In times of chaos, conspiracy theories flourish, suggesting that there’s some dark order to the chaos swirling around us. Conspiracy theories are comforting, suggesting that at least someone is in control of all this madness. For sports fans, they’re especially attractive. You can tell yourself that your team doesn’t stink; they had an entire Sports Deep State allied against them!
Yeah, that’s why they’re not still in the playoffs!
The Super Bowl, being one of our last communal events, whips up its own frenzy of conspiracy theories. Ray Lewis is convinced that the lights going out on Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII was part of a grand scheme to keep the game from being a blowout. That same Super Bowl saw Beyonce flashing what some interpreted as a sign of the Illuminati, the shadowy, world-dominating cabal. Angry Seahawks fans grumbled that Seattle didn’t want to give Marshawn Lynch the game-winning carry in Super Bowl XLIX against the Patriots … and, well, you know what happened there. Just last year, a “leaked” box score prior to the Super Bowl showed the Eagles beating the Chiefs 37-34. (Spoiler: That did not happen.)
So what conspiracy theories do we have to work with this year? Well, let’s start with the ones involving the most famous woman on the planet …
The ‘Taylor Swift will be at the Super Bowl because she’s a marketing juggernaut’ theory
This one really isn’t a conspiracy theory as much as an established, obvious fact. Swift, who — as you might have heard — is dating Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, is the world’s most popular entertainer right now. If she were to attend the Super Bowl, the theory goes, all the Swifties would tune in … which seems pretty obvious. But how do you rig that to happen? Well, you’ve got to make the weather patterns in Kansas City inhospitable for the visiting Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round, then you’ve got to convince Josh Allen to throw ill-advised deep passes in a crucial, last-second drive … easy, right?
The ‘Taylor Swift is a double agent’ theory
Now we’re getting somewhere. This theory bubbled up early in the season for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. Swift is a longtime Eagles fan, so the idea here is that she was sabotaging the Chiefs from within, bringing them down so the Eagles would be able to win the Super Bowl this year. Of course, that would've required the Eagles to hold up their end of the bargain and actually get to the Super Bowl …
The ‘Super Bowl logo foretells the teams in the game’ theory
This is the current hot conspiracy theory, the idea that the NFL has embedded within each Super Bowl logo some clues as to which teams will participate. Look back at the Super Bowl LVI logo, and you’ll see yellow (Rams) and orange (Bengals). Dig into the Super Bowl LVII logo, and there’s green (Eagles) and red (Chiefs). This is getting wild, folks …
Then you get to this year, where the purple and red might just represent … the Ravens and 49ers. Wow! There’s something to this! Just don’t think about the fact that the Cardinals also wear red! Or that the Vikings also wear purple! Or that the Texans also wear red! Or …
The ‘Refs are going to rig the game for the Chiefs’ theory
You don’t need to bust out the tinfoil hat and clothes hanger antenna to pick up on one of the overriding vibes of this year’s NFL season: Officiating is in a crisis. When you introduce judgment into a game defined by a scoreboard, there’s plenty of room for suspicion. And when the NFL announced that Shawn Smith would be refereeing this year’s Chiefs-Ravens AFC championship, some knowledgeable observers raised an eyebrow.
“Immediately, I groaned,” NFL analyst Warren Sharp wrote, “as I knew his overwhelming tendency to favor the road team, and I wanted nothing more than to see as clean and unbiased a game as possible.” How much do Smith-reffed games go the visitor’s way? According to Sharp, while home teams have won 55.4% of all games the past three years, home teams in Smith-reffed games have won only 40.8%. Good news for the visiting Chiefs? Bad news for the at-home Ravens? We shall see.
Here’s the question, though: Is the NFL going to rig the game in favor of the Chiefs or in favor of the Ravens? The answer, as every good conspiracy theorist knows, is “yes.”
The ‘Harbaughs love the number 34’ theory
Here’s a weird one, courtesy of an intrepid TikTok’er who found a unique connection among the Harbaugh family. Seems all three Harbaugh coaches — Baltimore’s John, formerly Michigan’s (now the Chargers') Jim and father Jack — won their respective championship games by scoring exactly 34 points (Super Bowl XLVII, this year’s college football national championship and the then-I-AA championship in 2002, respectively). Plus, both Harbaugh boys got their first coaching jobs and became dads when they were 34! Spooky!
Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Start with the number of this year’s Super Bowl (58). Take away the number of seasons John Harbaugh has coached the Ravens (16). Remove Lamar Jackson’s uniform number (8). And that leaves you with … whoa.
Bet the farm on the Ravens, folks! (No, don’t bet the farm on the Ravens … or at least, not because of this.)
The ‘Script is already written’ theory
There’s this strange, long-running idea that the NFL is scripted, that all these miraculous catches and last-second kicks are part of some grand design. One day they will be, when AI comes for us all, but for now, it’s just glorious, messy humanity at play. Or is it? Take a look at what popped up on the screen of a Canadian television station a few days ago:
Does this mean stress free 49ers playoff football til the Superbowl? 👀 pic.twitter.com/pOgmo1efJM
— FoN9ne (@FoN9ne) January 19, 2024
“Reba McEntire, Usher, and Post Malone are slated to perform at San Francisco 49ers & Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl match-up on February 11.” Hey, wait a minute! That was weeks before the final teams would be decided! Did we just get a look at the script?
Look, all of these conspiracy theories are fun but also ridiculous. There’s no chance the NFL is going to jeopardize its national dominance and growing global presence by sullying itself with scandalous pro-wrestling-style rigging.
Then again, isn’t that just what the media would tell you to throw you off the scent?