Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons
When the Houston Texans forced the Cleveland Browns into a safety early in the first quarter to take a 5 - 0 lead in their matchup on Sunday, a thought occurred to me: if the Texans manage to win this game, would it be the greatest revenge game in sports history?
Going into the Browns game, the Texans were 1 - 8 - 1. They were going nowhere. As embarrassing as the Browns have been this year (and not just on the football field), their postseason hopes are still alive, mathematically speaking. The Texans were in position to be the ultimate spoilers - until everything imploded and they lost 27 - 14.
Ok, so it wasn’t meant to be for the Texans. On the other hand, Sunday was kind enough to bless us with two potential revenge games: Texans-Browns and Eagles-Titans. The Texans snatched shame from the jaws of revenge; the Eagles, and newly acquired receiver A.J. Brown grabbed revenge and beat the Titans over the head with it.
What makes a revenge game, though? You need a few elements: one, you need a spurned party. It could be a player, a team, a coach, a fanbase, or even a city. Two, the spurned party needs to face the spurn-ee in a sanctioned competition. Three, the spurned party wins (i.e. exacts revenge).
There are lots of great revenge moments in sports history, like the Boston Celtics sweeping Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in last year’s playoffs, Frank Robinson schooling the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 World Series, Michael Jordan breaking the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons, or the Cincinnati Bengals spanking Carson Palmer in his first game against his former team. These stories are what makes sports so visceral and compelling.
We could be here all day going through every revenge moment (and honestly, I’d be happy to, but I doubt many of you would be willing to sit for two hours and read all of them), but for the sake of time, I’ve narrowed down this list down to the Top Five Revenge Moments in Sports History. Please enjoy…
5. Roger Clemens vs. the Boston Red Sox
Photo Credit: Steve Lipofsky www.Lipofsky.com, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Whatever your opinion is of the alleged/proven steroid user, you can’t deny that Roger Clemens was an absolute monster on the mound during his career. He was a force from the minute he put on a major league uniform for the Boston Red Sox in 1984. This man threw five complete games as a rookie. That’s wild.
His impeccable resume in Boston, which included three Cy Young Awards and an American League MVP, wasn’t enough (apparently) for the Red Sox to stop him from signing with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996. This, unsurprisingly, was pretty awesome for the Blue Jays and pretty miserable for the Red Sox. In his return to Fenway, Clemens would strike out sixteen batters over eight innings. He struck out every batter he faced at least once. And he’s been the bane of Red Sox fans existence ever since.
4. Green Bay vs. Brett Favre
Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Let’s call this one the “Boomerang Revenge.” Year One in Minnesota was pretty good for Mr. Favre. Year Two? Not so much.
After years of will-he-won’t-he retirement drama, a trade to the New York Jets in 2008, then strong-arming his way to Minnesota in 2009 and a subsequent NFC Championship Game appearance, Favre and the Vikings embarked on a truly terrible 2010 campaign. Favre battled injuries and ineffectiveness throughout the year, but the worst moments were yet to come.
After being swept by Favre’s Vikings in 2009, the Packers exacted revenge on their former legend, forcing him into three interceptions in their first matchup in Green Bay on Sunday Night Football. As Favre’s star was falling, Aaron Rodgers’s star was streaking like Will Farell in Old School. The Vikings would lose 28 - 24 and would fall to 2 - 4 on the season. The Packers, meanwhile, were gathering steam.
Things got worse for Favre, though. The Vikings and Packers would meet just four weeks later in Minneapolis, and as it turned out, the Packers weren’t done with the butt whopping. The Packers would dominate the Vikings in a 31 - 3 blowout, one of the worst losses in Favre’s career. After the season, Favre would retire (for good this time), and the Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl. In the first Post-Favre NFL season, Rodgers would win his first MVP. Sometimes these stories just wrap themselves up nicely.
3. City of Boston vs. Johnny Damon
Photo Credit: Keith Allison, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Johnny Damon was a beloved figure in Boston. He was a high-flying, long-hair-and-beard-having, sweet-hitting center fielder who fit right in with the Red Sox’s colorful cast of characters during the early 2000s. He was there for the worst of times, like when the Red Sox lost in the 2003 ALCS to the New York Yankees. But Damon was also there for the best of times, like when the Red Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” and won the World Series the following year.
It was all hunky-dory in Boston until the 2005 offseason when suddenly, Damon signed with the Yankees. It was the ultimate betrayal, especially after Damon was famously quoted reassuring Bostonians as saying, “There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they're going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need.”
So much for that sentiment. And as if it wasn’t painful enough for Red Sox fans to see their former star in pinstripes, Damon also adhered to the Yankees strict dress code and chopped off his signature long locks and Neanderthal beard. It was Caveman-to-Businessman.
Still, Boston didn’t have to wait long to get their revenge. In his return to Fenway as a Yankee, Damon would go hitless in four at-bats as the Red Sox rallied with four runs in the eighth inning to break a 3 - 3 tie. You can take the Caveman out of Boston, but Red Sox fans won’t ever forgive it.
2. Argentina vs. England
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What happens when a soccer match becomes more than a game? What happens when game becomes an allegory for a war? What happens when a wounded country gets another chance to scar its sworn enemy?
That, my friends, is what happened when Argentina and England met in the 1986 World Cup following the conclusion of the Falklands War.
For those who aren’t interested in a history lesson: too bad, you’re getting a history lesson. In 1982, the United Kingdom and Argentina engaged in an undeclared war over some islands off the Argentinian coast. The islands had been a possession of the UK since 1841. Argentina, though, viewed the islands as part of its sovereign territory (and they still do).
As you probably guessed, the war didn’t go great for Argentina. In about ten weeks, the UK had retaken the islands and captured 11,400 Argentine soldiers, all of whom were released following the war’s conclusion. Still, the defeat damaged Argentine pride and hastened the collapse of the military government that had ruled the country since 1976.
When Argentina and England met in the quarterfinals, it was the moment every Argentinian had been waiting for - and superstar forward Diego Maradona was born for that moment.
In the 51st minute, Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal, where Maradona, as he put it, scored with, “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God.” Maradona would follow up that with the “Goal of the Century,” in which the 5’5” Maradona dribbled past no less than five English defenders and scored to put Argentina up 2 - 0. Argentina would end up winning the match 2 - 1, and Maradona would be cemented into the imaginations of Argentinians and soccer fans all across the globe.
1. Jesse vs. Nazi Germany
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Here’s an uncontroversial opinion: the Nazis were pure evil (okay, Kanye, or Yeezy, or whatever you’re calling yourself these days?). When the 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin at the pinnacle of Germany’s Nazi-indoctrination, the world probably should have reconsidered attending. Thankfully (or not, depending on your perspective), the world chose to attend, and one of sport’s most spectacular, indelible and unforgettable moments was put into motion.
He almost didn’t get a chance to race. At the time, there was a lot of fear that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi puppets would prohibit non-Aryans from participating in the Games. Fortunately, those fears didn’t come to pass (for the time being, anyway), though it’s probably safe to say Hitler wasn’t too thrilled with the results.
That’s because Jesse Owens, a black man who hailed from Oakville, Alabama and raced for The Ohio State University, cleaned up award after award in front of the so-called “master race.”
There may not have been a more singular moment that proved beyond a doubt that all of Hitler’s ideas were total bullshit. Owens would go on to be the most medaled man at the Olympics, winning the 100-meter sprint, the 200-meter sprint, the long jump and the 4 x 100-meter relay. His legend continues to inspire people everywhere to excel, even in the face of pure evil.