Unable to reach a new CBA with its on-field officials, the NFL made the disastrous decision to start the 2012 season with a motley assortment that reportedly included refugees from the Lingerie Football League. Fears of blown calls were soon justified in the rising anger of players, coaches and fans, but the NFL stubbornly supported the replacements, whose blunders finally ignited a firestorm on Sept. 24 when a Hail Mary pass from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was ruled a game-winning TD. The 10-minute review missed flagrant offensive pass interference by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, who ended up wrestling for the ball with Packers safety M.D. Jennings, who had clearly intercepted the pass. The uproar moved Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and President Obama to tweet for an end to the lockout of the real refs.
2 of 10LM Otero/AP
Retired players file megasuit
More than 2,000 former players suffering from concussion effects, brain injuries and other contact-related maladies filed a massive complaint against the NFL and helmet-maker Riddell, Inc. in Philadelphia. "Despite its knowledge and controlling role in governing player conduct on and off the field, the NFL turned a blind eye to the risk and failed to warn and/or impose safety regulations governing this well-recognized health and safety problem," the complaint alleged. The NFL cited the more than $1 billion it has spent on pensions, medical and disability benefits for former players, but the lawsuit reinforced a perception that the league has been slow to come to their aid.
3 of 10Bill Frakes/SI
The Bounty Scandal
After the NFL determined that the Saints had a system of cash bonuses for knocking opposing players out of games, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) started sniffing around the "disturbing" scandal and called for a hearing. Roger Goodell came down hard by suspending head coach Sean Payton for the next season, assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games, GM Mickey Loomis for eight and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (accused of running a similar bounty program while with three other teams) indefinitely. A $500,000 fine and forfeiture of two draft picks was included. Four current and former Saints were suspended for being ringleaders, but Goodell's power play partly fell apart when an appeals panel in New Orleans overturned the players' bans, at least temporarily, ruling that the commissioner had overstepped his authority.
4 of 10Al Bello/Getty Images; Tony Medina/Icon SMI; David J. Phillip/AP
Super Bowl XLV ticket fiasco
The first Super Bowl hosted by Cowboys Stadium upset 2,000 fans who were forced to move to different seats or standing room areas because a temporary seating section hadn't been completed on time. The NFL, the Cowboys and their owner Jerry Jones, and the stadium were hit with assorted fraud, breach of contract, negligence and deceptive sales practice lawsuits. Roger Goodell tried to smooth things over by offering a face-value refund or a free ticket to a future Super Bowl with round-trip airfare and hotel included. "We made the best of it. We screwed it up. I can't change that," NFL executive VP Eric Grubman admitted to ESPN.
5 of 10Mel Evans, Jose Luis Magana, Louis Lanzano/AP
Suspicion clouded the Patriots' three Super Bowl titles when the Jets accused them of illegally taping their defensive signals from the sidelines during a game, in violation of NFL rules. After a league inquiry and confiscation of evidence, Pats head coach Bill Belichick (claiming he'd misunderstood the rules in question) was fined $500,000, and the Patriots were relieved of $250,00 and their first round draft pick. But the controversy didn't die as more illegal spying allegations arose and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) called for a congressional investigation. Goodell also had to explain why the NFL had destroyed evidence: he saw no purpose in keeping it; something Specter felt, "didn't make any sense at all."
6 of 10AP; Gerald Herbert/AP
Michael Vick scandal
The public perception that many NFL players were out of control (see: Pacman Jones) reached a horrifying level in July 2007 when Atlanta's star quarterback Michael Vick was hit with a federal indictment for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting operation on his property in Virginia. Amid stories of bloodcurdling animal cruelty at his Bad Newz Kennels, Vick was released by the Falcons and pleaded guilty as dog lovers and animal rights activists protested. Suspended indefinitely by Roger Goodell, and sentenced to one-to-five years in federal prison, Vick was released after 19 months and later allowed to sign with Philadelphia, a development that did not meet with universal applause.
7 of 10David J. Phillip, Elise Amendola/AP
The MTV-produced halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII gave 140 million viewers a fleeting mammary, courtesy of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake that generated 500,000 complaints from the public. Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell and the White House were compelled to speak about the outrage while NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared, "The show was offensive, inappropriate and embarrassing to us and our fans." The FCC slammed CBS to the tune of a record $550,000 in fines and the NFL rolled out older, less daring fare at the next two Super Bowls: Paul McCartney (2005) and the Rolling Stones ('06).
8 of 10Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images
The Super Bowl's grand stage has been the scene of some unfortunate misadventures by players, but few have been as cringe-worthy as Eugene Robinson's. The Falcons safety stood as a prime example of the kind of family man and community pillar that the NFL likes to honor and celebrate, and prior to Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, he received the Bart Starr Award from Athletes in Action for "high moral character." The night before the game, Robinson left his wife in the team's hotel and was arrested in a seedy neighborhood for allegedly soliciting a lady of the night who turned out to be an undercover cop. 'Guys had been going there all week,'' a Falcon told The New York Times . ''It's just that Eugene was the only one who got caught.''
9 of 10Bill Smith/AP; Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Colts sneak out
Few cases of an owner taking his team to a greener pasture are more notorious than Robert Irsay moving the Colts out of Baltimore, their home of 31 years, under cover of darkness. Dogged by losing, falling attendance and an aging stadium, Irsay flirted with several cities and set his sights on Indianapolis. The Maryland legislature tried to keep the Colts with a law that allowed the city to seize the franchise by eminent domain, but after it passed, the team's offices and training facility were hastily packed up and a convoy of moving vans departed after midnight. Baltimore's reaction was furious, but the NFL, after a recent defeat in a $35 million federal antitrust suit by Al Davis and his Oakland-to-Los Angeles Raiders, didn't try to block Irsay.
10 of 10Neil Leifer/SI
Jets win Super Bowl
The NFL's sense of superiority over the rival AFL, which it viewed as a minor league though a merger was in the works, was rattled by a landmark upset with 60's culture-clash overtones. The losers were the crew-cut, old guard Baltimore Colts (15-1), who swaggered in as 17-point favorites and departed as 16-7 losers, the first NFL team to drop an NFL-AFL Championship Game. The older, more buttoned-down league's embarrassment was compounded by falling to the New York Jets (12-3), who were led by counterculture hero QB Broadway Joe Namath, who famously proclaimed, "We're going to win Sunday. I guarantee it." Replied Colts QB Earl Morrall: "Maybe Namath represents the new breed of athletes, the kind of athletes the coming generation wants. ... I hope not."
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