What is Operation Flagship in NFL? Bizarre free Super Bowl tickets to arrest criminals in 1985

Amidst the excitement surrounding Super Bowl LVIII, there’s a historic operation related to the big game that many NFL fans may not be familiar with. Between 1981 and 1986, the U.S. Marshals Service took a bold initiative known as the Fugitive Investigative Strike Team (FIST) operations.

Through a series of nine strategic campaigns, law enforcement agencies across the nation collaborated to apprehend thousands of wanted fugitives within the United States. Among these operations, one unconventional endeavor stands out for its unique approach to fugitive apprehension: Operation Flagship.

Operation Flagship: What is it?

With a unique and unconventional move, US law enforcement introduced Operation Flagship in 1985. It was a collaborative effort to apprehend wanted fugitives. The strategy involved enticing these individuals with invitations to a party and the promise of free Washington Redskins tickets. It aimed to gather them at the Washington Convention Center on December 15, 1985.

U.S. Marshals and the Metropolitan Police Department took charge of distributing these invitations to over 3,000 individuals with outstanding warrants. The recipients were informed that they had won two complimentary tickets to the upcoming Redskins-Bengals game. To claim their tickets, the fugitives were requested to attend a free brunch scheduled for 9 a.m. on the designated day.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as the Washington Redskins were enjoying a successful NFL season, gearing up for Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. The allure of attending a high-stakes game and potentially winning a coveted Super Bowl trip proved irresistible to many fugitives.

Operation Flagship was also a promotional event for Flagship International Sports Television. As the day of the event arrived, the convention center buzzed with anticipation. Some fugitives arrived dressed in their Sunday best, while others sported Washington Commanders’ jerseys and hats.

Little did they know, the whole arrangement was about to get them placed behind the bars.

How many criminals were arrested during Operation Flagship?

Operation Flagship yielded remarkable results with the apprehension of 101 fugitives. Among those taken into custody were individuals wanted for serious offenses, including murder, robbery, assault, burglary, rape, and arson.

Louie McKinney, the former acting director of the U.S. Marshals Service, provided insights into the reasoning behind this audacious operation. McKinney emphasized the challenges and expenses associated with traditional fugitive apprehension, making the operation an economical and effective alternative.

“They were trying to get a hold of a number of fugitives from the D.C. area and they were looking at the easiest, safest, cheapest way to do it, because really it’s expensive to go out and get and find a fugitive,” McKinney said.

The calculated cost of Operation Flagship was approximately $22,100, translating to roughly $225 per arrest. U.S. marshals hailed it as a groundbreaking mass arrest of fugitives, which marked a significant achievement in law enforcement tactics.

Shabiha Akter

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Shabiha, once a casual observer, has morphed into a die-hard NFL fan. She carefully dissects every play, trade, and strategy. Whether it's breaking down game highlights or predicting playoff outcomes, Shabiha is your go-to source for all things NFL.


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