I wrote an article recently that referenced the Chargers blowing a 27-0 lead against the Jaguars on Wild Card Weekend and going on to lose, 31-30. It wasn't long before someone in the BTSC comments section (always a place for rational thought and discussion) said that the NFL rigged the game in favor of Jacksonville.
And why wouldn’t the NFL do that? After all, the Jaguars are so popular in Jacksonville that their fans may eventually notice if they ever do permanently move to London, England.
Yes, sir, it’s obvious that the NFL fixed the outcome of that game because why would it want all those eyes in Los Angeles (population: 3.8 million) tuned into a Chargers/Chiefs divisional-round matchup when that coveted Jacksonville market (population: 949,611) was ripe for the picking?
OK, I think I’ve made my smartass point.
Fans—and even the media—have spent years implying that certain sporting events—these could be recent games or ones from the distant past—were fixed or rigged. Some say it has to do with gambling. Some say it was because a league—in this case, the NFL—wanted a specific result in order to maximize profits (ticket sales, merchandise, ad revenue, ratings, etc.).
This implication often comes after a tough loss by a team that the accusor was rooting for; this usually occurs in the postseason, and there is normally a penalty or rule interpretation during the game that is later pointed to as being critical to the outcome.
#Jessecaughtit, a play that ultimately cost the Steelers the number one seed in 2017, was deemed suspicious as soon as it happened. Why? The NFL wanted the Patriots to win.
Several penalties that went the Steelers' way in their victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL were deemed suspicious right after they were called and have remained suspect in the years since. Why? The NFL wanted the Steelers to win.
Players even get accused of throwing games for profit.
Neil O’Donnell has often been accused of throwing Super Bowl XXX between the Steelers and Cowboys. Why? Because he was paid off. But who paid him off? Was it the NFL? Was it gamblers? How much could one actually pay a professional athlete, even in 1996, to throw three interceptions and lose a Super Bowl on purpose? And if O’Donnell really was on the take, why did he go all out to dive on an errant shotgun snap from center Dermontti Dawson, a play that could have easily resulted in an unsuspicious Dallas touchdown?
Most recently, Cowboys kicker, Brett Maher, was accused of point shaving after missing four extra points in Dallas’ 31-14 victory over the Buccaneers on Wild Card Weekend. Maher made $965,000 in 2022, according to Spotrac, so either he’s spending more than he’s taking in, or he’s just a greedy idiot who will eventually find himself in prison.
Perhaps the most famous NFL conspiracy “fix” involves Super Bowl III between the Jets and Colts on January 12, 1969.
Most football historians know the details: The AFL’s Jets were 18-point underdogs against the NFL’s Colts, a one-loss team in 1968 that would secure the unofficial title of “Greatest Team Ever” with a victory down in the Orange Bowl.
But Beaver Fall’s own Joe Namath, the quarterback with the looks, charisma, and, oh yeah, talent, guaranteed a Jets’ win in the days before the game.
Broadway Joe’s teammates backed him up in a 16-7 triumph that really wasn’t that close.
New York’s victory was a shot in the arm for the AFL, a league that was less than two years away from fully merging with the NFL. The Chiefs and Raiders were trounced by the Packers in Super Bowls I and II, and the perception at the time was that the AFL’s best wasn’t even on par with the NFL’s average teams.
Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ legendary head coach, said as much following his team’s 35-10 blowout of Kansas City in Super Bowl I.
This is why the Jets were such huge underdogs heading into Super Bowl III, and this is why the rumors of a fix started not long after New York’s upset—along with the euphoria that it actually happened—was in the rearview mirror. Even Colts players, including the late, great Bubba Smith, questioned the results. After all, Baltimore did have many great scoring chances in this game but was turned away time and time again thanks to five turnovers at the hands of the Jets' underrated defense.
But what did the two leagues have to gain by fixing Super Bowl III? Some say, a legit merger in the eyes of ticket buyers and the networks that bought the rights to televise these games.
OK, fine, but you don’t think Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner who would remain in that role for many years after the merger and who was one of the great visionaries in the history of professional sports, had the foresight to see that a merger which forced all teams to play under the same rules, television contract and draft would eventually lead to things evening out between the NFL (NFC) and the AFL (three NFL teams—the Steelers, Browns and Colts—joined the AFL to form the AFC in 1970)?
Things evened out pretty quickly, by the way.
Were the NFL and AFL so worried to the point that they thought fixing Super Bowl III would be a better solution than just letting nature take its course?
Anyway, in case you haven’t figured out the tone of this article by now, I’ve never bought into the conspiracy theories as they relate to rigged sporting events.
Do I think many contests have been accidentally altered by officials’ mistakes over the years? Absolutely. Do I think some games have been intentionally altered by a few unscrupulous officials throughout history? Sure.
But I don’t think there’s ever been a grand conspiracy to fix, rig or script games or seasons.
If you do, why do you even watch? I mean, once a league fixes one game, what’s to stop it from fixing them all?
If I thought for one second that the NFL, or any sports league, was rigged, I’d stop watching immediately.
I’d even stop watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I like my reality TV to be unscripted, which is why I choose to watch sports and not reality TV.