For NFL fans that aren’t still shoveling snow in the New England area or enduring the perpetual rain in Seattle, choosing a side in Super Bowl XLIX can be quite difficult.
On one side of the ball, there’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady completely dismissing Deflategate. The Patriots are hard to root for, but is it any easier to cheer for the Seahawks? Marshawn Lynch won’t say anything, and Richard Sherman—on the other hand—can’t stop talking.
The Patriots and Seahawks could fill a comic book with the villains they’ve brought to this Super Bowl. But this is nothing new, as Super Bowl lore is filled with unlikeable characters.
Having said that, let’s take a look at the five most villainous Super Bowls in NFL history.
5) Super Bowl XIII (Cowboys vs. Steelers)
Those wanting to know how the Super Bowl evolved into such a cultural phenomenon should read up on this game.
The Super Bowl had already become a big event that was broadcasted in dozens of countries, but Super Bowl XIII was the first Super Bowl rematch. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys first squared off three years earlier. And one of the two would become the first team to win three Super Bowls.
Against this backdrop, the first act of major Super Bowl villainy was committed.
Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson uttered one of the most famous lines in Super Bowl history, saying that Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was so dumb he couldn’t spell “Cat” if you spotted him the “C” and the “A.”
Henderson was then viewed as the enemy among Pittsburgh fans, but he wasn’t the only one playing in the game with that label.
Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert didn’t win many fans among the female population earlier in the 1978 season when he said quarterbacks should wear dresses on Monday Night Football. That comment came a week after Lambert was penalized for a late hit on Browns quarterback Brian Sipe, and it prompted angry letters from feminist groups.
Lambert was already in the doghouse in the eyes of Cowboys fans after throwing Cliff Harris to the ground. This happened after Harris taunted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela after he missed a field goal in Super Bowl X.
The Steelers won Super Bowl X, 21-17, and again beat the Cowboys by four points in Super Bowl XIII, 35-31. And Bradshaw showed he was at least smart enough to throw four touchdowns passes—a Super Bowl record at the time.
4) Super Bowl XV (Eagles vs. Raiders)
A villainous aura surrounded all three Super Bowls involving the Raiders in the 20th century when they were owned by Al Davis.
The Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI to win their first championship. That team was quarterbacked by hard-partying quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler. And Jack “The Assassin” Tatum patrolled the defensive backfield.
Seven years later, the Raiders annihilated the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII to win their third title.
But Davis and the renegade Raiders were at their rabble-rousing best in 1980.
Davis had long since established himself as an NFL antagonist. He was ready to compete against the NFL when he was commissioner of the AFL in the ’60s, and that’s a big reason the leagues merged in 1970. Pete Rozelle, not Davis, was named commissioner of the new league. And for that, Davis would forever be a thorn in his side.
A decade later, Davis sued the NFL when the league tried to block the Raiders’ move from Oakland to Los Angeles.
Stabler and Tatum were gone by 1980. The Raiders instead had Defensive Player of the Year Lester Hayes. The cornerback routinely plastered himself with Stickum before every game. The adhesive substance helped him intercept passes. He picked off 13 in 1980, and made it difficult for receivers to break free from him in coverage.
The NFL banned Stickum the following year.
The Philadelphia Eagles reached Super Bowl XV by defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game. Fans tired of the Cowboys likely jumped on the Eagles Super Bowl bandwagon.
Compared to the Raiders, the Eagles were the choir boys of Super Bowl week. They were in bed early every night in New Orleans while the Raiders wreaked havoc in the French Quarter. Raiders defensive end John Matuszak even got into a bar fight.
But the nice guys finished last. The Raiders defeated the Eagles, 27-10. And in the winning locker room, Rozelle grudgingly handed the Lombardi Trophy to Davis, his nemesis.
3) Super Bowl XX (Bears vs. Patriots)
Everyone remembers “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” William “The Refrigerator” Perry and the jaw-dropping dominance of the ’85 Chicago Bears.
These were fun Super Bowl villains. But like every villain, this team also had a dark side.
Few remember that this team was accused by Rozelle of instituting bounties on quarterbacks. They didn’t have to play outside the rules of the game, however, to sack opposing passers 64 times in a 15-1 regular season.
This team was so smug that it recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle” long before the regular season even ended. No team in this day and age would dare do that for fear of providing bulletin-board material for their opponents.
Just in case America wasn’t convinced that the Bears were Super Bowl villains, cocky quarterback Jim McMahon once mooned a helicopter that flew over a Bears practice during Super Bowl week.
The New England Patriots were the NFL’s only hope to keep these bad boys from ruling the NFL. This was long before America disliked the Patriots. Tom Brady was eight years old at the time, and it would be another year before Bill Belichick would make a name for himself as defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl XXI champion New York Giants.
Coached by unassuming Hall of Famer Raymond Berry, the Patriots became the first team to win three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. “Berry the Bears” became the rally cry in New England.
But the Bears ruined the Patriots’ Cinderella story in dominant fashion with a 46-10 victory in Super Bowl XX.
McMahon experienced a fleeting comeuppance when he was upended on a play early in the game. But he went on to score two touchdowns in the rout. Perry, the portly defensive lineman who scored three touchdowns during the regular season, got in on the act as well with a one-yard touchdown run that gave a Bears a 44-3 lead.
Perry scored a touchdown, yet somehow Hall of Famer Walter Payton didn’t. The team was so caught up in themselves that “Sweetness”—the least villainous of the bunch—didn’t get to join in the fun.
2) Super Bowl XLII (Giants vs. Patriots)
The Deflategate controversy wouldn’t have created such a firestorm if it weren’t for Spygate.
The Patriots were caught videotaping signals on the Jets’ sideline in the 2007 season-opener. Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined another $250,000 and the Patriots were forced to give up a first-round draft pick.
It raised an air of suspicion that has followed the Patriots ever since, and the timing of the Spygate revelation gave the Patriots an entire season of villainous momentum in 2007.
And they were ruthless villains.
The Patriots finished the regular season with a flawless 16-0 record, and 12 of those wins were by double-digit margins. Some even grumbled that the Patriots ran up the score in a 52-7 home win over the Redskins, and a 56-10 win at Buffalo.
Randy Moss caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes that season. The Patriots’ acquisition of Moss from the Raiders for a fourth-round draft pick added to their bad-guy perception. This was the same franchise that pioneered the introduction of the team as a whole—rather than individual players—before shocking the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
In 2007, the Patriots strayed from that team-first philosophy, brought in the selfish Moss and threatened to match the hallowed ’72 Miami Dolphins’ standard for perfection.
The Dolphins would have had some undesired company in history if it weren’t for an uncanny effort from the New York Giants, who foiled the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.
1) Super Bowl XLIX (Patriots vs. Seahawks)
NFL fans around the world will be watching the most villainous Super Bowl ever on Sunday.
The Patriots and Seahawks both had their share of haters before this season even began. Now they’re crossing paths to form a perfectly notorious storm.
Because of Spygate, the Patriots aren’t getting the benefit of the doubt in this whole Deflategate mess.
But the Seahawks haven’t exactly followed NFL rules to the letter, either. Several Seahawks have been suspended for PED use in recent years. That includes OLB Bruce Irvin, CB Walter Thurmond and former CB Brandon Browner (who, ironically, is now a Patriot). Sherman also would have been suspended for four games in 2012, but he appealed and got it overturned.
Not until he scared the heck out of Erin Andrews in his interview after the 2013 NFC Championship game was Sherman officially cast as a villain. That sentiment has rolled over to this Super Bowl, although this year it was Doug Baldwin who went off on camera after the conference title game. There were 41 receivers who caught more passes than Baldwin this season, including that “sorry” receiver, Michael Crabtree. Baldwin should be humbled whenever someone puts a microphone in his face.
And the taciturn Lynch isn’t exactly winning over fans, either.
Of course if the Patriots lose Sunday, don’t expect much more out of Belichick than reporters have been getting out of Lynch this week. He’s surly when the Patriots win, and close-lipped when they lose.
Belichick’s counterpart, Pete Carroll, seems like one of the few likable characters in this Super Bowl on the surface. He coached the Patriots during the 1997-99 seasons, and provided a respite between Bill Parcells and Belichick with his charismatic persona.
But Mr. California Cool isn’t above suspicion, either. He insists he didn’t bolt from USC for the Seahawks in 2010 to avoid NCAA sanctions.
He must just have impeccable timing.
There have been good guys to counteract the villains in previous Super Bowls, but it’s hard to find many in this matchup.
Fans will just have to choose between the lesser of two evils.