The Super Bowl has provided dedicated and passionate football fans — not to mention those who only follow the NFL for a few hours one Sunday per year — with some of the greatest moments in the history of North American professional sports. From the New York Jets upset of the Baltimore Colts in 1969 to Eli Manning throwing two of the greatest passes ever in the history of championship games, the Super Bowl has been filled with some legendary performances.
But at the opposite end of the spectrum are the players responsible for humiliating Super Bowl moments that are re-lived in yearly highlight reels and still serve as instances of shame. On top of that, even a few celebrities — from musicians to politicians — have managed to make fools of themselves when it comes the big game. These blunders and bloopers continue to make us laugh, cringe, and shake our heads, so today, we’re bracing ourselves for the most embarrassing moments in Super Bowl history.
The ‘wardrobe malfunction’ seen around the world
Fans of a certain age may struggle to believe that Super Bowl halftime shows weren’t always special events. As documented by Sports Illustrated, marching bands performed during game breaks throughout the first decade of Super Bowl history. That changed over time, and today, even viewers who aren’t massive football fans look forward to halftime performances featuring superstar celebrity performers.
However, the Super Bowl halftime show can sometimes stir up controversy and strong opinions. For example, in February 2004, millions of Americans remained glued to televisions to watch Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake perform at the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. They couldn’t have guessed ahead of time what they would witness. Near the end of a song, Timberlake ripped off a portion of Jackson’s clothing and revealed her breast. Those in production quickly switched off the camera pointing at the artists, and as explained by CNN, Jackson apologized for what became known as a "wardrobe malfunction."
Decades later, conspiracy theorists remain convinced the "malfunction" was intentional and meant to generate buzz and headlines. In 2018, USA Today investigated the matter and interviewed multiple in-the-know individuals who, theoretically, would’ve been aware of a beforehand "Nipplegate" scheme, but by the end, thing still remained completely unclear. Unless everybody involved eventually comes clean, the truth here will be in the eye of the beholder.
John Kasay’s incredibly embarrassing kick
The phrase "wardrobe malfunction" will forever be associated with Super Bowl XXXVIII, to the point that some who watched that notorious halftime show may not remember who won the game or even the two teams involved in the championship contest. That’s probably just fine with John Kasay, who otherwise would be remembered as the man responsible for the biggest mistake and most embarrassing moment of that fateful evening.
The New England Patriots took a 29-22 lead over the Carolina Panthers with 2:55 remaining in Super Bowl XXXVIII. With plenty of time to operate, Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme guided the Panthers down the field into enemy territory, and Delhomme connected with Ricky Proehl for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:13 remaining. Kasay converted the extra point, and many watching likely believed the game was headed to overtime.
Not so fast. Kasay hooked his kickoff out of bounds, which, by NFL rule, resulted in a penalty that placed the football at the New England 40-yard line. Giving Tom Brady a short field proved unwise, as the man who became the G.O.A.T. QB drove the Patriots into field goal range with seconds to spare. Placekicker Adam Vinatieri delivered from 41 yards out to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots, and Kasay’s name went down in infamy.
Garo Yepremian attempted the worst ‘pass’ in Super Bowl history
Not all embarrassing Super Bowl moments and mistakes are created equally. Ask a football historian who remembers watching Super Bowl VII about that game, and he or she will probably remark that’s the day the 1972 Miami Dolphins cemented their team’s status as the first and only franchise to go undefeated from start to finish during the Super Bowl era. As of the start of the 2021 NFL Playoffs, no team has been able to match that achievement.
The Dolphins ended the campaign with a perfect record, but not everybody on the field was flawless at Super Bowl VII versus the Washington Redskins. With Miami holding a 14-0 lead and with under three minutes remaining in the game, Dolphins coach Don Shula elected to send Garo Yepremian onto the field to kick a 42-yard field goal instead of going for the first down. Years later, Shula explained he wanted the Dolphins to beat the Redskins 17-0 to mirror Miami’s 17-0 overall record.
Shula didn’t count on the unthinkable. Washington blocked Yepremian’s attempt, and the kicker responded by chasing the ball down. Instead of just falling on it, Yepremian released what can generously be called a "pass." The ball slipped out of his hand, and he bobbled it directly to Washington’s Mike Bass, who returned it 49 yards for his team’s only score of the day. "Garo’s Gaffe" cost the Dolphins little more than a shutout, so even Yepremian’s teammates could later laugh at this embarrassing moment.
Thurman Thomas and the case of the missing helmet
Momentum is often a funny thing in sports, particularly in a physically grueling game such as football. It can flip at a moment’s notice. The opening two drives of Super Bowl XXVI offer quite an example of this.
The Buffalo Bills kicked off to the Washington Redskins to begin the contest, and Buffalo then held the Washington offense to six yards before Kelly Goodburn punted the ball away to the high-powered Bills offense. There was just one problem for that unit: Thurman Thomas wasn’t on the field.
According to Buffalo’s official team website, the Hall of Fame running back couldn’t locate his helmet ahead of his offense’s first drive of the field. Bills equipment manager Dave Hojnowski and up to a dozen people looked for the missing uniform item, and it was found right as Buffalo faced a third-and-five on its side of the 50-yard line. Washington sacked quarterback Jim Kelly on the play, however, meaning Thomas had no impact on Buffalo’s first three offensive plays.
Thomas never got going from there. He averaged a paltry 1.3 yards per carry on 10 rushes, and he also caught four passes for 27 yards in the losing effort. One can only guess what might’ve been for Thomas and the Bills had he never lost track of his helmet before the coin toss.
Rich Gannon set an embarrassing Super Bowl record
An old adage in sports teaches competitors and fans that records were made to be broken. Former quarterback Rich Gannon probably ended the 2010s hoping that to be true regarding at least one infamous mark attached to his name at the end of that decade.
Super Bowl XXXVII began with plenty of intrigue, as it featured Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden facing his former employer, the Oakland Raiders. Gruden left the Raiders for Tampa Bay via a trade made official in February 2002, and the man affectionately nicknamed "Chucky" (due to his resemblance to the doll from the Child’s Play movies) was plenty familiar with the Oakland offense in January 2003. And that meant bad things were coming for the Raiders and their QB, Rich Gannon.
For all intents and purposes, Super Bowl XXXVII was decided by halftime, as the Bucs took a commanding 20-3 lead into the break. Gannon was responsible for an interception in each of the opening quarters, and he tossed a trio of picks in the second half. All three of those turnovers were taken to the house for Tampa Bay scores. By the time the final whistle mercifully sounded, the Bucs had clinched a dominant 48-21 win.
Gannon’s five interceptions thrown set a Super Bowl record never matched by any player from 1967 through at least 2019.
Jackie Smith’s drop possibly altered Super Bowl history
From 1963 through the 1977 regular season, Jackie Smith was a tight end only with the St. Louis Cardinals. Smith was named to Pro Bowl squads every year from 1966 through 1970, and per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he held records for tight ends in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns when he retired for good after the 1978 season.
Smith originally didn’t intend on playing in ’78, but Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry talked the tight end out of retirement to sign with the championship contenders. The gamble appeared to pay off on the afternoon of January 21, 1979, as the Cowboys had earned the right to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII.
The Cowboys trailed the Steelers 21-14 late in the third quarter when Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach dropped back to pass on a third down in the red zone. He located a wide-open Smith in the end zone, but the tight end failed to secure the football as it bounced off his chest while he fell to the ground. Following one of the worst drops in championship game history, Dallas settled for a field goal. That four-point swing haunted the Cowboys, as the Steelers won the Super Bowl 35-31.
Christina Aguilera needed a lyric sheet
We do plenty of things in our daily lives while on "autopilot," and that’s especially true for millions of Americans when it comes to singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Adults who’ve attended live sporting events in the United States for decades have heard the National Anthem hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Hockey fans who’ve never crossed the country’s northern border may even know the English version of "O Canada" by heart because of repetition.
However, those of us absent-mindedly mouthing along at ballparks aren’t tasked with singing the anthem in front of a worldwide audience of well over 100 million people as Christina Aguilera was before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLV. Aguilera’s powerful voice boomed throughout the stadium, as expected, but she made the mistake of singing the wrong words at the wrong time. As mentioned by The Guardian, the pop star confused "o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?" with "what so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last gleaming?" Aguilera later explained that she "lost her place" during the song, but no matter the reason, it was still one of the worst National Anthem performances ever.
We recommend that all Super Bowl anthem singers nervous about committing a similar embarrassing mistake take a lyrics page to the 50-yard line ahead of the opening note, just in case.
Did Donovan McNabb puke at Super Bowl XXXIX?
The Philadelphia Eagles lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots on February 6, 2005. Roughly 15 years after tasting that defeat, former Philadelphia teammates Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens (one of the most annoying athletes in sports history) were still feuding over what occurred that evening at what was known at the time as Alltel Stadium.
In January 2020, McNabb hit out at Owens during an interview for Bleacher Report’s "Untold Stories." In short, McNabb blamed Owens for why the flamboyant and eccentric wide receiver fell out of favor with the Eagles after only two seasons. Never one to let things go, Owens clapped back and mentioned how McNabb vomited in the huddle during his one and only Super Bowl appearance.
We may never know exactly what occurred inside of those Philadelphia huddles during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX. To his credit, McNabb has denied vomiting before or during that championship contest. No video evidence released by NFL Films or any other source disproves his claims. However, as noted by Philadelphia Magazine and the New York Post, several of McNabb’s former teammates, Owens included, have remembered things differently over the years.
Did McNabb lose his lunch because he was sore from the hits he endured during the game? Was he out of shape? Is "Vomitgate" merely an urban legend? As of right now, we just don’t know.
Denver’s nightmare start to Super Bowl XLVIII
Peyton Manning set a whopping amount of regular-season records during his historic career, some of which were toppled before the end of the 2010s. However, the playoffs were often unkind to "the Sheriff," as he lost 13 of 27 postseason outings. Two of those losses occurred on Super Bowl Sundays.
And things didn’t go Manning’s way following a dreadful start to Super Bowl XLVIII. After the Seattle Seahawks kicked off to the Denver Broncos to start the contest, Manning lined up under center at the Denver 14-yard line. He approached his center seemingly to call an audible or change a blocking scheme, but the lineman misread his QB’s call and snapped the football. Manning was left helpless as the ball sailed over his head and into the end zone. While Denver running back Knowshon Moreno was able to beat Seattle defenders to the loose ball, the play resulted in a safety, which awarded Seattle with two points and left the Broncos forced to kick the ball away to the opposition.
That sequence of events proved to be a preview of things to come. Seattle scored 36 unanswered points and routed the Broncos 43-8 for one of the most embarrassing final scorelines in Super Bowl history.
Why didn’t Pete Carroll give the ball to Marshawn Lynch?
Have you ever hit a patch of ice while driving and encountered a scenario where the world seemed to enter a slow-motion existence, and you just held on and hoped whatever fates may be out there smiled upon you? That’s sort of what the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX were like for those watching the game while rooting for the Seattle Seahawks.
With 1:14 left to play and the Patriots up 28-24, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back from the New England 38-yard line and delivered a bomb down the right sideline for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who completed the catch after it deflected off the hands of a Patriots defensive back and then bounced off Kearse’s leg. On paper, Seattle had the game won with 27 seconds remaining. With a timeout left to use, all Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had to do was hand the ball off to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch from inside the New England two-yard line. Done and dusted.
Instead, Carroll put the ball in Wilson’s hands, and the Super Bowl XLVIII champion quarterback threw into the end zone toward receiver Ricardo Lockette. Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler read the route, though, and intercepted the pass to ice the game for New England. As of the end of the 2010s, Carroll’s decision remained the worst and most embarrassing single play call ever made at a Super Bowl.
Leon Lett had a history of embarrassing moments
It’s a shame that most within the football community remember Leon Lett for a pair of classic sports bloopers that he committed during his career. After all, Lett played in the NFL from 1991 through 2001, and he earned two Pro Bowl nods during his career. More impressively, he won three Super Bowl rings while with the Dallas Cowboys. Still, when you hear or read his name, you probably think of the regrettable and preventable errors he made during his Dallas tenure.
The first occurred at Super Bowl XXVII. Dallas held a 52-17 lead over the Buffalo Bills with under five minutes remaining in the contest when Lett recovered a fumble in Buffalo territory. The big man sprinted nearly 60 yards in the opposite direction toward the end zone, and multiple blockers cleared his path to paydirt. With only ten yards separating Lett from the box score, he extended the ball to celebrate. Little did he know Buffalo’s Don Beebe was close behind him. Beebe knocked the ball out of Lett’s hand, and it rolled out of play for a touchback. Dallas still won that game by 35.
Later in 1993, Lett turned a Cowboys win into a loss on Thanksgiving Day when he made a similar mistake for the ages that gifted the Miami Dolphins a win. Had Lett not pursued a blocked kick in the closing seconds of that encounter, Dallas would’ve won in dramatic fashion. Instead, Lett accidentally slid into the football, making it live and giving the Dolphins the opportunity to win back possession and attempt a second walk-off field goal that was converted.
Two months later, Dallas repeated as Super Bowl champs, so Lett’s lapse in judgment was forgiven well before the following season.
Joe Biden was right and wrong in saying the Giants were headed to the Super Bowl
Born in November 20, 1942, Joe Biden has witnessed quite a few changes in the American sports landscape throughout his life. For example, over those decades, the baseball team that became the San Francisco Giants went from hosting opponents at the Polo Grounds to calling California home. However, unlike how the New York football and baseball clubs share the "Giants" name, San Francisco’s football team has been known as the 49ers from the organization’s early days in the All-America Football Conference. And this led to quite the embarrassing mix-up.
Biden, vice president of the United States in 2012, was speaking to individuals in the Bay Area at a public event when, per EastBayTimes.com, he referenced the "Giants on their way to the Super Bowl." While not directly related to the outcome of a championship game, this gaffe stung San Francisco fans in multiple ways. Per Biden’s admission, he confused the area’s football team with its baseball team, which was a harmless, albeit embarrassing error.
Even worse, though, was that the New York Giants tallied an overtime victory over the 49ers in San Francisco to win that year’s NFC Championship and clinch a berth in Super Bowl XVI. That was the second time the Giants stopped the 49ers one game shy of a Super Bowl appearance.