident — with critics loudly complaining that Lewis deserved to be watching the game from a jail cell rather than playing. Lewis played, and dominated the Giants in an MVP performance.
Falcons defensive back Eugene Robinson was known publicly as one of the league’s true good guys, a real family man, in his playing days. In fact, on the day before Super Bowl XXXIII, Robinson had been presented with the NFL’s Bart Starr Award — celebrating his high moral character. Hours later, the highly respected Robinson was arrested in Miami for soliciting a prostitute. Robinson was bailed out by gameday, but it didn’t help his cause when he was burned badly for possibly the play of the game — Rod Smith beating Robinson (No. 41, pictured) for an 80-yard TD pass in the second quarter as the Broncos rolled to a 34-19 win.
This is the mother of all Super Bowl controversies, bar none — which is somewhat strange considering it never affected the game, and nobody’s life was in peril. This was all about Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime act Janet Jackson’s notorious “wardrobe malfunction” in her duet performance with former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake. The highly controversial MTV-produced show culminated with Timberlake ripping off Jackson’s two-piece top, revealing the singer’s breast covered by a very visible nipple shield. Jackson later apologized, Timberlake seemed mortified and even though the breast was exposed for a mere 9/16th’s of a second on the live CBS telecast, the NFL immediately announced they would never let MTV produce another halftime show and CBS was levied a hefty $550,000 fine — which was subsequently overturned in 2008.
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