Greatest NFL feuds: Richard Sherman vs. Michael Crabtree, T.O. vs. Everyone and more
The NFC title game between the 49ers and Seahawks unfolded as an instant classic. Yet, all that’s been discussed in the hours since Seattle wrapped its Super Bowl berth has been the heated feud between Richard Sherman and Michael Crabtree.
Sherman welcomed the world into that tiff with an epic postgame rant aimed at Crabtree. The Seahawks’ star cornerback also shot a choking gesture in the direction of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Crabtree responded on Twitter, questioning all the love for Sherman’s game. And Sherman then attempted to explain himself — and air some more grievances — on TheMMQB Monday.
No doubt, Sherman’s behavior will be front and center in the pre-Super Bowl media blitz. And with both Sherman and Crabtree expected back for their respective teams in 2014, there ought to be more fuel tossed on that burgeoning 49ers-Seahawks NFC West rivalry.
The situation also gives us cause to take a look back at some of the more infamous feuds in NFL history, with Crabtree’s coach playing a lead role in two:
Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll: This one dates back to when Harbaugh and Carroll were the coaches at Stanford and USC, respectively, though their recent clashes in the San Francisco-Seattle rivalry have done nothing to ease the tensions. The highlight here came in 2009, as Harbaugh’s Stanford squad ran up a 55-21 blowout victory over Carroll’s Trojans. Once the game ended, after the Cardinal had attempted a two-point conversion already up 27 in the fourth quarter, Carroll asked Harbaugh pointedly, “What’s your deal?”
Carroll took the Seattle job prior to the following season; Harbaugh landed in San Francisco one year later, in 2011.
Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz: The Handshake Heard Round the World, and another spot for the fiery Harbaugh on the list. This feud may have been a one-and-done proposition — Schwartz was fired by the Lions before the pair had a chance to relive their infamous 2011 moment, in which an elated Harbaugh dove a little too eagerly into a postgame handshake after his 49ers won in Detroit, setting off an annoyed Schwartz. The now ex-Lions coach chased Harbaugh down and went chest-to-chest with him, touching off a brief skirmish near the Ford Field tunnel.
The pair appeared headed for another encounter in this season’s wild-card playoff round, but the Packers took the NFC North and hosted Harbaugh instead.
Tony Romo vs. the Tony Romo narrative: There is hard statistical evidence that Tony Romo is a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. (Did you know that he’s No. 5 all time in QB passer rating?) Good luck telling that to Romo’s critics, who watch each close Cowboys game waiting for Romo to collapse. Every so often, he obliges in spectacular fashion, like in Dallas’ crushing Week 15 loss to Green Bay — the Packers rallied from 26-3 down and stole a victory late off a Romo interception.
In eight seasons as the Cowboys’ full-time starter, Romo has posted a record of 18 games above .500 (63-45) in the regular season. But he’s just 1-3 in the playoffs and his team has not been to the postseason since 2009.
Terrell Owens vs. Everyone: Owens butted heads often with coach Steve Mariucci when the two were together in San Francisco. Then, he had multiple dust-ups with Andy Reid in Philadelphia, the last of which led to a team-imposed suspension and later Owens’ release. He got into an argument with WRs coach Todd Haley in Dallas, constantly irritated fans and the opposition with his bombastic celebrations, and had more than a few memorable press conference moments.
Keyshawn Johnson vs. Jon Gruden: Johnson and Gruden won a Super Bowl together in 2002, Gruden’s first year with Tampa Bay. Johnson was off the roster before the subsequent season ended, after repeated run-ins with his head coach. The Buccaneers deactivated Johnson for the final six games of the 2003 season.
“I didn’t want to be there,” Johnson, now an ESPN analyst, admitted during a 2011 episode of Sunday Morning Countdown.
“I didn’t want to be in the environment. No matter we had just won a championship, and I was playing fine the year that I got deactivated, I was doing great. In fact, we had a chance to go to the playoffs. But it was just something about the way I was being coached, talked to, dealt with. Just didn’t want to be there.”
Wes Welker vs. Bill Belichick: This one jumped into the spotlight again last Sunday, when Welker’s Broncos downed Belichick’s Patriots in the AFC title game … and Welker injured New England corner Aqib Talib with what appeared to be a borderline-illegal pick.
“One of the worst plays I’ve seen,” Belichick said of Welker’s hit. “It was a deliberate play by the receiver [Welker] to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open.”
That is just the latest hiccup in what became a rocky relationship between Welker and Belichick as Welker’s lengthy stay with the Patriots wound down. Welker said in a 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated that Belichick took to berating him in front of his teammates.
“It was just kind of hard,” Welker said in August, “one of those deals where you have to endure him, put up with him … But he does it to everybody, it’s the way he is.”
Eric Mangini vs. Bill Belichick: Friends turned enemies, with Spygate playing a central role. Mangini coached under Belichick, even following him from New York to New England when Belichick took over the Patriots’ gig. But Mangini later took a job as the Jets’ head coach, and Belichick responded by locking Mangini out of Gillette Stadium when he attempted to clear out his office.
The duo then embarked on an icy rivalry as coaching combatants — one that really came to a head in 2007 when a Patriots staffer was caught taping the Jets’ defensive signals. Rumors then swirled that Mangini helped Roger Goodell and the NFL formulate the Spygate case against New England. The drama ended with Belichick being fined $500K, the Patriots taking a $250K hit and the franchise losing a draft pick.
Mike Vanderjagt vs. Peyton Manning: Vanderjagt pinned the blame for Indianapolis’ 2002 playoff loss squarely on Manning’s shoulders. The current Broncos’ QB responded during an interview at the Pro Bowl: “We’re talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off.”
Vanderjagt remained with the Colts for three more seasons, and in 2003 finished a perfect 40-for-40 on field goals spanning the regular season and playoffs.
Buddy Ryan vs. Mike Ditka: The Super Bowl champion 1985 Bears still hold a place as one of the greatest teams in NFL history. That they accomplished such success with a civil war splitting their coaching staff remains remarkable.
Ditka, the team’s head coach, had a very bitter and rather public discord with Ryan, the team’s defensive coordinator. With Ditka overseeing the offense and Ryan running the show on defense — usually with very little crossover between the two — there was anger in the air throughout that magical campaign. Practices were notoriously feisty, as the coaches implemented a no-holds-barred approach.
Ryan later provided one of the league’s most memorable moments when, as defensive coordinator in Houston, he punched Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sideline during a game.
Don Shula vs. Mercury Morris: Special mention here, as this is the only known feud in NFL history to be settled by the use of voodoo. As Sports Illustrated‘s legendary Dr. Z recalled in the article celebrating Shula as 1993′s Sportsman of the Year, Morris was so upset over being asked to split playing time at running back that he attempted to curse his head coach before the 1974 playoffs.
“I went to see this Haitian root man, King Solomon, on 54th and 12th,” Morris told Dr. Z. “I told him, ‘Shula’s trying to kill me. I don’t want him hurt, but I want him off me.’ I see that you’re laughing, but believe me, you’d go down to his place, and you’d see lawyers there and people like that waiting for him to put some roots on somebody.
“The night before we left for Oakland, I was out in the backyard at 2 a.m., saying chants. I made a Shula doll and put it in a box and buried it. Before the game I was chewing roots on the field. In my shoe I had a piece of paper with a spider web on it, and written underneath was the word confused.
“During the game our starting cornerback, Tim Foley, got hurt, and they put in Henry Stuckey, the third-stringer, instead of Lloyd Mumphord, the regular backup. Cliff Branch ran by Stuckey for a 72-yard touchdown. On the bench everyone’s asking our defensive coordinator, Vince Costello, ‘Why is Stuckey in there?’ Then someone said, ‘He must be confused.’
“That was the game where Clarence Davis caught the pass that beat us in the last minute. Afterward our left tackle Wayne Moore, who knew what I’d done, said to me, ‘Damn, baby, you should have waited till next week so we could have gotten another check.’”