Sometimes, professional football’s “Big Game” can seem like a precursor for troubled players to commit some very big crimes.
The following five gridiron greats all got blitzed with major charges following at least one appearance at a season-ending NFL championship contest.
It’s also worth noting that, for all his superhuman achievements on the field, O.J. Simpson never actually led his beloved Buffalo Bills — or any other team — to the biggest game of a football player’s career.
Team: Miami Dolphins, defensive tackle
Big Game: VII (1978)
Foul Call: Arrested and charged with the 1998 murder of his wife, Nonniel Dunaway
Play-by-Play: Three years after an acrimonious divorce in which Nonniel Dunaway seemed to win big, the 56-year-old mother turned up dead in what had been the family’s swimming pool. The coroner ruled that Nonneil “suffered an open fracture to her skull and was unconscious when she was placed in the water.” Police picked up Jim for the crime.
Penalty: Citing insufficient evidence, a grand jury chose not to indict Dunaway (main photo, above, No. 78). In 2002, however, the couple’s children filed a wrongful-death suit and testified against their own father. The court found Dunaway liable in his ex-wife’s death and ordered him to pay $579,000.
Extra Point: Jim Dunaway played for three seasons on the Buffalo Bills, alongside O.J. Simpson — who similarly was not convicted of murdering his ex-wife, but was later found liable for her death in a civil suit. [Bleacher Report]
THOMAS “HOLLYWOOD” HENDERSON
Team: Dallas Cowboys, linebacker
Big Games: XII (1978); XIII (1979); XVII (1983)
Foul Call: Convicted in 1983 of smoking crack cocaine and having sex with teenage girls.
Play-by-Play: The girls claimed that Henderson threatened them with a firearm and committed sexual assault. Henderson maintained he provided drugs to the teens in exchange for consensual sex.
Penalty: Henderson took a plea deal. He did eight months in a rehab facility before serving 28 months in prison. He says “Hollywood” died during that process, and that his true self — Thomas Henderson — has been clean and sober ever since.
Extra Point: In 2000, Henderson won a $28 million Lotto jackpot. He has been actively philanthropic since then and travels giving motivational talks, particularly to recovering addicts and youngsters at risk of turning to crime. [Los Angeles Times]
Team: New England Patriots, tight end
Big Game: XLVI (2012) – scored a touchdown
Foul Calls: Convicted for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd; charged with the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado; sued for shooting Alexander Bradley in 2013; remains a person of interest in a 2001 Florida shooting of two men
Play-by-Play: Where Aaron Hernandez goes, trouble (to put it mildly) follows. After pleading not guilty to the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, evidence continuously stacked up against him. In the course of that investigation, police connected Hernandez to fatal gunshots fired into a vehicle containing Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. After spending the night in a Miami strip club with Hernandez, Alexander Bradley claims that his “friend” Aaron shot him and caused the loss of his right eye. Odin Lloyd was also Hernandez’s “friend.”
Penalty: In 2015, a jury found Hernandez guilty in the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd. His trial in the double murder of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado is scheduled to begin in February 2017.
Extra Point: Hernandez signed a $41 million contract with the Patriots in 2012. He has since been terminated. [Rolling Stone]
Team: Baltimore Ravens, linebacker
Big Games: XXXV (2001) – MVP; XLVII, 2013
Foul Call: Charged in 2000 with the murders of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar
Play-by-Play: After attending a “Champagne Blowout” party to celebrate the game at the Cobalt nightclub in Atlanta, Ray Lewis and his pals Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting reportedly got into a brawl outside with Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis and his friends hobbled away from the dust-up; Baker and Lollar lay dead on the ground after being stabbed. All three survivors got arrested and charged with murder.
Penalty: Ray Lewis pleaded his case down to 12 months probation. In exchange for having murder charges dropped against him, Lewis testified against Oakley and Sweeting. The NFL fined Lewis $250,000. Oakley and Sweeting went to trial and were found not guilty.
Extra Point: Ray Lewis maintains his innocence and has been recognized as of the most charitable figures in professional sports. [CBS Sports]
Team: New York Giants, linebacker
Big Games: XXI (1987); XXV (1991)
Foul Calls: Multiple arrests across many years for drugs, DUI, financial misdeeds, and other crimes. In 2009, police busted Lawrence “LT” Taylor for third-degree rape, patronizing a prostitute, sexual abuse, and endangering a child.
Play-by-Play: After decades of problems, Taylor seemed to hit a new low in 2009 when he was caught consuming drugs with and paying for the sexual services of a 16-year-old Bronx runaway. Alas, in September 2016, LT got busted again for drunk driving — again — after sideswiping a mobile home and a police car on a Florida highway.
Penalty: For the incident with the runaway, LT pleaded down to two misdemeanor sex charges and got six years probation. He is also now a registered sex offender.
Extra Point: In 2015, Lawrence Taylor, Jr. — LT’s son — pleaded guilty to statutory rape and child molestation in exchange for 10 years’ jail time. On June 9, 2016, Lynette Taylor — LT’s wife — got arrested for domestic violence after throwing an “unknown object” at her husband’s head. [Sun-Sentinel]
Main photo: September 1965 Denver Broncos/Buffalo Bills game, 20-yard line early in fourth period. Jim Dunaway is No. 78 [Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images]