The passionate world of sports has always had a vicious underbelly. Beneath the champagne-popping glamor remains a herd of trampling competitors always looking for ways to set the tone. With fearlessness in the driver's seat, thunderous tackles and crunching checks are often top priority.
But filed within this enormous collection of ruthless hits are several noteworthy licks that had particular fanbases temporarily in a coma. The same hits that create excited frenzies can have fans ripping their hair out in angst when their franchise superstar is the victim.
"Are you kidding me" and "I should've worn my sweaty jockstrap instead" are only warm-ups to the bevy of helpless reactions that fans exert when their cornerstone players are crushed.
Let's take a look at the most brutal hits ever laid on superstar athletes. These are the ones that had fans truly calling 911.
Two MVP awards, eight titles, 31 fourth-quarter comebacks. "Golden Joe" Montana simply dominated the gridiron.
But during the 1990 NFC Championship Game against the Giants, Montana was bested by crawling defensive end Leonard Marshall on a lethal rollout. San Francisco's heart and soul would miss the entire 1991 season and most of the 1992 season with the resulting elbow injury.
Long before he was a broadcasting blowhard, Keyshawn Johnson was a chatty, yet promising receiver for the Jets, who drafted him first overall in '96, and then the Bucs, who traded for the moody talent in '99.
During this 2000 game against the Lions, the man once dubbed Me-shawn was formidably crushed by hard-hitting safety Corwin Brown, who had his sights perfectly set on the gifted target.
When the Oilers took two-time Memorial Cup tournament MVP Taylor Hall with the first pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, they expected him to be their franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Lethal defenseman Drew Doughty didn't seem inspired by the Edmonton optimism, though, as he sent the rookie star into submission with a deadly poke against the boards. Hall took it like a pro.
On his quest for professional prosperity, quarterback Matt Ryan has taken his fair share of numbing hits. None more monstrous than fifth-year senior David Dunham's stomach-twisting slam during the Clemson-Boston College game in 2005.
A brutal welcome for the lanky Pennsylvania product, who would immediately tear himself off the gridiron and go on to lead his Eagles to three bowl victories and a 25-7 record in 32 collegiate starts.
At 6'4", Brandon Browner is no measly ball-hawking cornerback. The Oregon State product can lay a lick on any unsuspecting target.
And he does a mean Ryan Clark impression.
In the third quarter of a 2009 game against Kentucky during which Tim Tebow, a Florida legend, ran for two touchdowns and reached second place on the all-time SEC touchdown list, Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham laid an old-fashioned smack on the iconic Gators quarterback.
But while the hit was historic, it was Tebow's head slam against the knee of offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert that cemented a bruising result; specifically a minor concussion. The collegiate superstar would be back two weeks later, following a well-timed bye, to face LSU.
Following John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene in the '06 NHL draft, was a scrappy 6'2" WHL prospect by the name of Evander Kane. Since being taken fourth by the Thrashers (now the Jets), Kane has developed into a top-shelf sniper with a blossoming nose for the puck.
Philly's Sean O'Donnell, however, decided to test his young 30-goal counterpart last year with a slight shoulder that resulted in a heavy fall. Lesson learned.
Chad meet Mack truck. Mack truck meet Chad.
If there's one truth in the NFL, it's that Ray Lewis–better referred to as Ray Snarles or Sugar Ray–is not to be tested. Curiosity killed Chad Johnson in 2009.
Ben Davidson, a cantankerous and towering 6'8" defensive lineman in the '60s and early '70s, became the epitome of Raiders football with his ruthless and unforgiving style of play.
Despite a nasty edge and a legendary handlebar mustache, Davidson was a true class act. Although Broadway Joe Namath may have disagreed the day he got his helmet thrust from his head. With his cheek bone already having been destroyed by other defensive end Ike Lassiter, Namath was naturally beheaded by Davidson in what has become iconic imagery.
Instead of doing the "Dougie" or a swan dive like today's lineman following a sack, we believe Davidson got up and subtly twirled his 'stache.
A head-to-head exchange with physical receiver Anquan Boldin that cost Jets safety Eric Smith $50,000 and a one-game suspension in 2008 remains one that he reportedly doesn't remember.
The cruelty of the NFL is that both players can crumble, both will be affected, but only one will fall.
The Ravens once possessed a pugnacious unit that was unafraid to unleash an old-school punishing on the offense. Ben Roethlisberger learned this the hard way when Bart Scott drilled him in 2006, only one of nine sacks on the day for the Baltimore defense.
The oak-strong quarterback couldn't stand tall against this wild pack of legends.
After learning of the Gregg Williams-orchestrated bounty scandal, we are forced to rethink this divisional round destruction in 2010. Keep in mind, Kurt Warner retired during the offseason following this Bobby McCray block.
Perfectly legal hit, perfectly lethal airtime.
Kudos to Tom Brady and his boyishly-coiffed hair for quickly peeling himself off the turf, but more respect to Nate Clements for successfully impersonating a brick wall.
In Week 14 of the Patriots' 2001 season, with a young Tom Brady nearing 13 weeks as starting quarterback but already showing flashes of brilliance, Clements tested the newcomer. He passed.
No target was unfathomable for old-fashioned bruiser Scott Stevens. Not even 240 pounds of unfiltered determination by the name of Eric Lindros.
Lindros, having missed some of the regular season due to a fourth career concussion, returned for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey—only to encounter the glorious wall of Stevens.
During Game 7, however, Lindros endured yet another concussion after a snarling Stevens knocked him back to the early '90s, when Lindros was first dubbed "The Next One."
Like an inexperienced martial arts student attempting to catch the grasshopper in his master's hand, NFL teams have yet to shut down scrappy 5'9" wideout Wes Welker. Even on camera, the closet comedian is a riot.
But Steelers safety Ryan Clark finally enjoyed a moment most football fans can only dream about. Pure, airborne deflation. He gave Browner a lesson in laying a lick.
Even Lawrence Taylor was screaming for help after he nearly tore Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann to shreds. On paper, Theismann suffered a comminuted compound fracture of his leg. But in reality, the Washington faithful as a whole suffered a crushing loss.
November 18, 1985 would be the day that Theismann took his last professional snap, courtesy of the greatest pass rusher in Giants history.
After leading superstar teammate Evgeni Malkin with a suicide pass down the right hash and watching him get helplessly flipped, Sidney Crosby knew what he had to do.
Quick, to the Crosby-mobile.
All-American tailback Willis McGahee, a surefire top-5 pick heading into the '03 Draft, shattered all kinds of records as Miami's star tailback, and even led the Hurricanes to an undefeated regular season in 2002.
But during the fourth quarter of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, it all came crashing down. Thanks to a ferocious undercut from Buckeyes safety Will Allen (now on the Steelers), McGahee's left knee bent ways that even Play-Doh would scoff at.
While his ACL, PCL, MCL and ego were torn to shreds, McGahee would leave the '03 draft as the No. 23 pick—miraculous considering he was set to miss his first professional season. Since then, he's racked up two Pro Bowl appearances.
Opponents of defenseman Scott Stevens knew one cruel reality when patrolling the ice—keep your head up. Paying homage to his hit on Lindros three seasons earlier, Stevens was back for another playoff pummeling.
Unfortunately, during the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, Anaheim captain Paul Kariya—all 5'10" and 182 pounds of him—dropped his head for a moment too long. A no-no during Duck hunting season.
After lying motionless on the ice, Kariya peeled himself off and went to the locker room. The star Duck would courageously be seen on the ice minutes later—scoring the fourth goal of the game.
Not to call Reggie Bush a superstar, but the scat back had legendary expectations resting on his nimble feet as a rookie in 2006.
Seen as the second coming of Gale Sayers, USC tailback Reggie Bush entered the NFL with a Heisman Trophy and a potent collection of broken ankles to his name.
But cornerback Sheldon Brown didn't seem impressed when he derailed Bush's hopes and dreams during the 2006 NFC Divisional Playoff Game. Welcome to bush league, Mr. Bush.
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