The NFL (National Football League) has a long and illustrious history, and today it’s a multi-billion dollar business with fans all over the world. Just like College Football, the pros have their fair share of upsets, whether that’s underdogs defeating champions elect, scandals, or shocking trades. We’ve picked out a few of the most memorable upsets in NFL history below.
There have been plenty of Super Bowl surprises over the years, but one of the biggest upsets came in Super Bowl XLII, which decided the 2007 season champion. The New England Patriots went into the climactic contest with a perfect regular season that had seen them suffer not a single defeat. The New York Giants, by contrast, had finished the regular season with a distinctly patchier 10-6 record.
The Patriots had spent the season scoring at will and racking up more points and touchdowns than any other team had before. The pundits had them as heavy favorites to romp home in the Super Bowl, and recent form made it seem almost a foregone conclusion.
Almost. And yet, when reality arrived the predictions were proven a mirage. The mighty Patriots’ offense was nullified by a ferocious Giants’ defensive effort. In the first three quarters the Patriots had a 7-3 lead, but come the final quarter it was the Giants who had more gas in the tank, leading to a final score of 17-14 in their favor.
So the Patriots lost, against all the odds. It was narrow, but they’d entered the game as 12 point favorites, proving that sport really can be unpredictable, and a wise man doesn’t count his chickens before they’ve hatched. Spectators who enjoy chancing their arm at the casino and seeing if Lady Luck is with them, but aren’t so hot on risking cash, can play without depositing a penny for the privilege. Given how unpredictable things can be, this presents all the thrills of betting online with none of the potential losses.
Like the rules of piracy, it can sometimes seem that sports contracts are more like guidelines than actual rules. In 2018, Odell Beckham Jr. signed a five year $95m contract extension with the Giants. Rumors swirled about OBJ being transferred, despite the Giants denying the speculation. But less than 12 months later he was acquired by the Cleveland Browns, who added him to Jarvis Landry, two of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Great for the Browns, rather less good for the Giants.
Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, as the New Orleans Saints discovered in 1999. Mike Ditka of the Saints had his eyes on the hot property of Ricky Williams, and wasn’t shy about letting the world know about it. The problem is, the world was listening. The Saints ended up trading every pick in the fifth overall selection that year (and a couple more for 2000). But in the 1999 season the Saints found the going tough, with a 3-13 record, and Ditka was fired. Williams spent part of the season injured, and, just a couple of years later, the player who had cost the team so much left for the Miami Dolphins. It’s almost certainly one of the worst trades the NFL has ever seen.
Top class sport comes with big egos, big paychecks, and fierce competition, so it’s no surprise that in the long history of the NFL there have been one or two scandals and controversies. From deflated footballs to taking a knee, the NFL’s seen a lot.
There have been some grim moments, from criminality by players away from the sport, to bullying team mates, but perhaps the most serious sort of scandal a sport can face is one that threatens its integrity. Without faith that the sport is run honestly and that athletes are trying their utmost, a sport is little more than play acting, and results become untrustworthy.
In 1963 two players, Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, were suspended indefinitely. The two men had been betting on NFL games, and were allowed to return the following year despite the initially indefinite nature of their suspension. In 1983, Art Schlichter joined them on the short list of players suspended for betting. Although he too was reinstated, he later confessed to having gambled during his suspension.
In 1969, the same year that man first set foot on the Moon, the Super Bowl threw up another shock result. Although known as Super Bowl III, it was the first to officially bear the name. Many felt the AFL were a long way off being competitive with the NFL, and that the New York Jets would come a distant second to the Baltimore Colts.
Joe Namath, quarterback for the Jets, personally guaranteed his team’s victory a few days before the game. Namath proved as good as his word, marshalling his forces to perfection and leading the Jets to a 16-0 lead. Although the Colts hauled back 7 points in the last quarter to make the final score more respectable, the AFL came of age, the Jets got their win, and Namath kept his promise in what might just be the single biggest upset in the history of professional football.
At the time, it also marked a significant shift in feelings about the AFL as a second class league. The underdogs had bitten back, not just the Jets against the Colts, but the AFL defying the critics and pundits who thought they couldn’t compete against the supposed big boys. No wonder that people say picking Super Bowl winners ain’t easy.