Like every season, the NFL has already provided big surprises. The nature of American football lends itself to the unexpected.
While in baseball, we count errors, in football, we expect mistakes. The team that makes the least, the one that turns the ball over the least, often wins the game.
Because surprises happen in the NFL all the time, we thought it a cool idea to check out the top surprises in the history of America’s most passionate professional sports league.
The New York Jets win the 1969 Super Bowl
Nowadays, the New York Jets are one of the league’s worst franchises. To many Jets fans, that’s okay because NYJ has won a Super Bowl.
It happened on January 12, 1969, and it happened after quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed victory. But Namath declaring victory isn’t the only reason the Jets’ Super Bowl win in 1969 is first on this list.
Not only did the Jets upset Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, but NYJ won the game as a +18 spread line underdog. Sportsbooks make money based on the vig or juice.
They make no dollars on the moneyline when a big underdog wins.
The Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis in the dead of the night
The details are sketchy because, unlike today, we couldn’t depend on a video shot on an iPhone to confirm anything. But on either March 28 or March 29, 1984, the Colts loaded up twelve moving vans, or eleven, or fifteen, and bolted Baltimore for Indianapolis.
Since 1984, the Colts have remained in Indianapolis. The Colts had been in Baltimore since 1953. As the Baltimore Colts, the franchise had won three NFL Championships and Super Bowl IV after the NFL and AFL merger. The move didn’t just shock the league.
It also set a precedent that, should your city not pony up dollars for a new stadium or other gifts, it could lose its pro football team.
The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls
Jim “Machine Gun” Kelly, so-called because he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, led four Buffalo Bills teams to four straight Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994.
The Bills lost all four. The 1991 game stung the most because kicker Scott Norwood missed a 43-yard field goal that led to the Giants’ 20-19 Lombardi Trophy victory.
Vincent Gallo used the Bills’ loss to the Giants in 1991 as the starting point for what some critics believe is the thirty-sixth greatest independent film of all time, Buffalo ’66.
New England beats St. Louis in the 2002 Super Bowl
Super Bowl XXXVI wasn’t just the first that Tom Brady won in his career. It was also the first that Bill Belichick won as a head coach and the first where a sitting President of the United States tossed the coin.
Super Bowl 36 was also the first after the Sep. 11 attacks. But the reason this shows up fourth on this list is that game-wise, New England had no shot.
Led by former grocery bagging quarterback Kurt Warner, the Rams were on the verge of a dynasty, not the Patriots. The then St. Louis Rams entered the game -14 favorites. You know the rest, the Patriots upset the Rams, and Brady and Belichick create the greatest dynasty in pro football history.
Art Modell announces “The Move”
Due to revenue concerns, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell lost millions once the MLB Cleveland Indians left the stadium the franchises shared, the Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore.
Modell was upfront about why he moved the team. Browns fans weren’t thrilled, and neither was the NFL. For the first time since 1935, Cleveland didn’t have an NFL team.
In an interesting move, the league purchased the name “Browns” from Modell. The National Football League returned to Cleveland in 1999.
Modell decided to create one of the most intriguing nicknames in history. The Baltimore Ravens are so-called because one of the city’s most famous residents is Edgar Allan Poe.
If you remember from your high school lit class, Poe’s most famous poem is The Raven.
Eli beats Tom in two Super Bowls
Can you believe a debate rages on whether Eli Manning should be in the NFL Hall of Fame? Eli, Peyton Manning’s younger brother, is the main reason Tom Brady has seven Super Bowl rings instead of nine.
The only quarterback to beat Terrific Tom in a Super Bowl is the younger Manning. The former New York Giants quarterback did it twice, with the New York Giants as a +12.5 underdog and second as a +3 dog.
The victory as an over 12-point dog happened in Super Bowl XLII when Tom Brady and the Patriots had completed the only 16-game undefeated season in history. Like what happened in Super Bowl III, sportsbooks and bookmaker software such as payperhead.com agents suffered a major moneyline hit.
Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, and Ken O’Brien get their name called before Dan Marino and a bunch of Super Bowl winners
The 1983 NFL Draft produced some serious talent, including quarterbacks John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and running backs Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner. But the draft also had plenty of busts.
What’s intriguing is how most of the busts were quarterbacks and how all the draft bust quarterbacks went ahead of Marino, one of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history. Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, and Ken O’Brien didn’t do much during their careers.
Elway, Kelly, and Marino are hall of fame quarterbacks. But it wasn’t just Marino where the Chiefs, Patriots, and Jets whiffed.
Cornerback Darrell Green is in the hall of fame, defensive end Leonard Marshall won a couple of Super Bowls with the Giants and should eventually get there. Running back Roger Craig helped Joe Montana build his legend in San Francisco and should also eventually get a bust.
All three of those players went after Blackledge, Eason, and O’Brien.
Mike Ditka mortgages the Saints’ Draft for Ricky Williams
In 1999, Mike Ditka, the former Super Bowl-winning coach with the Chicago Bears, said he’d trade away his entire draft, six picks and then a first and a third in 20000, for Texas running back Ricky Williams.
Most thought Ditka was blowing smoke. He wasn’t. The Saints did trade eight total picks to move up to first so they could draft Ricky Williams.
In 2010, Ditka defended the move even though Williams lasted three seasons in New Orleans and put the Saints back at least seven seasons before Sean Payton and Drew Brees paired up in the Big Easy in 2006.
The Herschel Walker trade
Like Ricky Williams, Herschel Walker was supposed to be one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys, who had signed Walker after the USFL imploded, knew they had a great running back. But recently hired Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones also knew they had to jump-start the once-proud franchise.
So in 1989, Jones and Johnson pulled off an even more miraculous trade than the Ricky Williams deal. The Cowboys got many high draft picks and five players that Johnson turned into high draft picks by either trading away or cutting.
The uniqueness of the deal devastated the Vikings, who had just traded for an I-back and decided to thrust him into a split-back formation. It also ended Minnesota’s locker room chemistry.
The Cowboys parlayed the trade into hall of fame players running back Emmitt Smith and cornerback Darren Woodson. Another fantastic corner, Kevin Smith, came out of the transaction and so did top DT Russell Maryland.
For Viking fans, the trade continues to haunt. Minnesota was good enough to win the Super Bowl without the former Georgia star. Trading away the farm and watching the Cowboys win Super Bowls in 1993, 1994, and 1996 with your draft picks had to sting.
The New Orleans Saints win Super Bowl 2010
The New Orleans Saints played their first NFL game in 1967. The Saints failed to see a winning season until 1987.
In fact, until 2006, when Sean Payton and Drew Brees headed to New Orleans, the Saints had just five winning seasons in their close to 40-year history. The Saints weren’t just the worst franchise in the NFL.
Before Brees and Payton threw in with Who Dat, New Orleans was the worst franchise in any U.S.-based sports league. The Saints were a worse sports organization than any team in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL.
So it was a huge surprise in 2010 when the Saints upset Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts to win Super Bowl XLIV 31-17. The reason for the victory was almost as surprising.
Heading into halftime, Payton and the Saints were down 10-6. Payton called an onside kick on the first play of the second half.
Nicknamed “Ambush,” the play set the tone for the second half. Once Tracey Porter picked Manning for six, the party on Bourbon Street started.