Mobletes: Mafia meets football is a unique take on the historical relationship between the Cosa nostra and football. Wait, does that relationship exist? Get your tin foil hats on and find out!
When the Mafia is referred to, it is not referencing the Bills Mafia or Dan Snyder’s description of the NFL. We are exploring the actual organized crime group. The Mafia (and, debatably, the NFL) thrive on secrecy, so it’s difficult to confirm anything with absolute certainty.
Michael Franzese – Mafia meets football take
It’s hard to trust a silver fox that looks this good when he’s in his 70s, but anyone who follows former Mafia members knows that Michael Franzese is a credible guy. Except for when he says he didn’t kill anyone when he became a made man – it’s ok, Michael, we know.
Michael tells his story the best, but a few key takeaways on how the Mafia meets football are:
- The intense look in Franzese’s eyes and stronger New York accent is a little bone-chilling if you follow his YouTube channel, where he mostly discusses Jesus and Andrew Tate – Michael was a boss and about his business
- In the ’70s and ’80s, professional football players didn’t make much cash – to make good on their gambling debts, they had to fix the game with certain plays, so the bookies got their coin back
- Point shaving happened in multiple sports, in sports teams all across the country
- Game fixing still occurs – keep an eye out for the refs; players make too much money nowadays to worry about gambling debts
The best known alleged mobletes
Paul, the Green Bay Packer in the ’50s and ’60s, was well known for his particular talent for playing multiple positions on the field, his reputation as the league’s bad boy, and being a moblete.
Rumor has it that Hornung’s alleged mob ties won him the Heisman trophy in 1956 despite his poor stats and playing for a bad team.
A leaked document allegedly showed the Director of the FBI permitting an FBI regional office to interview Paul Hornung and Vincent Lombardi (his head coach) in 1963 about Paul’s alleged gambling indiscretions.
Paul was suspended indefinitely (a sentence commuted to a year in 1963) due to gambling and socializing with known undesirable individuals, AKA the mob. Hornung was well known for gambling many nights away with mobsters in Vegas and was affiliated with Chicago Mafia members.
One of his most notable naughty organized crime friends was Jimmy Hoffa – the future alleged mob victim. After his suspension, the NFL looked the other way when he was seen out with his bestie, an illegal bookie, but he was banned from the Kentucky Derby as long as he played in the NFL.
Karras was a unique character on the Detroit Lions who got in a bit of trouble. Alex’s biggest insult was calling someone a “milk-drinker,” and he responded to unappreciated authority with a tossed shoe – most notably a college coach. He also threw the occasional helmet at teammates’ heads in the locker room.
Karras was also banned in 1963 for blatant gambling by NFL Commissioner Rozelle, whom he referred to as “buzzard.” There’s less information about Karras’ mob ties, but he is allegedly an example of when the Mafia meets football.
Mike Florio’s deep dive into when the Mafia meets football
Florio, the well-respected sportswriter, went in on the NFL and detailed when the Mafia meets football repeatedly in this article. He had more tea than the Boston Harbor, but we will focus on some of his more scalding takes:
- Jessica Savitch, an NBC Journalist who died suspiciously at age 36, interviewed John Piazza an organized crime associate, who claimed that he fixed four games in the NFL in the 1960s and 1970. Piazza claimed that he worked with quarterbacks and their head coaches, so everyone was on the same page when the quarterback started bombing. John seemed shady, but he did pass a lie detector test – something that mattered in the ’70s and ’80s.
- The NFL allegedly acknowledged the attempted fixing of one game – gamblers tried to bribe two Giants players in 1946.
- Los Angeles mob boss Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno explains that referees could be swayed easily, especially when TV replays didn’t exist.
- In 1970 four quarterbacks (including Joe Namath allegedly) and two coaches were evaluated by the Detroit grand jury and their connection with the bookie Dice Dawson. Following the QB bookie theme – Ken Stabler allegedly kept company with Nick Dudich, the infamous bookie. In 1978, two NFL players were found when bookie Bernie Fuqua’s home was raided – Rozelle downplayed it, saying the players were on the last leg of their career anyway.
- A handful of former NFL team owners were messy with mobsters. Edward DeBartolo Sr. was rejected by the MLB to buy a team due to his gambling – the 49ers had no such reservations. Al Davis was paid a founders fee after the sale. Clint Murchison, former Cowboys owner, had alleged ties to the “underworld,” most notably the boss of the New Orleans crime family. Former Chargers owner, Eugene Klein, owned a hotel where Meyer Lansky allegedly held organized crime conferences.
- The aforementioned Al Davis was business besties with Alan Glick, a casino owner who somehow didn’t know the mob was doing business for years in his casino. Glick might have had collabs with other team owners too.
- Most messily was the case of Carroll Rosenbloom – former Colts and Rams owner. Carroll allegedly invested in casinos, loved gambling, and fixed games against his own team. His unique method was just to leave key players home allegedly. Rosenbloom suddenly died while swimming despite being an avid swimmer – an alleged mob hit. A witness claimed they saw Carroll calling for help, was momentarily distracted by a black object in the waves, and then while attempting to reach Rosenbloom, he saw two men retrieve Carroll’s body, place him on the beach, and then leave. Smarmy.
Mafia meets other sports
There are rumors dating all the way back to the 1920s that various sports games have been fixed. Michael Franzese confirmed that Tim Donaghy was involved with guys with mob ties. Tim alleges that the NBA instructed referees to fix games; despite who it was for, Donaghy had to fix the games to resolve the gambling debts.
Donaghy went to prison for wire fraud and transmitting betting information in 2007. No one suggested that the Mafia was involved in his offenses, not even the FBI. Allegedly, Donaghy didn’t even really know to what extent he was. Suspicions arose when Tim was reportedly beaten so badly in prison by a convict with mob ties that he had to have a surgery. Michael confirmed the relationship.
If it happens in one sport, it’s not a far shot to believe it could happen in others. The suggestion will not be made in this article that any awful officiating was due to organized crime…
Additional resource for when the Mafia meets football
A resource for additional information would be Dan Moldea’s book: Interference – How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football, written in 1989. The book alleges that over 26 past and present NFL team owners have had mob ties, over 70 games have been fixed, and many law enforcement investigations of corruption within the NFL. This book was met with much controversy.
Moldea successfully sued the New York Times for libel when a sports beat writer so heavily critiqued his work. A writer for the Washington Post, Sandy Smith, wrote a scathing review due to their perception that Moldea’s sources were faulty and his evidence was subpar – doth protest too much? Either way, this book provides a much more in-depth look at organized crime and football.
For other criminally good articles, my serial killer series can be found here, and my homicide brides series can be found here.
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