The Ugliest Breakups in Sports
There’s no i in team. You win as a team, you lose as a team. E pluribus unum.
The sacredness of being team-first, vs. me-first, is instilled in us from preschool to…well, death. Whether playing dodgeball or sitting in corporate team-building exercise, the importance of putting the group first instead of the individual is stressed, hammered and shouted.
There’s a good reason that a coach, boss—any person in charge of a "team"—wants you to be the part of a sum. It works. Teamwork, a cooperative effort to achieve a common goal, is almost always more effective and efficient than a group of individuals acting only in their self-interests.
Without teamwork, an offensive line can’t block, infielders can’t “turn two,” the penalty kill will do no such thing—it wins games, but doesn’t always fully showcase talent.
Where this deeply valued ideal falls apart is in the world of professional sports. Not because most pros are selfish—at every level, most people want to be a part of a team and some resist—but because it’s a business.
No matter how much a pro player wants to win and be a part of a team, or a franchise does, ultimately, money is a third partner. And today, money is often a partner that behaves irrationally. So, we live in an era of free agency, when pros expect—and deserve—to get the fair market value for their talent…or more.
The result? Players who spend a decade with the team who drafted them, or gave them their first opportunity to make an impact, eventually leave or are let go (or a little of both). There is always blame to go round, so it’s rarely amicable.
These are the ugliest breakups in sports.
Percy Harvin and the Minnesota Vikings
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Former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin's departure from Minnesota was nearly a year in the making. In June 2012, he made no secret of his discontent and it was reported that he asked for a trade.
There were rumors that Harvin planned to hold out for a bigger contract that summer, but ultimately opted against it. He played through much of the season, but was ultimately placed on injured reserve prior to the Vikes' surprise playoff appearance.
Bad blood between the club and Harvin remained and, despite protests from stud running back Adrian Peterson, he was traded to the Seahawks in March 2013.
Elvis Dumervil and the Denver Broncos
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The departure of Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos wasn't ugly because of bad behavior on his part. Nor did it really have anything to do with the organization. But the whole situation was, in itself, just ugly—not to mention bizarre. In March 2013, the story of Dumervil's faxed contract debacle absolutely blew up.
The Broncos and Dumervil had recently agreed on a restructured contract and with millions of dollars on the line, the only thing his agent Marty Magid had to do was submit the signed papers by the NFL deadline.
Apparently he had more pressing items on his agenda for that day, because Magid faxed the papers after the deadline, hence negating the contract.
Dumervil was cut by the Broncos and immediately fired his bum of an agent. Perhaps all's well that ends well though, because Dumervil was signed by the Ravens and seems enthusiastic about his future.
But that sure doesn't change the absurdity and the ugliness that ultimately stamped his ticket out of Denver.
Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals
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Coming off a World Series victory with the Cardinals in 2011, Albert Pujols was unquestionably one of the biggest free agents to hit the market in the last decade. The coverage of his every move that offseason can only be described as LeBron-like in its intensity.
Many expected Pujols to remain in St. Louis, considering both the Cardinals and Angels offered the 33-year-old slugger 10-year contracts worth well over $200 million. Apparently the Pujols family was initially irked by the fact that the Cards opening offer was a five-year deal worth $130 million.
All the more reasonable if you look at the financial fiasco the Yankees are currently dealing with because of a similar 10-year deal they're locked into with deadweight Alex Rodriguez. No matter the circumstances behind the decision, at the time you'd have been hard pressed to find a Cardinals fan that didn't want see Pujols remain in St. Louis.
And then Deidre Pujols offered her two cents on the matter, and Cards nation wasn't exactly sympathetic to her plight. She complained about the "insulting" offer from the Cardinals and how she was "mad at God" because "people were deceived by the numbers."
That's right, curse God for your family have a net worth approaching $100 million. How hard it must be to make ends meet in the Pujols house.
Lamar Odom and the Los Angeles Lakers
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Considering Lamar Odom is married to the only Kardashian who looks like she could challenge a wildebeest to a fight and win, you'd think he'd have a little bit more mettle to him. But he doesn't.
In late 2011 Odom was almost dealt to the New Orleans Hornets or Pelicans or whatever they want to be called, in a deal that would have brought superstar point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers.
Because David Stern has a God complex, the deal never went through. And Odom's self-esteem never fully recovered.
He was said to be devastated that the Lakers attempted to move him, as proven by the fact that he broke down into tears when they actually succeeded in trading him to the Mavericks. He literally cried.
Odom's feelings about the initial attempt to trade him were so hurt that he never recovered and ultimately left Dallas before the end of the season—wearing a Lakers championship shirt. Odom may be a cry baby. He may be married to the huskiest Kardashian. He may be nothing more than a mediocre basketball talent.
But he sure as hell loves Los Angeles.
Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers
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If you can separate yourself from your sports allegiances in any way, it's impossible not to feel for former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. He was chosen No. 1 overall by San Francisco in the 2005 NFL draft, a team that had been in hopeless disrepair for years.
Smith also had the ultimate misfortune of being chosen more than 20 places ahead of Aaron Rodgers, which was good for his bank account, but bad for his self-esteem. The Niners went through countless coaches in his first five years with the team, which certainly didn't help his development.
In 2012, Smith finally got a much-needed shot in the arm when the 49ers hired head coach Jim Harbaugh, who publicly (and continually) expressed his unwavering support and faith in his quarterback.
I'm sure Alex Smith appreciates Jim Harbaugh's loyalty and support. Appreciates it like a raging case of hemorrhoids.
Titus Young and the Detroit Lions
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When you hear about once-promising athletes whose bad attitude drove them out of the game far before their time, former Lions wide receiver Titus Young comes to mind. After an impressive collegiate career at Boise State, he was selected by Detroit in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
There was no chance he was going to shine brightly as a rookie, or even a sophomore, playing with the likes of Calvin Johnson. But instead of learning from the superstar wideout and improving his game, Young turned in two mediocre seasons and basically faded away.
In January 2013, he launched a Twitter tirade exclaiming he never once "ran the wrong route" and insisted he was the best in the league. Young tweeted himself right out of Detroit after just two seasons. The Rams considered taking a chance on him, but he was released just nine days after being signed.
Young has since cleared waivers and is now unemployed at the age of 23. If something major doesn't change with this kid, expect any team that makes the mistake of taking a chance on him to immediately regret it.
Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics
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Ray Allen, who earned early fame as the star of the Spike Lee Joint He Got Game, played five seasons of his stellar NBA career for the Celtics.
Considering he had already played a decade's worth of basketball before landing in Boston, Allen's contributions to that team were nothing short of amazing. In his first four seasons, he averaged 78 games per year, 36 minutes and 17 points per game.
In the Celtics' championship season in 2008, Allen made history by sinking seven three-pointers in Game 7 against the Lakers in the finals; tying an NBA record. It's safe to say that by 2012, Allen was nothing short of beloved by the city of Boston.
And then he signed with the Heat. There had been a long-simmering feud between him and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, so when the opportunity came to stick it to his adversary, Allen did just that. He's less than beloved in Boston these days.
Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers
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Former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. I say "arguably" because I'm sure you're desperate to argue that point, but I assure you that I won't be listening. He was selected out of Notre Dame by the 49ers in the third round of the 1979 NFL draft.
Montana went on to win four Super Bowls in San Francisco and was named the MVP in three of them. But when coach Bill Walsh traded for Steve Young in 1987, the tides began to turn for the legendary Montana.
He and Young never had a warm relationship and it only became more strained as injuries began to mount for Montana. By the time he recovered, Young had usurped him as the starter and Montana was forced to watch Super Bowl XXIX from the sidelines.
A rift in the locker room soon developed, with many of his teammates backing an aging Montana, and ultimately forcing the organization's hand in trading him to the Chiefs. Niners fans no doubt still think fondly of Montana, but his exit was unquestionably ugly.
Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers
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Sometimes sobriety impaired slugger Josh Hamilton was one of the most coveted free agents of the recent MLB offseason. A number of teams were reportedly interesting in signing him, and the Rangers were interested in retaining him, but ultimately he signed with the Angels.
Hamilton signed a five-year contract worth $125 million with the organization, who have become the Yankees of the West Coast in the last few years. Considering his checkered past and the fact that Dallas isn't known as a baseball town, the split was relatively amicable at first.
But then Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton started running their respective mouths. In December 2012, Katie Hamilton essentially called the Rangers cheapskates, but insisted she was "so glad" about the move to Los Angeles. Josh said he was disappointed the team didn't try harder to re-sign him.
In February 2013, Hamilton continued his blabbering, going out of his way to call Rangers fans "a little spoiled," adding that Dallas/Ft. Worth isn't even "a true baseball town." I think that I speak for (most) of Texas when I say, "What a freaking ass."
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts
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There was a time not long ago that the thought of quarterback Peyton Manning, already a legend, playing for any team besides the Colts would have been unthinkable.
Even in this day and age when money talks and loyalty is nothing but an antiquated notion of sports yesteryear, Manning retiring in Indianapolis was something you could take to the bank. Although it's a good thing you didn't, because you would've lost it all.
After losing the entire 2011 NFL season to injury, with each passing month the impossible slowly morphed into the probable—especially with a prize like Andrew Luck up for grabs.
The split may have looked amicable, but you can believe all those conveniently sourced retirement rumors didn't leave Manning with a fuzzy feeling as he departed.
Wes Welker and the New England Patriots
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After two nothing seasons with the Dolphins, the Patriots signed (former) wide receiver Wes Welker in March 2007. The relatively modest five-year contract paid Welker just over $18 million—well, it was relatively modest considering his future production in New England.
Not that vague potential is ever handsomely rewarded in the NFL. Over the next six seasons with the Pats, Welker emerged as one of the most reliable and productive receivers in the league; averaging 1,250 yards per season and 37 touchdowns.
But when Welker missed that catch in the final moments of Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, things began to sour. Rather than re-sign him to a long-term deal, the team opted to franchise him for the season, and by mid-season it became clear that Welker's relationship with coach Bill Belichick was deteriorating.
So it should have come as no surprise that when the time came for Welker to sign on the dotted line, he chose the team of Tom Brady's long-time rival, Peyton Manning. There were even reports that he agreed to less money and a shorter term deal just to stick it to New England.
JaMarcus Russell and the Oakland Raiders
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It's hard to tell if Raiders fans are even all that mad about JaMarcus Russell, who Oakland selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 NFL draft. Sure, he was a cataclysmic failure in every sense of the word. But they should be used to be that by now.
But Russell wasn't just a bust. He could very well be the biggest bust in NFL history—he's battling for loser supremacy with Ryan Leaf. He was signed out of LSU to a six-year contract worth an epic $61 million, $32 million of which was guaranteed.
Russell was cut by the Raiders after just three seasons, the shortest stint ever on a team for a quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the draft. He walked around with 39 million greenbacks and an additional 50 pounds in his midsection.
You can't blame Raiders fans for holding a special place of hate in their heart for JaMarcus Russell. And if his (doomed to fail) comeback is successful, don't expect a warm welcome if he returns to play in Oakland.
Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets
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The NBA is a superstar league, which is what many (me included) love most about it. Well, most of us who aren't living in cities and rooting for small-market teams.
Anytime a rookie is drafted by a small-market team, he begins counting down the days until free agency when he can go play in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Miami. That's exactly what Carmelo Anthony did while playing for the Nuggets.
As his time was winding down in Denver, it became increasingly clear that he had absolutely no intention of signing an extension with the team. Instead of losing him to free agency, the Nuggets did the smart thing and traded him to the Knicks midway through the 2010-11 season.
Better to get something at the time, rather than nothing later. Not that Nuggets fans saw it that way entirely. 'Melo may be the second most hated player, aside from LeBron, in his former city.
Ha. Just wait until he's traded from the Knicks. If you think Denver fans can be nasty, you ain't never been to New York (or Philly).
Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers
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Geez, things ended poorly for Brett Favre in Green Bay. Which isn't really much of a surprise considering he handled the Packers drafting Aaron Rodgers as his successor with the grace and dignity of a rabid bull with a social disorder.
Favre played three more bitter seasons with the team before announcing that he was simply too "tired mentally" to keep playing in March 2008. Yeah, if "mentally tired" is defined as desperate to sign with the Vikings in an effort to stick it to the Packers.
Since Green Bay is one of the preeminent franchises in the NFL, they weren't fooled for a minute—they retained the rights to Favre and traded him to the Jets in August of the same year.
Almost one year to the day later, he signed with the Vikings and was just one predictable late-game interception from leading them to the Super Bowl. Then he had to be coaxed/begged/courted/pleaded with by his teammates to return for one more season.
And since he had by far the worst season of his career in 2010, you can bet Packers fans were thrilled he came back.
Tiki Barber and the New York Giants
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Good lord! Has there ever been a player that left more out on the field than former Giants running back Tiki Barber? Actually, don't answer that. There's no scientific proof that's the case and no doubt you'll come up with 10,000 rebuttal examples.
Coming off the three best seasons of his career in 2006, Barber decided to call it quits with that whole football thing in favor of a career in broadcasting with NBC. There's nothing wrong with going out on top, but that's not exactly the best way to describe what he did.
Barber used his new position as a media mouthpiece to badmouth his former teammates before the 2007 season even began. His most high-profile target was quarterback Eli Manning, whose personality, he said, wasn't such that he could be a leader on the field. Funny how he led the team to a Super Bowl Championship that very season.
Is it any wonder that when Barber attempted an extremely ill-conceived NFL comeback in 2011 that the Giants didn't want anything to do with him. There wasn't a team in the league interested in giving Barber another shot, but those within the Giants organization didn't mince words about his prospects.
Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox
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MLB persona non grata Manny Ramirez actually played the first seven years of his career with the Indians. Apparently, he was relatively well-behaved (for him) because he didn't seem to become a public menace until after signing with the Red Sox in 2001.
It wasn't until he signed his eight-year contract worth $160 million that he earned carte blanche to be a terrible human being.
Well, for most of us it's called being a terrible person, for Ramirez it's called "Manny being Manny." Pretty impressive level of awfulness when your name becomes synonymous with being wretched.
While in Boston, Ramirez was busted for using PEDs, was routinely in the news for various acts of insubordination, and just basically making it clear that he couldn't give a crap.
Eventually his maniacal nature reached a fever pitch and he was traded to the Dodgers in 2008. Ramirez lasted barely two more years in the major leagues and spent most of that under suspension for steroids.
But you sure as heck know there's no love lost between Manny and Red Sox fans.
Albert Haynesworth and the Washington Redskins
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You show me someone who thought the $100 million signing of Albert Haynesworth was a good idea for the Redskins at the time and I'll show you a liar.
Haynesworth had a long history of off-the-field issues while playing for the Titans and his behavior on the football field wasn't any better. The five-game suspension he incurred for stomping on the face of an opponent in 2006 was one of the most severe penalties ever handed down by the NFL.
Naturally, the 'Skins were first in line to sign Haynesworth because never they met an overrated free agent they weren't dying to overpay for. And to the surprise of no one, this signing worked out as well as every other free agent they had signed in the years prior. Meaning: It didn't.
Haynesworth was useless in Washington. His first season was mediocre, but things went from bad to worse when Mike Shanahan was hired as the head coach.
Haynesworth refused to participate in off-season activities and showed up to training camp fit as a fiddle. An obese fiddle with a bad attitude who couldn't even pass the most basic conditioning test.
Haynesworth contributed precisely nothing during the 2010 season and was suspended without pay for the final four games of the season. The following offseason he was traded to the Patriots for a can of beans and some dirty sox—it was a steal for the Redskins.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
In terms of free agency in sports, it doesn't get any more high-profile than that of superstar LeBron James' infamous "Decision" in July 2009.
He ended nearly a year of speculation about his future by announcing his intention to "take his talents to South Beach" and play for the Heat.
The fact that he did it via an hour-long special on ESPN dubbed "The Decision," certainly didn't do much to cool the brewing rage among Cavaliers fans.
James became one of the most universally reviled figures in sports in the next year, but it seems his image is finally rebounding.
Randy Moss and Every Team
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Randy Moss is widely considered the most talented and athletically gifted wide receiver of all time. He's tall as a tree, fast as a cheetah, and when he was playing in his prime, there wasn't a defender in the league that could cover him if he was giving 100 percent.
Although that's a very big if. Moss may never win a Super Bowl. He'll definitely be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But his legacy will forever be tainted just for being Randy Moss. He's lazy, disgruntled, self-aggrandizing, mean, and he's never left a team that cared a lick to see him go.
The Vikings traded him to the Raiders. The Raiders traded him to the Patriots. The Patriots traded him back to the Vikings. The Vikings placed him on waivers within weeks and he was claimed by the Titans. The Titans released him. He took a year off and signed with the 49ers in 2012, but will not return in 2013.
And he will not be missed, because he's never missed. Moss may think he's the greatest wideout of all-time, which just proves his level of delusion. Imagine if the Panthers' Steve Smith had the same size, speed, and God-given ability of Randy Moss. Now that's a career I'd like to see.
Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers
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The feud between Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and former teammate Shaquille O'Neal is legendary, despite the fact the two now claim it's squashed.
Maybe they've truly decided to let bygones be bygones and forgive each other for all the nasty barbs they've exchanged over the years. But there's no way in hell they'll ever forget.
Back when they were playing in Los Angeles, though, it was a completely different story. Although they were said to have a cordial relationship early on, eventually the two of them were like oil and water.
Championships be damned, eventually it became clear that Jerry Buss was going to have to choose between his two stars because they could hardly even look at each other after a while. And we all know how that story ended.
Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals
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After nearly a decade playing for the Bengals, quarterback Carson Palmer finally decided that enough was enough in March 2011. And honestly, who could blame the guy?
Perhaps it was due to the notoriously vile owner Mike Brown or the years of dealing with the over-the-top diva antics of wide receiver Chad Johnson, and later Terrell Owens.
Whatever the reason was, Palmer issued an ultimatum: Trade me, or else. If Brown thought Palmer would back down, he was dead wrong. If it came down to playing for the Bengals or retiring, Palmer made it clear that he would rather retire.
He immediately put his Cincinnati home on the market and never played another game for the Bengals. It was one of the ugliest of the ugly departures in sports history.
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic
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From all accounts, former Magic big man Dwight Howard was bound and determined to avoid a "LeBron incident" when it came to his own free agency. He had long been one of the most well-liked athletes in the NBA and wanted to keep it that way.
Unfortunately for Howard, the way he handled his business in the year leading up to being traded to the Lakers, made LeBron James look like Mother Teresa.
It was clear he didn't want to stay in Orlando, but refused to ever just admit it out right.
Instead Howard danced around the issue, made transparently phony attempts trying to prove it was "all good," and eventually got the coach and most of the upper management fired. Basically, he lied through his teeth for over a year.
And then he left, with every bridge in Orlando ablaze.
Terrell Owens and Every Team
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When it comes to (retired?) wide receiver Terrell Owens, it's impossible to pick just one team in which things ended ugly for both parties. In fact, there might not be a single team he's departed from on good terms.
Maybe the Bills? That wasn't exactly a happy ending, but at least he didn't turn the entire team against each other, cover the locker room with gasoline, and flick a lit cigarette at it as he left.
Owens got his start as a human cancer while playing for the 49ers. His relationship with quarterback Jeff Garcia was contemptuous, at best, thanks in no small part to the gay rumors Owens delighted in spreading about him.
Then he went to the Bengals and ruined the life of Carson Palmer—but Palmer didn't even realize because it was a welcomed vacation from Chad Johnson.
Terrell Owens never left a city that wasn't thrilled to see him leave. That essentially sums up the career of one of the most talented athletes to ever play the game. Such a shame.
**Speaking of public menaces, you should follow me on Twitter: Follow @blamberr