Top Six Super Bowl-Related Lawsuits

As Bitter Lawyer gears up to watch the Colts take on the Saints in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIV (that’s 44), a few things come to mind—other than how the game is as much of a Miami icon as David Caruso.

What do we have—a lopsided game?  Check.

An endless supply of beer and salty foods?  Check, check.

An irrational zeal for celebrating American advertising?  Check, check and check.

Old Super Sunday-related lawsuits?  Youbetcha.

See, the Super Bowl isn’t just a football game or the biggest media event of the year. It’s also serves as the spawning ground for some super lawsuits.  Let’s look at some of history’s best Super Bowl-inspired litigation.

1.  YOU CHEATED!

Remember back in 2007 when the New England Patriots got caught videotaping the New York Jets’ defense signals from an on-field location?  Well, Spygate may have resulted in fines for both the Pats and coach Bill Belichick, but it also launched a lawsuit surrounding the 2002 Super Bowl.  That was the year the Pats beat the Rams.  But after revelations from Spygate swept across the NFL, some people went looking into the Pats’ past—and one St. Louis Rams player, Willie Gary (not to be confused with attorney “Giant Killer” baller Willie E. Gary), didn’t like what he saw.

Gary, along with three fans, sued the Pats and Belichick for $100 million, alleging the defendants had illegally taped a Rams’ practice.  Apparently, that was all the edge the Pats needed to win the game 20-17.  But like most desperate Hail Mary passes, the suit was eventually dropped.

2.  WHAT WOULD DON DRAPER DO?

Back in 1999, shoe retailer Just For Feet ran its first (and only) commercial spot during Super Bowl XXXIII.

Here’s a sample of the reaction from the ad world: Stuart Elliott of the New York Times called it “appallingly insensitive.” Ad Age’s Bob Garfield wrote, “[the ad is] neo-colonialist … culturally imperialist, and probably racist. Have these people lost their minds?” And the Des Moines Register, which as we all know has its finger on the pulse of Madison Avenue, suggested that the company change its name to “Just For Racists.”

Well, the shoe retailer didn’t quite do that.  Instead, they sued their ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, for what they called “advertising malpractice.” The $10 million lawsuit was eventually dropped, and though at the time ranked No. 6 in Fortune magazine’s list of “America’s Fastest Growing Companies,” Just For Feet filed for bankruptcy soon after and the company is now remembered by ranking No. 3 on the list of “Worst Super Bowl Ads of All Time” for not “respecting diversity.”

3.  BAGHDAD BLITZ

Who says you can’t watch the Super Bowl in a war zone?  Well, no one, actually.  But if you expect taxpayers to pay for your Super Bowl bash, you’re either nuts or a Halliburton executive.

“Halliburton Co. executives ordered a big-screen television and 10 large tubs of tacos, chicken wings and cheese sticks delivered to Iraq for last year’s [2006] Super Bowl, then billed U.S. taxpayers for their party.” At least one former employee thought that kind of pro-football revelry went too far.  That employee, who ran the dining halls for troops in Iraq, filed a lawsuit back in 2006, and according to a Los Angeles Times story, the Justice Department declined to join the case, which seemed to indicate a “weak” claim.

Since then, there’s been no word on the case.  And while Halliburton admitted to the facts (yet denied any wrong doing under the False Claims Act, of course), they still wouldn’t tell us what you tip a delivery guy in a situation like that.

4.  WHERE’S MY BLING?

We’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of Wayne Wilson.  We hadn’t heard of him, either.  But it turns out that Wilson was a nine-year NFL running back who played a few games for the Washington Redskins during the 1987-88 season.  Wilson didn’t play in the big game—in fact, he was a scab who broke from the players’ union and crossed the picket line during that year’s players’ strike to play for the Redskins’ replacement team—but he was nonetheless kept on the injured reserve roster for Super Bowl XXII.  So, in 1990, he filed a $2.2 million lawsuit, saying the Redskins had promised him a Super Bowl ring.

We searched high and low for more on this case, but like the Broncos that season, we came up short.  But hey, a lot of lawyers read this site, so if you or someone you know represented Wilson, drop us a line and give us some closure, will ya?

5.  BOOB

Everyone knows about Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl.  And a lot of people probably remember some lawsuits filed by “concerned citizens” after we all caught a glimpse of Jackson’s exposed jug courtesy of Justin Timberlake.  Of course, some of those lawsuits weren’t real.  For instance, Snopes shot down rumors that one man had sued Jackson for “making him sick.” Boobs don’t do that—everyone knows this.

But one of those suits, the one filed by Terri Carlin, concerned citizen and self-appointed boobie cop, was real.  However, Carlin ended up dropping her proposed class action lawsuit that she filed “on behalf of all Americans.” Aside from obvious concerns over meritless claims, she admitted to the press that even though she specified “punitive damages should not exceed the gross revenues of all defendants for the past three years,” any payout might be “nominal.”

Consider the size of the class, after all.  More than 90 million people watched live.  (This was before the advent of Puppy Bowl, btw.) So even if Carlin had won, she would’ve been forced to share her payout with, well, all of America.

Around the same time, one Utah lawyer filed his own lawsuit against CBS for a paltry $10,000, claiming false advertising.  He claims he was led to believe the show would be a family-oriented patriotic celebration.  His suit was…rejected.

6.  WHO OWNS “WHO DAT”?

The Saints upcoming Super Bowl appearance—their first since 1966—could leave a legacy of legal work behind.  There are no lawsuits (yet) over the barely intelligible New Orleans catchphrase, but if the Saints become a dynasty, there’s a good chance this little war over words could save BigLaw.  The controversy has quickly run up the legal ladder to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who are seeking out the legality behind the NFL’s cease-and-desist letters over the Saints’ chant “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”

Well, most sports writers say the Colts are going to beat dem Saints, but eff them.  Go Saints!

Check out other lists, tallies and scores to settle in Bitter by Numbers.

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As Bitter Lawyer gears up to watch the Colts take on the Saints in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIV (that’s 44), a few things come to mind—other than how the game is as much of a Miami icon as David Caruso.

See, the Super Bowl isn’t just a football game or the biggest media event of the year. It’s also serves as the spawning ground for some super lawsuits.  Let’s look at some of history’s best Super Bowl-inspired litigation.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

13 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    February 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

    What the hell is a tub of tacos?

  2. Anonymous

    February 3, 2010 at 8:09 am

    You said “boob.” heheh

  3. Juris Depravis

    February 3, 2010 at 8:30 am

    BL1Y: Whatever a tub of tacos may be, I expect a Food Fight post covering the same on your blog (bl1y.com for anyone with half a brain and a full sense of humor)!

  4. BL1Y

    February 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

    JD: Haha, thanks for the shoutout.  I fully expect your comment to be deleted shortly though, I don’t think the BL editors like ads for other blogs in their comment section.  As for the tub of tacos, I don’t think I can put my body through that.  And what the hell would I compare it to?

  5. SFLawyer

    February 3, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Hey

    Anom what is so funny about “boob”

  6. Marty

    February 3, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I can see how that ad was seen as racist in the 90s. That was the height of PC, after all. But viewing it today, I’m not so sure. People kind of overreacted on that one.

  7. Doug

    February 3, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I watch the puppy bowl. Best thing on TV. Period.

  8. BL1Y

    February 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with Marty.  I don’t think it’s racist to point out that Africans are freaking amazing runners.  Otherwise the Olympics medal ceremonies are racist.  But, I also just don’t get the commercial.  It isn’t funny.  Are the shoes supposed to have tracking devices in them?  A better commercial would be a barefoot African running from a lion and being passed by one with sneakers on; a play on the old “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you” joke.

  9. Marty

    February 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Bl1Y, maybe you should try your hand at the ad game. Being a copywriter may not be so bad. Look at Don Draper… boozing and screwing all the live-long day!

  10. Frank

    February 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Pats = Cheaters.

  11. Frat Guy Law Type

    February 5, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I think the issue was a bunch of white dudes in a hummer hunting a black man through the desert and apparently bolting shoes onto his feet against his will.  More inadvertently offensive than patently racist, if you ask me, but I can understand how it would infuriate the type of people who look for racism in everything.

  12. Bumper

    February 5, 2010 at 8:31 am

    With regards to the Who Dat Nation, if you will research the time line you will find that Senator David Vitter resolved the “problem” by printing up some tee-shirts with “Who Dat says we can’t print Who Dat and putting them up for sale. He then sent letter to the NFL and invited them to sue him. Game, Set, Match. By the time the AG got involved the war was over.

  13. Joey

    February 5, 2010 at 10:36 am

    The Saints weren’t in the Super Bowl in 1966. The first Super Bowl was in 1967. Maybe you meant to say “their first ever”?

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