For all the tradition surrounding the Super Bowl, it always manages to provide a number of surprises not even organizers could have predicted. Sometimes these moments are so memorable, they become more defining than the game itself.
As the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs prepare to face off in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII, it’s time to take a look at some of the most unexpected and indelible Super Bowl memories that had little to do with the game itself.
You could fill an entire list just based on the halftime shows and national anthems, as evidenced by the sheer number of controversies (Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake), viral moments (left shark) and just downright iconic performances. But for the purposes of this list, we’re going to table the scheduled theatrics for another day.
Here’s a look at some of the wildest, most memorable moments beyond the scoreboard.
The lights go down at the Superdome (Super Bowl XLVII)
Super Bowl XLVII delivered on the adage “good things come in threes.”
Dubbed the Har-bowl, after brothers and opposing head coaches John and Jim Harbaugh, the storytelling alone already captured casual football fans well before the first kickoff. However, it looked like that would be the extent of the drama as the Baltimore Ravens and older brother John, jumped out to a 28-6 lead early in the third quarter. A minute and a half after Jacoby Jones returned the ball 108 yards to give the Ravens that 22-point lead, chaos ensued.
A power outage interrupted the broadcast and left the stadium with only sparse backup lighting for 34 minutes. During this period, players stayed on the field, stretching, relaxing and in the case of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick talking with the referees, something John Harbaugh took issue with.
The power eventually returned and play resumed, setting the stage for the third dramatic element of the evening – a comeback.
The 49ers scored 17 points in just over four minutes to cut the lead to five and make things interesting with 15 minutes to play. Ultimately, however, it was too little, too late as the 49ers weren’t able to continue at their blistering pace while the always-reliable Justin Tucker knocked in two field goals in the final frame to secure Baltimore a 34-31 win.
Streaker’s big payday comes up short (Super Bowl LV)
Yuri Andrade is far from the first or most famous streaker to take on the Super Bowl – that honor probably belongs to Englishman Mark Roberts – but he did manage to stretch his 15 minutes of fame better than almost anyone before him.
Wearing a pink leotard and some ill-fitting shorts, Andrade stormed Raymond James Field in the fourth quarter of the matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The prankster managed to squeeze in a few spin moves for his highlight reel while trying to avoid security before they eventually “converged on him at the goal line,” as called by play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan.
Unfortunately for Andrade, he took the attention a step too far, revealing his grand plan to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars. Come to find out, he and two high school friends had plotted this grand scheme, placing bets on the offshore gambling sites Bovada.com that would yield a payout close to half a million dollars. Bovada.com ultimately refunded any bettors who predicted there wouldn’t be a fan on the field, as well as those who predicted there would be a fan but were determined to have not been involved with the scheme.
While Andrade missed out on his big payday, he did earn the respect of at least one star on the field.
“The slide into the end zone was pretty incredible,” Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski said following his team’s 31-9 win. “He actually scored.”
Madden carried off the field (Super Bowl XI)
Before there were champagne showers and Gatorade dunkings, John Madden and the Oakland Raiders provided possibly the most memorable image of Super Bowl ecstasy.
After beating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14, Raiders players hoisted their head coach “Big John” onto their shoulders to celebrate winning the franchise’s Super Bowl.
While Madden’s coaching career concluded just two seasons later, he carried that same lively spirit and esteemed reputation that earned him the adoration of generations of fans into the broadcasting booth.
The legend of the first Super Bowl touchdown (Super Bowl I)
This one is technically “on the field” but the circumstances are too wild not to include on this list. Some of the details of Max McGee’s Super Bowl heroics are up for debate, but regardless the heart of the story is NFL lore at this point.
The 34-year-old McGee traveled to the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles having made only four receptions for the Green Bay Packers that season. Assuming he wouldn’t see the field, McGee opted to break curfew and enjoy a night of partying in California before returning to the hotel around 6:30 a.m.
That could’ve been the end of the story – a reserve player who had a little too much fun – but as luck would have it, starting wideout Boyd Dowler injured his shoulder on the third play of the game, forcing a likely hungover McGee to step up. According to his obituary in The New York Times, McGee even forgot his helmet and had to borrow one from a teammate.
He went on to have the game of his life, totaling seven receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-handed snag to kick off the Super Bowl record books. Even today, McGee’s performance remains the 14th-most yards and one of only 17 times multiple receiving touchdowns have been recorded in Super Bowl history.
Apple launches the Mac (Super Bowl XVIII)
In the era of consistently more boundary-pushing Super Bowl ads, it's hard to quantify the most memorable but 1984 certainly stands in a league of its own for the lasting impact.
The minute-long dystopian commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, set the stage for Apple’s unveiling of the Macintosh computer and pitched the invention as the reason “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984,’” a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel.
The commercial was met with mixed reviews – not unlike the early days of Apple – but the tech giant looms large nearly four decades later and it only further cemented the Super Bowl as a cultural event that transcends sports.
Brady’s jersey goes missing (Super Bowl LI)
Super Bowl LI is widely remembered for the 25-point comeback – or meltdown, depending on who you ask – by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to forever brand Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons with the reputation of choking and countless memes as evidence. All that on-field drama proved the perfect opportunity for a journalist with a penchant for swiping sports memorabilia to make his move and grab Brady’s jersey.
Over 2,000 miles away in Seattle, a 19-year-old Patriots fan named Dylan Wagner remembered a memorabilia collector he’d been in touch with who had shared photos of what seemed to be Brady’s worn jersey from the Super Bowl just two years earlier. While that jersey hadn’t been reported missing, Wagner sent the photos up the chain of command along with the collector’s name which matched records of a man seen on NFL security footage just a week prior at Super Bowl LI.
Nearly two months of investigation eventually led authorities to Mexico where they found Martin Mauricio Ortega, a longtime writer and director at the Mexican-based publication La Prensa, in possession of the two jerseys along with a number of other stolen sports items.