The recent Super Bowl will be remembered for many things. The highly anticipated matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots entered to controversy with the Patriots suspected of defalting footballs to gain an edge in the AFC Championship, which they easily won, 45-7.
While "deflategate" was a hot topic, the conclusion to the Super Bowl may have been even more intriguing, as the Patriots overcame an impressive drive by the Seahawks in the dying moments of the game by making a key defensive play on a surprising play call.
The unlikely ending to such a high-stakes game prompted viewers to hit social media, helping Twitter set a new record for Super Bowl tweets (28.4 million). It also sparked something the NFL, and every other sports league dreads: conspiracy theories.
Super Bowl 49 wasn't the first time an NFL game has generated plotting and manipulation theories that seemed to lack sufficient evidence. Here is a look at just some of the football games and moments that gained traction as a conspiracy theory:
Why did the Seahawks call a pass play?
It was a highly intense Super Bowl, as both teams were playing solid football on both sides of the ball. After blowing a 10-point lead more than halfway through the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were in an excellent position to complete a game-winning drive on second and goal on the one-yard line and 26 seconds remaining on the clock.
Running back Marshawn Lynch had already gained 102 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, and with the ball so close and Seattle technically able to run three plays to score, many felt the 28-year-old star rusher would simply pound the ball inside and win the game.
However, Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell decided to run a pass play instead, with quarterback Russell Wilson to throw to receiver Ricardo Lockette on an inside route. Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler came from seemingly nowhere to intercept the ball and lock up New England’s fourth Super Bowl title.
The most propagated theory to date is that Carroll changed Bevell’s original play call of a rush to a pass so Wilson would win the game and the MVP trophy. Lynch became well known throughout the country for his refusal to speak to the media, while Wilson has been a media and fan darling ever since he entered the league in 2012. Carroll is also known to fawn over Wilson, so the theory posits he was essentially playing favorites with this stars.
In interviews since the loss, Carroll has flatly denied that he ever changed the play, and has also defended Bevell.
"There's no reservation in [the call], and don't make it out like there is," Carroll said Monday according to ESPN. "First off, Darrell is an incredible playcaller. He's done a fantastic job. We are so lucky to have him. He has been absolutely instrumental in what we have done. He is an awesome guy on our staff and crucially important to our future, as well.
"And let me say this, too. We don't ever call a play thinking we might throw an interception. I don't ever think that, just like [the 11-yard TD pass to Chris Matthews] with six seconds to go in the half. We go with what we know. There was not a thought in my mind that we would make a mistake on [the interception] play. It was a tremendous play by the guy on the other side."
Carroll would also say that the Seahawks may have thrown twice on their last three plays due to certain matchups with the Patriots defense. On Wednesday, Carroll spoke with "Today" host Matt Lauer and said that the call would have been a great one if Lockette had caught it.
Furthermore, and in Carroll’s defense, there was a miniscule amount of time left on the clock and his team was left with only one timeout. The game clock stops if a pass is ruled incomplete, which means Seattle could have had as much as 20 seconds left to run two more plays and win the game.
And with the opportunity to become just the eighth franchise in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles, it seems highly unlikely that Carroll would risk a shot at history over something as petty as his locker room favorites.
Some have put more stock in Carroll’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy because of his reported curiosity over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to several sources who spoke to Deadspin in 2013, Carroll allegedly wanted to know if the United States government “planned or faked” the attacks.
The Dallas Cowboys got some help from the refs?
Fans, former NFL stars, and current Detroit Lions were outraged last month after a controversial call helped the Dallas Cowboys win 24-20 in the NFC Wild Card round.
Late in the fourth quarter, and with Detroit up 20-17, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was at first flagged for pass interference after he ran into Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
However, referee Pete Morelli would discuss the call with the other officials on the field and then rescinded the flag. Pass interference calls are often highly subjective. In this case, replays seemed to show enough contact to warrant a flag.
After the game, Lions receiver Golden Tate and safety Glover Quin questioned whether the referees were swayed by the Cowboys distinction as “America’s Team” or by the league’s need to have its most valuable franchise make a deep run in the postseason.
“What do you expect when you come to Dallas?” Quin said to the Washington Post. “Ain’t gonna speculate that. But the league likes the storylines and headlines.”
Fans would also question NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, and his reported partying on the Cowboys team bus in August of last year.
The call did little to help Dallas after the win. The Cowboys would lose in the divisional match against the Green Bay Packers, who then lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
How do the lights just go out during a Super Bowl?
Going back only two years, another theory popped up involving the Baltimore Ravens victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens held a commanding 28-6 lead after receiver Jacoby Jones returned the second half kick-off 108 yards for a touchdown. Then a blackout struck the New Orleans Superdome and the game was stopped for nearly a half an hour until power was restored.
After the lights came back on, the 49ers gained the momentum and stormed back to score 17 unanswered points, before eventually falling 34-31.
The theory, which includes the addition of the widely speculated conspiracy group the Illuminati as well as pop and R&B star Beyonce and her mega-wattage halftime performance, suggests the NFL wanted to avoid a blowout game to keep fans interested.
Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis actually alluded to the theory, and said he couldn’t believe a company as wealthy and well-run as the NFL could allow a blackout during its biggest event.
Much like this year’s theory, there is no proof the NFL conspired at all and numerous reports detailed just how the Superdome lost power.
Doubts about Super Bowl III?
There are even NFL conspiracies that go all the way back to Super Bowl III, when the New York Jets made good on Joe Namath’s guaranteed victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1969.
Hall of Fame Colts defensive lineman Bubba Smith was quoted in author Jeff Miller’s book “Going Long” as saying the game “wasn’t kosher.” According to Smith, the NFL “needed” a high-profile, big-market team from the former AFL to win, otherwise the 1966 merger between the two leagues would have dissipated. (The two leagues announced a merger in 1966. It was completed in 1970.)
Smith went so far as to say that the betting line dropped from 18 points in the Colts favor to 15 because of a big bet placed by someone on his team, a player he did not name. The Jets would win, 16-7, in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
Some have wondered why 1968 MVP Earl Morall played so poorly. He completed just six of his 17 pass attempts and had three interceptions. Late in the game, Morall was replaced by Johnny Unitas, who was 35 years old at the time, and Unitas was able to lead the Colts to their only score of the game with 3:19 remaining.
But the Jets may not have been quite the underdogs that many thought. The Jets (11-3), Oakland Raiders (12-2), and Kansas City Chiefs (12-2) were considered elite teams in the 1968 season, and all were gaining ground on NFL teams after the legendary Packers defeated the Chiefs and Raiders in the first two Super Bowls.
The Jets had beat the Chiefs on the road in Week One of the 1968 regular season, and were winners of eight of their last nine games before beating the Raiders and then the Colts.
In the 1969 AFL playoffs, the Chiefs edged the Jets, 13-6. In Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs easily defeated the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.