The NFL is the most important sports league in America and worth billions of dollars. Furthermore, the Super Bowl is the single biggest date in the US sporting calendar. But let’s not pretend that the NFL is perfect because it definitely isn’t. In fact, there are so many embarrassing stories about the sport.
So today we’re going to take a look at the 40 most embarrassing moments in league history. Some of them involve mistakes made by players on and off the playing field while others are totally about franchises humiliating themselves. Then the NFL itself occasionally makes some incredibly poor decisions. Check out the list below via Abstract Sports.
40. Adam Gase “A Good Fit”
Adam Gase will haunt Peyton Manning forever. Gase was Manning’s quarterback coach in Denver and built up a strong relationship with the NFL legend. Manning holds him in high regard because he helped revitalize to revitalize him in the twilight of his career. When Gase applied for the New York Jets’ head coach role, he asked Manning to put in a good word for him.
Manning held up his end of the bargain, but his old coach couldn’t say the same thing. His two seasons in charge of the Jets were utterly embarrassing. First of all, he ‘led’ the Jets to two losing seasons, including an atrocious 2-14 second year. Furthermore, the self-proclaimed quarterback guru ruined Sam Darnold. It was a disaster from the beginning to the end and also damaged Manning’s credibility.
Every kicker misses the occasional field goal. Some are awful high-pressure moments like Scott Norwood’s infamous miss at Super Bowl XXV. But the one thing worse than that is when a kicker runs their mouth like a machine gun and doesn’t back it up on the field. That’s exactly what Mike Vanderjagt did and led Peyton Manning to label him as ‘that idiot kicker.’
This comment came after the 2002 Pro Bowl when Manning also accused Vanderjagt of being drunk during their interview. When Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying kick for the Colts against the Steelers in his final game, the label returned to haunt him. It was extremely embarrassing for him because fans have selective memories and forgot about all of the good he did for the franchise.
The New York Giants were a team in transition in the appalling edition of the NFC East throughout the entire 2020 season. Their second-year quarterback Daniel Jones escaped the criticism that followed the likes of Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold, but he did have his own embarrassing moment. It came in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week Seven when Jones had the opportunity to score an unopposed touchdown.
Jones did the hard part by fooling the Eagles on a read-option and breaking free. None of the Philly players could catch him because he was too far ahead. He ran for 80 yards when 88 would have scored him the touchdown. Then he fell over himself and crashed to the ground. Later, Jones explained that he tried to run faster than he could and his legs became confused.
There have been some horrendous fake punt attempts over the years. The Redskins and the Colts produced two of the worst, but the Cowboys added themselves to the ranks of bad plays in 2020. This was emblematic of what was a terrible season for Dallas. They attempted the failed play on fourth and 10 with just 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. However, it was very embarrassing to watch.
Washington snuffed out this horrible attempt and scored in the very next play. Furthermore, they scored another 21 points without any kind of Dallas reply. Later, Coach Mike McCarthy attempted to defend the play but failed to read the room. It didn’t impress Dallas fans and the rest of the league laughed their heads off at this embarrassing and pathetic moment.
This was an embarrassing moment that involved fans. The Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs played in the 2020 season opener. First of all, there were the anthems and then there was a moment of silence. The Texans and Chiefs players stood arm-in-arm in solidarity. This came amid the protests and tensions that struck the U.S. that year across the nation.
Meanwhile, Arrowhead stadium was one of the few venues in the U.S. that allowed a capped number of fans into the arena amid the global health crisis. Despite their privilege, a pocket of fans booed the moment of silence in an embarrassing moment for the 2019 Super Bowl winners and the NFL as an entity. It just wasn’t a good look for the league or its fans.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots built up a reputation for winning at all costs. There’s no doubt that they were an efficient and well-oiled machine with a prime Tom Brady as their leader. But they failed to avoid embarrassing controversies at a number of points. One of these was when the NFL discovered that Brady ordered the deliberate deflation of balls against Colts in 2014.
They played in the AFC Championship game when the offense occurred. An investigation found Brady and the Pats guilty. Then they suspended him for four games, though he came back to win the MVP award the following season. It was embarrassing for everybody because cheating cannot be condoned in any sport. But it shouldn’t happen in one of the world’s richest leagues.
Technically fans didn’t actually see this, but they can’t unsee the image that it created in everybody’s minds. Police arrested Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft for allegedly soliciting sex at an Asian Massage Parlor in Florida. Prosecutors alleged that the offense occurred at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, but they dropped the case. However, a court forced the masseuses to pay thousands of dollars in fines.
This was an immensely embarrassing incident for one of the NFL’s most visible owners. The Patriots are the most successful franchise of the 21st century, but this brings the spotlight with it. Nobody wants to see their face all over the news and the internet in connection to this kind of incident. Especially, a billionaire with children and a relationship. There are some things that money can’t chase away.
The NFL wants its athletes to behave like role models. Or at the very least to just stay out of trouble and don’t get involved in any embarrassing situations. But Hardy didn’t get the memo because the Pro Bowler found himself in legal trouble. His ex-girlfriend accused him of hurting her and also throwing her onto a pile of guns. Furthermore, she said that he threatened to kill her after choking her.
However, after initially handing him 18 months of probation and a suspended 60-day jail sentence, the judge threw the case out of court. This was because the woman didn’t show up to the appeal amid claims of a civil agreement. Needless to say, domestic violence tarnishes individual reputations but also those of teammates by association. The Cowboys weren’t happy with Hardy at all.
The New York Jets have endured some horrendous moments as a franchise, but this disaster of a play is right up there with the most embarrassing moments in NFL history. Mark Sanchez was their quarterback when they played the Patriots in 2012. Sanchez the ball from the snap and made to pass it left but realized that there was an opening in front of him.
That’s when he made the fateful decision to run, but he didn’t get very far. In short, he ran headfirst into his guard Brandon Moore’s buttocks. Imagine all of New York simultaneously face-palming because this was simply atrocious. But it was a gleeful moment for the rest of the NFL. It was the type of moment that nobody would believe if it didn’t happen in front of their eyes.
Few moments in recent NFL history have split fans like this one. The Philadelphia Eagles played the Washington Football Team in the final game of the 2020 regular season. Rising rookie Jalen Hurts started at quarterback ahead of Carson Wentz, but fans expected this because the latter was atrocious all season. Then, Doug Pederson rocked the NFL by bringing on third-stringer Nate Sudfield in the fourth quarter when it was still a three-point game.
Instantly, NFL fans, analysts, and rival coaches accused Pederson of intentionally tanking. Philly duly lost the game because Sudfield was rubbish, but this improved their draft prospects. Furthermore, it cost the New York Giants a chance to compete in the postseason. Needless to say, they were apoplectic. Many people found this episode embarrassing because it brought the integrity of the competition into question.
NFL players love to dance. Some even make their own dance or shuffle famous after scoring touchdowns. But sometimes they can go drastically wrong. Just ask Stephen Tulloch of the Lions, who tried to troll Aaron Rodgers and painfully failed. Rodgers had made the ‘discount double-check’ famous.
So when Detroit’s Tulloch sacked Rodgers in a game against the Packers, he decided to make a joke out of it. Tulloch did his own version of it, but as he jumped, he tore his ACL. It ended his season and put a severe dent in his pride. This was an embarrassing moment and also incredibly painful.
In short, the whole Kaepernick saga has been a PR nightmare for the NFL. Ever since he took a knee for the national anthem in 2016, the league has done its best to make him disappear. You could argue that for the most part, they’ve succeeded because he hasn’t played since leaving the San Francisco 49ers.
But it did raise uncomfortable questions about the owners of NFL franchises. The majority of them are white and support the Republican party. Unfortunately for the league, Kaepernick has become a cultural icon and is even a major Nike ambassador. Definitely not their favorite person. His mere existence is embarrassing for the NFL.
The first of a couple of Thanksgiving fails, this one was ridiculous. In 1998 the Detroit Lions were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the game headed into overtime, there was, of course, a coin toss to see who got the first possession. Who knew that this could be so controversial?
Jerome Bettis called ‘tails,’ but Phil Luckett disputed this. He said that Bettis changed his mind halfway through saying ‘heads.’ After restarting the game, the Lions went and scored with their first play. There was no need for this to be so controversial. However, the NFL often turns ineptitude into an art form and this embarrassing moment was no exception.
What were they thinking? The NFL failed to reach a new CBA with its on-field officials before the start of the 2012 season. This left them with a motley assortment of replacement officials, allegedly including some from the Lingerie League. Needless to say, they were setting themselves up for a fall.
The officials were obviously out of their depth. It all escalated following a Seahawks touchdown on the now-infamous ‘Fail Mary.’ The 10-minute review missed a blatant foul from the Seahawks in the build-up. Even President Obama tweeted about ending the lockout for the real referees. It was ridiculous and embarrassing for a professional sport.
Now, this is definitely something that could haunt the NFL for a long time. Football and concussions are two words that seem to go hand-in-hand. While the league has tried to make changes in recent years, it’s difficult for it to shake this image. For the many former players suffering from dementia, it’s too late.
More than 2000 former players filed a massive suit against the NFL and helmet maker Riddell, Inc. Their grievances related to brain trauma and concussion effects caused by the NFL failing to impose safety regulations. It could be worth billions in damages if they’re successful. This is embarrassing because it reveals how these billionaires care more about money than the health of the athletes they exploit.
Cowboys Stadium hosted its first Super Bowl in 2010. It was a massive moment for Dallas and owner Jerry Jones. However, things didn’t run as smoothly as they had hoped. The stadium hadn’t finished constructing a temporary seating area. About 2000 fans had to sit elsewhere or even stand.
Assorted fraud, breach of contract, negligence, and deceptive sales practice lawsuits stung the NFL, Jones, and the Cowboys. Roger Goodell’s solution was to offer a free ticket to the next Super Bowl including airfare or a face-value refund. It was unnecessarily sloppy and an embarrassing scenario for everybody involved.
It’s not uncommon for players to lose their tempers. When there is a lot on the line, sometimes human emotions just boil over. However, it is much more unusual for this to happen between coaches. As older men, they’re normally better at controlling themselves. So imagine two coaches from the same team fighting.
That’s exactly what happened in 1993 between the Houston Oilers’ Buddy Ryan and Kevin Gilbride. The team’s defensive and offensive coaches got into a verbal altercation after quarterback Cody Carlson fumbled a snap. Ryan smashed Gilbride in the jaw in an embarrassing episode.
As shocking incidents go, this is one of the worst. Carruth conspired to murder his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams. So he paid off his friend Van Brett Watkins. Carruth stopped his car in front of Adams’s vehicle and Watkins pulled the trigger. They then went on the run.
Adams dialed 911 to save her unborn child but sadly she passed away. Then Carruth became a fugitive and fled across several states. Police finally found him in the trunk of a car in West Tennessee. He spent the next 18 years behind bars. The Panthers were quick to dissociate themselves from him.
You’d think that if you’re a successful sports star and one of the faces of the NFL that you don’t need to take risks. We’re talking specifically about Vick’s entry into the dogfighting world. Police arrested him for holding the illegal ring on his property. Not a good look for the Falcons player.
Atlanta promptly released him and a court jailed him for 19 months. After his release, he signed with the Philidelphia Eagles. Needless to say, this didn’t meet the approval of the entire NFL fanbase. Some of the stories to come out of his Bad Newz Kennels are bloodcurdling.
The USFL was a thorn in the side of the NFL for three years. Conceived by David Dixon, he saw a market for football in the spring and summer outside of the traditional NFL and college football seasons. The main reason why it was an embarrassment for the NFL was the lack of salary caps.
This meant that a significant number of established NFL stars departed for the new league. In the end, the USFL folded after they tried to compete directly with the NFL. They technically won a lawsuit but only won a single dollar. It was very messy for the NFL though, who didn’t want the competition.
This was almost a piece of twisted genius but in the end, it seemed like something from a bad comedy movie. Onterrio Smith decided that he was going to take a few PEDs to improve his performance. The problem with that is juicing is obviously against NFL regulations.
His magic solution to get past the NFL’s doping control program was the ‘whizzinator.’ In sum, this was a prosthetic penis with dried urine. For some reason, he decided to bring his ‘beat-a-drug-test’ kit through airport security. The Vikings running back never played in the NFL again.
Thomas Henderson was a brilliant and charismatic player even though his lifestyle was very self-destructive. A brilliant linebacker, he was excellent for the Dallas Cowboys. At least, he was until the drugs began to catch up with him. This was a problem that totally derailed his career.
‘Hollywood’ used to hide an inhaler in his pants from which he would snort liquid cocaine. He left the Cowboys in disgrace. With just a couple of seasons left to play for the 49ers and the Oilers, he ended up signing himself into a drug rehabilitation program. This made him one of the first football players to admit to a drug problem.
For most casual Super Bowl viewers, the most important part of the event isn’t the actual game. It’s the halftime show which is a massive platform for the biggest stars in the world of entertainment. Some are better than others but one went down in infamy. Enter Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake accidentally exposed Jackson’s nipple to millions of people across the world. This, as well as the rest of their salacious performance, caused a massive scandal generating 500,000 public complaints. Even the White House spoke about it. Definitely a humiliation for the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelers like to pretend they’re new age by not having cheerleaders. As of 2020, they’re one of six teams in the NFL without any. However, the fact is that they did back in the 1960s. They probably won’t like anybody reminding them about the ‘Steelerettes’ or even worse, their male equivalents, the ‘Ingots.’
After the Steelers scored a touchdown, the Ingots would fire off a blank from a cannon. In short, this wasn’t a good idea. They stopped this after Buddy Dial’s soul nearly left his body. Soon the Ingots and the hard-hat-wearing Steelerettes were no more.
Lett had a couple of high-profile blunders during his time in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Miami Dolphins when Lett cost his team the game. Even today you can’t help but cringe when you look back at it.
The Dolphins had a chance to win in the dying moments from a field goal. However, Pete Stoyanovich saw his kick blocked. Lett tried to collect the ball, but he slipped on the ice turning it into a live ball. Then he fumbled it and the Dolphins had another field goal opportunity. This time, Stoyanovich didn’t miss.
Whether they like it or not, most successful athletes find themselves becoming role models for the younger generation. You might not want to be that way, but that’s the way it goes. This is why codes of conduct exist so that players have a basic understanding of what type of behavior is acceptable and what’s not.
Renting a couple of boats filled with prostitutes isn’t exactly the most stand-up behavior. That’s exactly what 17 key players from the Minnesota Vikings did in 2005. They went out on Lake Minnetonka with about 70 other people and decided to have a lot of fun. It was a major headache for the NFL to deal with.
The Eagles have a reputation for being no-nonsense. One time even Santa Claus felt the wrath of their fans. The 1968 season was absolutely dismal for the team and this put the fans in bad humor. So it probably wasn’t the best time for them to plan a Christmas pageant.
With their teams losing to the Vikings, Philly fans weren’t feeling too festive. A teenage boy came onto the field dressed as Santa Claus. The fans loudly booed and flung snowballs at the youngster. It was incredibly bad taste but has turned into an iconic moment.
It’s always tough starting out as an expansion franchise. First of all, you have to get people interested in the new team. It takes time to build up that connection. Furthermore, it can also be difficult to attract good players to your roster. However, this still doesn’t excuse the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ shambolic start to life in the NFL.
In short, they’re lucky that they’ve since won a Super Bowl because otherwise, they’d have this hanging over their heads for eternity. The Buccanneers lost their first 26 games in the league. Surely this was massively embarrassing for everybody involved in the franchise.
This was one of the strangest Super Bowl stories of them all. Robbins went missing the night before Super Bowl XXXVI with no reasonable explanation of why. Most people thought the worst had transpired but then he finally reappeared. Mumbling incoherently, the Raiders had to take him off the roster and they lost the Super Bowl.
Rumors spread that he hadn’t taken his antidepression medication. However, this proved not to be the case. A treatment center diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. Police shot him three times when they arrested him for attempted murder in 2005.
What was Alosi thinking? We don’t know but it was still fantastic. The New York Jets coach infamously tripped the Miami Dolphins’ Nolan Carroll in 2010. At the time, the Jets had a reputation for bad behavior, but this was the most cynical of them all. You just can’t stick your leg out like that.
Carroll approached at full speed as three Jets coaches stood in a wedge formation. Then Alosi stuck out his knee, sending the Dolphins’ star crashing to the ground. The Jets suspended him without pay for the rest of the season. Later, Alosi owned up to his mistake during a tearful interview with the media.
This is one of those situations that’s almost too ridiculous to believe. On Thanksgiving, 1989 the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys 27-0. However, the real story was that Eagles coach Buddy Ryan had allegedly taken out a ‘bounty’ on Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas.
Ryan denied the allegations. However, Jessie Small took Zendejas out of the game with a brutal tackle so it’s hard to disagree with them. Two weeks later, the two teams had a rematch called Bounty Bowl II. This time the Eagles fans launched snow, ice, and beer at everybody below them.
The NFL isn’t exactly kind to people with problems. Usually, they prefer to get rid of people instead of helping them recover or rehabilitate. Take the case of Wilson which is one of the sorriest episodes in the history of the league. His cocaine habit cost him his pro football career.
This saw him miss two seasons of football after violating the league’s drug policies. However, worse was to come. On the eve of Super Bowl XXIII, his coach found him in the bathroom taking cocaine. The Bengals had no choice but to leave him off the roster. Then the NFL banned him for life.
How was this ever a good idea? In 2003 Jack Del Rio thought it was a great plan to put an ax and a block of wood in the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room. The idea was that it would motivate his players and drive up their testosterone before their games. Nothing about this could go wrong.
Except, of course, the fact that it did. After several players took a swing at the block, Chris Hanson decided to follow suit. He missed the wood and inside chopped his kicking foot. This put him out for the rest of the season and consigned the locker room ax to Jaguars’ legend.
The only good thing about the birth of the Ravens is that they left the ‘Browns’ name behind them in Cleveland. However, it was still a shambolic way for the franchise to start off live in Maryland. Art Modell might be even more hated than LeBron James in Cleveland after abruptly taking their team away in 1996.
This is the same man who blasted Robert Irsay for sneaking away from Baltimore with the Colts. After promising not to move, he did exactly that. Fortunately for Cleveland, the Browns were reborn in 1999. But to rub salt into their wounds, the Ravens have won two Super Bowls while the Browns haven’t even got to one.
In 2007 the Patriots were a powerhouse. Three-time Super Bowl champions, they looked unstoppable. However, it wasn’t just their brilliance on the field that got them over the line. No, they weren’t shy about using some underhand tactics either. That’s where ‘Spygate’ comes along.
It emerged that the Patriots were videotaping other teams’ training without their knowledge. The NFL fined them and removed a first-round pick because of their behavior. However, things got worse for the NFL when they destroyed all the materials. Even US Senator Arlen Specter called for an investigation.
The main job of a referee in any contact sport is to protect the players’ safety. So when Jim Triplette accidentally struck Brown in the eye with a thrown flag in 1999, he definitely didn’t do his job properly. Brown missed the next three seasons as he tried to rehabilitate.
It was very embarrassing for the NFL who he sued for damages. Finally, he settled for a sum between $15 million and $25 million in 2002. He spent the last three seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens. Tragically, he died in 2011 after complications with his diabetes.
The NFL has spent a lot of time trying to erase Simpson from their history. But he’s definitely one of the most humiliating stories to come from the league in a long time. One of the first black athletes to become a true superstar, Simpson was the face of the NFL during his prime. However, his fame turned to notoriety.
In 1994, police charged Simpson with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The jury finally acquitted him after one of the most high-profile trials ever. However, a civil court found him responsible for the deaths. In sum, it’s one of the most shameful episodes in American history and embarrassing for the NFL to be associated with.
Robert Irsay was not a popular figure in Baltimore. After taking over the Colts, the hope was that he would reestablish the beloved franchise in Maryland. But he couldn’t manage to get a new stadium in Baltimore. After a legal battle, the city threatened to seize the Colts under eminent domain.
Irsay’s solution was to pack them up in the middle of the night and move to Indianapolis. The moving trucks all took different routes so that state police would struggle to track them. Finally, by 10 am the next day, the Colts were no longer in Baltimore and Irsay became a hated figure.
Almost 60 years later, this is still one of the most astounding moments to ever happen in the NFL. We’ve no idea how Marshall managed this, but the world is a better place because he did. The Vikings were playing the 49ers in San Francisco when Marshall ran in and scooped up a fumble.
Then the legendary Vikings defensive end ran 66 yards into the end zone. The problem was that it was the wrong end zone. He had run unopposed in the wrong direction without realizing it. It ended with him scoring a safety for the 49ers. In the end, the Vikings won anyway, but Marshall knew nobody would forget this.
The Atlanta Falcon’s Robinson had a sterling reputation in 1999. A devoutly religious man, he donated money and time to his native inner-city Hartford. To sum up, all of this led to him receiving the Bart Starr Award. An annual award, it’s a commendation of exemplary character and leadership.
So, of course, that same night, he tried to solicit oral sex from an undercover officer. He didn’t sleep well that night and played terribly in the Super Bowl the next day. Then he returned the Bart Starr award to the NFL. In short, this hilarious misjudgment is one of the greatest moments in Super Bowl history and incredibly embarrassing for everybody involved.