Which team played the villain role best?

Which team played the villain role best?

Illustration for article titled Which team played the villain role best?
Image: AP

With the Houston Astros now wearing the crown as the most hated team in professional sports — as indicated by the chorus of boos and piercing screams of “CHEATER!” that rang through the Oakland Coliseum (whatever ridiculous name it has today) last night on Opening Day (ahh… welcome back baseball, and welcome back fans) — it feels like a good time to look at some other memorable villains in sports history. Here is a not-at-all-ranked and completely incomplete list of some of the most hated squads in sports history.

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1975 Philadelphia Flyers

1975 Philadelphia Flyers

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The “Broad Street Bullies,”,as the Flyers were dubbed for their physical and punishing play style, led by the toothless Bobby Clarke and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz (and not for his skating prowess), won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. During that era, they were feared for their metaphorical – and literal – “punch you in the mouth” approach. Schultz, for example, racked up 472 penalty minutes in the 1974-1975 campaign. For reference, Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks led the NHL in penalty minutes in 2019-2020 with 122. They were so feared for their physicality and brawling nature that they even made an appearance in an episode of The Simpsons.

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1977 Oakland Raiders

1977 Oakland Raiders

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The 1970s Oakland Raiders, coached by John Madden and owned by Al Davis, openly and widely embraced the role of villains and outcasts, taking in castoffs and misfits who played the game on the edge of illegality. They played with ferocity and physicality that today’s game wouldn’t allow. With Jack “The Assassin” Tatum, Gene Atkinson, Skip “Dr. Death” Thomas, and Willie Brown, their defensive backs prided themselves on hard hits, clothesline tackles, and knocking opponents out of games. The team ended up winning the 1977 Super Bowl over the “Purple People Eaters” Minnesota Vikings, turning those outcasts into champions.

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1986 New York Mets

1986 New York Mets

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It’s hard to think of the Mets as hated, considering they haven’t done much in decades, and have often been the butt of many jokes, but the 1986 team that ended up winning the World Series was reviled for their arrogance (they made the seldom-used Curtain Call into a regular event) and off-the-field personna. They even did an obnoxious music video called Let’s Go Mets Go!. Referred to as “a gang of drunks, pill-poppers, barroom brawlers, degenerate gamblers, womanizers, and arrogant blowhards,” the team was everything that baseball purists hated. On July 20 of that 1986, four players – a second baseman (Tim Teufel) and three PITCHERS (Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, and Rick Aguilar) were arrested after being in a bar brawl involving police officers in Houston. Even the pitchers were nasty. The money quote from that article: As pitcher Bobby Ojeda told Deadspin contributor Jeff Pearlman in his book, The Bad Guys Won, “We were a bunch of vile fuckers.”

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1989-1990 Pistons

1989-1990 Pistons

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If you’ve watched “The Last Dance” on Netflix — and honestly, if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you? — you know that the Pistons and their “Jordan Rules” were a loathsome, bashing, physical squad, embodied by bruisers Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley. The Bad Boys embraced the hatred and the underdog mentality, and revelled in standing in the way of the heir apparent to basketball immortality, Michael Jordan. They beat the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals with a gentleman’s sweep, four games to one.

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1990-1991 Duke Blue Devils

1990-1991 Duke Blue Devils

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With the Christian Laettner/ Bobby Hurley combination leading the way to a NCAA Championship, Duke was an easy target upon which to bestow hatred. Laettner was perceived by many as an entitled bully, who was the source of many dirty plays and poor sportsmanship. One example: he stomped on the chest of Kentucky player Aminu Timberlake during the 1992 NCAA Tournament… yet Timberlake was called for a technical foul. UNLV was the beloved team of that tournament, yet Duke stunned them 79-77 in the Final Four en route to a championship. Laettner, controversially, made the “Dream Team” for the 1992 Olympics, leaving out Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, who were in college at LSU and Georgetown, respectively.

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1991-92 Michigan Wolverines

1991-92 Michigan Wolverines

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Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson were dubbed the “Fab Five,” coming to the school in the 1991 recruiting class. It was unheard of at the time to put five freshmen on the court to start a game, but head coach Steve Fisher did just that against 15th-ranked Notre Dame in February 1992. They made back-to-back championship appearances in 1992 and 1993, losing the first by 20 to Duke, and the second by six to UNC (and an untimely time out by Webber when the Wolverines had none left). They were often hated and mocked for bringing a hip-hop style to the court, with baggy shorts and black socks. Basically, they were hated for being a team of swaggy and talented young Black men in the early-90s. Sometimes being the villain is on the ones doing the hating.

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1995-96 Dallas Cowboys

1995-96 Dallas Cowboys

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When you refer to yourself as “America’s Team,” have a group of loud superstars and a loudmouthed owner, and win three Super Bowls in four years, you’re going to garner a lot of hatred. In Deion Sanders’ debut, despite the Cowboys being up 28-13 late in the game, they dialed up a deep pass attempt from Troy Aikman to Sanders. It was barely overthrown, falling incomplete, but the decision was met with comments of unsportsmanlike behavior after the game. It was this brash arrogance and flashy play style (see Michael Irvin) that rubbed many the wrong way. Sanders, Aikman, Irvin, Emmitt Smith, owner Jerry Jones… it was an arrogant, yet successful, spectacle — a perfect recipe to becoming a villain. And let’s not forget The White House.

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2000 New York Yankees

2000 New York Yankees

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Speaking of New York baseball, the mantle (and not Mickey) was handed almost directly from the Mets to the Yankees, who went on a tear throughout the late 1990s. After winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, and 1999, the year they traded for Roger Clemens, the baseball world was in the midst of having a full-fledged public enemy. At this point, the Mets had regained their “lovable loser” personna after years of futility. They were making another run at it, colliding with the Yankees in the World Series for a “Subway Series” showdown. Clemens jammed Mike Piazza inside, shattering his bat, then decided to pick up the shattered barrel of the bat and chuck it back toward Piaza, causing the benches to empty. The Evil Empire soaked it in, winning a third straight World Series in 2000.

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2002 Los Angeles Lakers

2002 Los Angeles Lakers

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The 2001-2002 Lakers, with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, met the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference finals, with a deciding Game 6 seeing the Kings up, 3-2. If it wasn’t for terrible, nay, scandalous officiating, the Kings likely would have advanced to the NBA Finals, instead of the Lakers, who beat them in Game 7. Disgraced former NBA official Tim Donaghy said years later that the game was “impacted by the actions of two of the three officials working the game.” The Lakers, who eventually swept the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals, were widely hated in that series, bearing the brunt of the referees’ malfeasance.

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2007 New England Patriots

2007 New England Patriots

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Picking just one Patriots season to make this list is a tough feat, as you can easily say they were loathed for essentially 15 years. Bill Belichik and Tom Brady made a detestable pair, and their no-nonsense style and machine-like success has rarely been seen in professional sports. In 2007, as the Patriots had gone a perfect 16-0 before marching through the playoffs, basically the entire country was rooting against them in the Super Bowl vs. the underdog New York Giants. Looking to become the first perfect team since the 1972 Dolphins, the 18-0 Patriots were shocked by the upstart Giants and MVP Eli Manning, thanks to a ludicrous helmet catch by Daid Tyree and a late-game touchdown pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress.

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2010 Miami Heat

2010 Miami Heat

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“I’m taking my talents to South Beach” will forever be remembered as “The Decision,” where the sports world was forced to wait with bated breath while LeBron James put on a spectacle in Greenwich. Conn. Boys and Girls Club, televising his free agency decision on ESPN. What a pompous move looking back at it! Teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and forming a highlight-reel of a trio, the Heat, the NBA’s first superteam, were loathed. They got bounced by the Boston Celtics in the first round that year, to the delight of many. Two years later, however, The Decision paid off, as LeBron James won his first of two championships in Miami. When James hit free agency four years later, his “Decision 2.0” to return to Cleveland was much better received, and heralded by Ohioans as a prodigal son returning home.

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2016 Golden State Warriors

2016 Golden State Warriors

Illustration for article titled Which team played the villain role best?
Image: AP

When Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors, it was perceived by basketball fans and the media alike as a cheap, easy move. The year before, the record-breaking 73-win Warriors beat Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, so he opted for the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy to try and win a ring. The 73-win Warriors, however, lost the Lebron James and the Cavs (Cleveland!....This if for you!!). But by adding Durant, those Warriors would win back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, as the dominant force in the NBA landscape.

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