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Conclusion of New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers on MNF Furthers Conspiracy Theories that Stretch to Chicago Bears and Beyond

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COMMENTARY | The world of professional sports is filled with conspiracy theories: the frozen envelope in the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery, Madonna performing an occult ritual during the halftime show of Super Bowl XLVI, or Michael Jordan's first retirement being a cover-up for his gambling issues.

It was just over a year ago that another Monday Night Football finish came under intense scrutiny, when the Seattle Seahawks upset the Green Bay Packers on a play dubbed The Inaccurate Reception. Or maybe you prefer Fail Mary. Whatever the moniker, the play was controversial to say the least.

Talk of how officials orchestrate particular outcomes will always abound; a flag here, a no-call there. Some have claimed that the zebras determined the Chicago Bears' Week 7 loss to the Washington Redskins and even that ESPN is keeping Robert Griffin III afloat. So let's put on our tin foil hats and take a look at what's really going on in the NFL.

The Patriots were ushered into Super Bowl XXXVI because it made for a feel-good story.

Conspiracy Theorist: Perhaps the most blatant example of the NFL's manufactured outcomes was the "Tuck Rule" game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots. Tom Brady fumbled the ball, but it was ruled an incomplete pass, not only by the field judges, but upstairs as well.

Result: the Patriots were headed to the Super Bowl. Right after 9/11. The NFL capitalized on this and
everyone made a fortune from patriotic viewers who otherwise would otherwise have been doing something other than watching a football game.

Mainstream Realist: Yeah, no one would have watched the Super Bowl had there not been a patriotically-themed participant involved. Was the Tuck Rule call a little bogus? Maybe. But the resultant explanation of the call was more about the officials covering their mistake that it was a concerted effort to put the Pats in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots are old news, so the NFL helped the Panthers at the end of the MNF.

CT: The whole purpose of a conspiracy is to manipulate the lemmings out there without them realizing it. The NFL can't continue to help New England without everyone catching on. Plus, the Pats angle is played at this point and Cam Newton is marketable. What better way to cover their tracks and pass the torch than to have the officials pick up that flag on Luke Kuechly in the end zone?

And did you like how the ESPN announcers made a special point about Jerry Richardson being only the 2nd former NFL player to become an owner? Instead of a Carolina Panther at midfield, Bank of America Stadium has the NFL logo to show that no team is bigger than the shield. And now the league is rewarding that loyalty.

MR: No matter the sport, no one wants a game to be decided by a penalty. The flag was thrown, but then picked up after a short conference. Did Kuechly have a bit more contact with Rob Gronkowski than is normally allowed? Yes. Could Gronk have made a play on that ball? No.

The Bears are being given extra breaks to bring Chicago a title prior to Virginia McCaskey's passing.

CT: QBs like Eli Manning and RGIII are so fully tied in with endorsements for major NFL sponsors that the league has to protect that "superstar" label even when the players are flailing. In the Week 7 game, the zebras blatantly ignored holding by the Redskins' offensive line; all those extended scrambles by Robert Griffin III to allow receivers to open up, and not a single holding call.

But don't worry, the Bears are going to be getting those calls themselves soon enough. After all, the league is looking the other way when it comes to the play of the rookie right side of the offensive line. Virginia McCaskey getting the trophy before going to see Papa Bear would be a huge human interest story.

MR: Listen, it's no secret that elite players in all pro sports are granted special treatment. It was the same for Michael Jordan when he drove the lane or Greg Maddux when he stretched the limits of the strike zone. The more money you make for the league, the more calls you get.

But no one outside of the Bears fanbase cares about whether or not George Halas' family gets to raise the Lombardi Trophy again. What's going on with the right side of the O-Line is that they replaced turnstiles with actual players. As I said before: it's the Super Bowl and people are going to watch no matter what.

The Chicago Parks District is solely responsible for the playing surface at Soldier Field.

CT: Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here? This isn't a conspiracy, just a topic that was misrepresented by an idiot writer. The CPD owns and operates Soldier Field and the grass therein, which provides a great deal of money and jobs.

MR: Well, I can agree that this writer is an idiot and neglected to mention the fact that Soldier Field did indeed have artificial turf until 1988. However, it's a mistake to say that the Bears don't have a say. In fact, the CPD and Soldier Field GM Tim Lefebvre have recommended a return to an artificial surface in the past, but it's the Bears organization that vetoed the change.

When it comes to conspiracy, there's not much onus on theorists to base their arguments in fact. But even a freelance sportswriter has a responsibility to provide accurate information, and I dropped the ball in my last article. Nothing like a semi-national audience to keep you humble.

For what it's worth, I believe the game is determined on the field and not in a boardroom. But where do you fall on these and other NFL conspiracy theories? Have any of your own to share with the other three people who will read this? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He grew up in Northwest Indiana, where the Bears reign supreme. While he now lives in the heart of Colts country, you can hear his kids singing "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" every gameday.

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