By Brian Tuohy
I never thought I'd write this, but Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and I have something in common. We're "conspiracy theorists."
Actually, I take offense at that term. It's nowhere near the "n-word" in terms of derisiveness, but it has developed a highly negative connotation nonetheless. In essence, calling someone a conspiracy theorist is a backhanded way of saying, "I think you're nuts and your thought process makes absolutely no sense to me."
In truth, however, a conspiracy theorist is really a skeptic. Oh, I know the editors at Skeptic magazine would fly off their collective handlebars at this statement, but it's true. More often than not, the conspiracy theorist questions the official line; they don't trust the story being fed to them by the mass media, which can legally lie. (I'm not making that up. Google it. Legally the media can broadcast and/or publish outright lies). Skeptics, on the other hand, seem to spend an awful lot of time denying the theorists' claims... which means the skeptics are only skeptical of conspiracy theorists. That's not really living up to the intention of the term.
The story that Lewis, Suggs, and I are questioning is the sudden power loss in the Superdome during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII. I know, I know. This story has been beaten to death, right? Actually, it's still twitching.
Back at the end of August, Ray Lewis told NFL Films' America's Game, "I'm not gonna accuse nobody of nothing -- because I don't know facts. But you're a zillion-dollar company, and your lights go out? No. [Laughs] No way... But you cannot tell me somebody wasn't sitting there and when they say, 'The Ravens [are] about to blow them out. Man, we better do something.' That's a huge shift in any game, in all seriousness. And as you see how huge it was because it let them right back in the game."
Just yesterday, Terrell Suggs told ESPN's E:60, "I was like Vegas, parlor tricks, you know what I mean? I was like, ah, Roger Goodell, he never stops, he always has something up his sleeve. He just couldn't let us have this one in a landslide, huh?... I thought he had a hand in it. Most definitely, he had a hand in it."
Turning off the Superdome's lights may not have been the most effective way to rig a game, but such a delay is not unprecedented.
The 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants has been called "The Greatest Game Ever Played" for a reason. It remains the only NFL title game to be decided in overtime, but an overlooked footnote may have marred the game.
In OT, the Colts' Johnny Unitas put together a 10-play, 70-yard drive which settled on the Giants' 8-yard line. Just then, a "fan" ran out onto the field, halting play. This fan -- who has never been positively identified -- might not have been just a fan. (Conspiracy theory alert!) He may have been an employee of NBC purposefully told to run onto the field to delay the game, because the network had lost its camera feed at this critical juncture. Or the fan may have been sent out onto the field by Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Why would Rosenbloom derail his own team's drive? Because he had bet $1 million on his team to win, and kicking a field goal (as head coach Weeb Ewbank was contemplating) wouldn't have covered the 3½-point spread. Rosenbloom needed the delay to tell Ewbank to punch it into the end zone, which Johnny U and the Colts ultimately did.
So interrupting a championship football game isn't unheard of. A blackout? Well, that's a pretty rare occurrence.
There's only been two major power outages in recent football memory. One came on Monday Night Football in December 2011, when the San Francisco 49ers were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Actually, the power went out twice that night, with a blimp camera catching a power transformer and exploding outside Candlestick Park. (Another conspiracy alert: Perhaps this was intentionally done to get the city of San Francisco to agree to build the 49ers a new stadium, as Candlestick was "falling apart." It worked.).
The second, more notorious outage came way back in August 2002, when the lights went out in UNLV's Sam Boyd Stadium with 7:41 remaining in a game against the University of Wisconsin. At that point, Wisconsin led the Rebels 27-7, easily covering the 7-point spread (which, thanks to heavy betting, had moved up from UW being favored by 3 earlier in the week).
There were two controversies surrounding that loss of power. One, since the game was called 2 minutes and 41 seconds prior to it reaching the necessary 55-minute mark, Las Vegas sports books require for a game to be official, no bettors could cash in their winning Wisconsin tickets. Two, no one to date knows what caused the power outage. Initial reports claimed a car crashed into a power transformer near the stadium. This was false, as local police have no record of such an accident. Nevada Power officially stated "equipment failure" caused the outage, but given the money on the line and the game's location, questions remain to this day.
But enough of the background; let's get down to brass tacks. Super Bowl XLVII. New Orleans. The Superdome. Feb. 3, 2013.
Jacoby Jones takes the opening kickoff of the second half 108 yards to the house to put the Ravens up 28-6. The 49ers get the ball back, and then -- bam! The stadium goes dark. The NFL's radio broadcast was completely silenced -- dead air. CBS scrambled to get its television coverage up and running while back-up generators provided emergency lighting for the stadium.
Here's what gets me about all this: No one panicked. Why should have people run around screaming, you ask? Because the Department of Homeland Security has issued many, many "terrorist alerts" warning that sports arenas are prime targets. Why do you think the NFL began its controversial new bag policy at every stadium this year? I'm not advocating such action, but a true terrorist attack on the Super Bowl -- Black Sunday style -- would be a jihadist's wet dream.
When the lights went out at the Super Bowl, no one knew the immediate cause. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly never left his seat. Fans preoccupied themselves with their smart phones (which is kind of scary considering a true disaster may have been afoot). All was well.
How did they know that?
The Superdome had undergone a $500 million renovation post-Hurricane Katrina, and after a 2012 memo questioning the stadium's power supply, another $4.2 million was sunk into electrical upgrades. The Super Bowl required no more power than a typical Saints game, and the amount of power requested by the stadium that day was within expected demands. Blame Beyonce, you say? Her halftime show was powered by a separate generator, not the stadium's main power.
So what caused the blackout?
Officially, the final word came from forensic engineer John Palmer, who was hired by Entergy, the company contracted to supply power to the Superdome. Palmer's report stated that the primary cause of the electrical disruption was a malfunction or "misoperation" of the relay which was specifically installed to prevent such a power failure.Wait. Did the man who investigated the blackout's source actually write that "misoperation" may have been the cause? Misoperation, as in, "Oops, did I 'accidently' trip that relay and cut off power to the stadium?"
Yes, Palmer did write that. It's even on the NFL's website.
More accurately, however, Palmer wrote of this misfiring relay, "Had the relay pickup setting been in excess of the maximum load current anticipated, the misoperation would not have occurred." In other words, it was set up to fail -- and those in the know should have recognized it.
He also wrote that, "If additional information becomes available that affects these opinions and conclusions, this engineer reserves the right to supplement this report." So the conclusive report stating the relay was the cause of the blackout could be changed if Palmer learned more about the situation... like someone did all of this on purpose.
So you can snicker at what Lewis and Suggs said, you can label us all "conspiracy theorists" for thinking the NFL and Goodell had an ulterior motive to create the blackout (read: 49ers comeback = ratings + money), and... wait a second.
If Goodell caused the blackout with the wink of a knowing eye in order to artificially create a 49ers comeback, then it was the Ravens defense that went into the tank. The same Ravens defense led by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Are they conspiracy theorists or conspirators? Are their statements actually admissions of guilt?
Maybe we don't have that much in common after all.
Brian Tuohy has been called America's leading sports conspiracy theorist, but really he's just highly skeptical when it comes to what the sports leagues tell their fans. He's also one of the few writers brave enough to tackle the topic of game fixing in sports, detailing evidence of it in his books Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI and The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. He also runs the semi-popular website thefixisin.net.