What does it actually take to become loathed in your chosen sport?
Let us name some of the ways: apathetic play; being arrested; dirty hits; trash-talking; acting the prima donna; stiffing the fans; general boorish behavior. And we’re just skimming the surface of loutishness, folks.
In the long history of the NFL there have been many, and by that we mean army company strength, players who have for one or more reasons been loathed by fans, opponents, teammates, executives, and media types alike.
Our list could very well fill a volume that would make “War and Peace” look like a haiku.
One of the best examples of a generally hated individual (who we left off this list) was former Oakland Raiders defensive end/Hollywood actor John Matuszak. He was so disliked by his own teammates on the Raiders of the 70s and owner Al Davis — and that’s saying something — Sports Illustrated named him one of their Top 5 all-time bad boys.
The late Matuszak could be the poster boy for this villainous set, a lot of whom are great players and either in the Hall of Fame or destined for it.
Here are each franchise’s most hated players, with some teams having multiple entrants. Enjoy.
32. Arizona Cardinals – Conrad Dobler
Hard-nosed Conrad Dobler has a special place among the all-time dirtiest players in the NFL — numero uno. Sports Illustrated named the former St. Louis Cardinals’ offensive guard “Football’s Dirtiest Player.” Drafted in the fifth round (110th overall) by St. Louis in 1972, Dobler quickly earned a reputation for a meanness unparalleled in the league. Sportswriter Paul Zimmerman put it best describing his play: “Conrad Dobler was mean dirty. He tried to hurt people in a bad way…he made teams that he played on better. He played hurt, didn’t complain, but he was a filthy, filthy player.”
31. Atlanta Falcons – Michael Vick
Americans — and people in general — love dogs. And when beloved canines are seen being mistreated and beaten, it gets their dander up. For that reason, it’s a no-brainer that Michael Vick is the most hated Atlanta Falcon ever. The talented left-handed pivot had the world at his deft finger tips when it was revealed that he was operating a dog fighting ring that left many animals tragically dead. His foray into that dark world cost him 18 months in jail and being reviled by everyone involved in football.
30. Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis And Ray Rice
The Rays aren’t that disparate in just how they came to be hated by the football masses. Rice, who is still looking for work in football and was great when he played, was caught on camera punching the living daylights out of his fiancee in a hotel elevator, then dragging her unconscious body out like a sack of potatoes. He was suspended and his actions led to a new policy on domestic violence. Lewis, one of the all-time best linebackers in NFL history, was charged with murder after an infamous post-Super Bowl XXXIV party in January 2000. It wasn’t so much that he was charged that he was hated but the fact he got his charges dismissed for testifying against his co-accused.
29. Buffalo Bills – O.J. Simpson
Everything you need to know about how O.J. Simpson went from being the NFL’s Golden Child to sociopathic monster is on display in ESPN’s excellent 30-for-30 documentary O.J. Simpson: Made In America. The chronicle of his rise from relative poverty, to football at USC and then on to NFL stardom and acting is riveting. And revolting. That is why “The Juice” is not just one of the most hated men in the NFL, but in North America.
28. Carolina Panthers – Rae Carruth And Cam Newton
Carruth, a budding star wide receiver with the Panthers in the late 90s, came by being hated in the most heinous way possible. That is, hiring hitmen to kill his pregnant girlfriend because she refused to have an abortion. He caused himself further grief when he ran away after the woman died and was arrested after being found in the trunk of a car. He is still serving the 19-year sentence handed down to him. Newton, a superstar QB right now, is hated for his actions on field and off. His excessive “dabbing” after first downs and TDs and his petulant flight from a post-Super Bowl media scrum have made him reviled in certain circles.
27. Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler And Jim McMahon
Quarterbacks, by and large, are the strutting peacocks of the NFL. Their talent and leadership are often the driving force behind championships. In some cases, though, the preening and self-importance gets in the way of public perception of their gifts. For the Bears, Jay Cutler is hated because he always looks so glum or smug, whether he is winning or losing. He is hated by both fans of other teams and his own. He’s also gone tete-a-tete with several coaches and offensive co-ordinators. McMahon always marched to the beat of his own drummer, and was hated by coaches, management and the league alike. His outspoken behavior, penchant for drinking beer at press conferences and that head band drew ire from the likes of Mike Ditka and Pete Rozelle.
26. Cincinnati Bengals – Chad Johnson And Vontaze Burfict
Chad Johnson gained a legion of haters by being a trash-talking, self-promoting, yet uber-talented receiver during his heyday with the Bengals. His ego knew no bounds, leading him to change his last name to “Ochocinco” in honor of his number 85. If that weren’t enough, the on-field antics after TDs left people fuming, such as performing CPR on a football and River Dancing. Current star linebacker Vontaze Burfict is widely despised for being a dirty hitter. Bengals fans can be none too happy for the ill-timed illegal hit to the head of Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the 2015 playoffs, which led to a Steelers victory.
25. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel
We hope, in all sincerity, that Johnny Manziel eventually gets the help he needs for his addictions and that maybe, some day, he returns to football. For now, though, fans of the Browns and football in general will continue to loathe a guy who had it all and pissed it away in a very short time. It’s not enough that he was censured for partying so much that it would make the Gronk wince, it’s been his repeated degenerative behavior when his team was trying to help him and even accusations of domestic violence from an ex-girlfriend. Johnny Football couldn’t be more hated if he tried.
24. Dallas Cowboys – Greg Hardy and Michael Irvin
When looking at just who might be most hated on the Dallas Cowboys, in their rich and illustrious history, Greg Hardy and Michael Irvin stand out. Hardy was suspended 10 games for the 2015 season for violating the personal conduct policy (i.e. strangling and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend). He’s also been a general miscreant who has butted heads with teammates and coaches, too. Irvin, a Hall of Famer who played on some great Cowboys’ teams, was the original “diva wideout”, who infamously was found in a hotel room all coked up and in the company of “topless models.” More than anything, his arrogance just rubbed people the wrong way.
23. Denver Broncos – Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski, who never met a teammate or opponent he couldn’t dislike, was a great linebacker and a four-time Super Bowl winner. His reputation for being psychotic on the field, though, always preceded him. He was detested around the league for taking his zeal just a little too far, like the time he was fined $20,000 for breaking quarterback Kerry Collins jaw with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. Or, there was the time in a scrimmage game (while with Oakland) that he tore teammate Marcus Williams’ helmet off and punched him in the eye, crushing Williams’ eye socket. The resulting injury ended Williams’ career, too.
22. Detroit Lions – Ndamukong Suh
There should be a special category for extremely dirty players, like Attila the Hun-scale terrifying. And if there was one, it would be topped by former Detroit Lion and current Miami Dolphin Suh. He’s given up the equivalent of a career CFL salary in fines (over $300,000) for the worst kind of cheap shots you can imagine. Such as stomping on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and kicking Matt Schaub in the groin. Given his football gifts and talent for hitting people extremely hard, it doesn’t seem necessary for him to penalize himself and his team with extra-curricular stupidity.
21. Green Bay Packers – Brett Favre
We’ll set the record straight by saying Favre is deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame (in 2015) and that he was one of the best quarterbacks ever to call a play in the NFL. He was beloved in Green Bay, too. Yet, the three-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion found a way for people to loathe him. First there was the retirement, then the un-retirement — only he asked for his release from the Packers to play with, of all teams, the New York Jets and then the Minnesota Vikings. Then there was that alleged sexting and voice mail scandal involving Jets’ Gameday host Jenn Sterger in 2008. Oh, Brett.
20. Houston Texans – Brian Cushing
There are extremely nice guys on the Texans, like J.J. Watt, and then there are poster boys for PED suspensions, namely Brian Cushing. Watt and Cushing are a punishing pair of defensive stalwarts, but Watt hasn’t tried to gain an edge by doping up. Cushing, who denied ever using PEDs before he was drafted out of USC, was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. A 2009 test revealed abnormal levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in his system. He has also not done himself any favors by acting and talking like a frat boy. The Texans’ history is short, so Cushing’s inclusion here is by default.
19. Indianapolis Colts – Mike Vanderjagt
It’s pretty hard to hate a kicker in the NFL, especially since they are only noticed when they miss a key field goal or single point. However, the man who would retire as the most accurate field goal kicker in two leagues, the NFL and CFL, found a way to make everyone detest him. Mike Vanderjagt, an Oakville, Ontario native, even caught the ire of Peyton Manning, who called him out after Vanderjagt criticized him after an unsuccessful 2002 post-season. Manning famously replied to Vanderjagt’s ill-timed comments with the put-down, “our idiot kicker who got liquored up.” Not only was he reviled by teammates and opponents, but by fans who were sick of seeing him miss key field goals in the playoffs.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon
When looking at the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars, not many names stand out for derision. They’ve only made the playoffs six times in 21 seasons — and not once in the last eight. Thus, the only player to point the finger at and say “we don’t like you” was former first round pick Justin Blackmon. Drafted a lofty fifth overall out of Oklahoma State in 2012, Blackmon’s fall from grace was swift. The talented wide receiver enjoyed a decent rookie season, but was suspended the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the substance abuse policy. He played four more games, got injured, got arrested for marijuana possession, and has been out of football since.
17. Kansas City Chiefs – Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson was one of the Chiefs all-time best running backs, too bad he couldn’t stop running his mouth on Twitter. Before he set a single season rushing record (1,750 yards in 2005, in just nine starts), Johnson had already caught the ire of then coach Dick Vermeil, who told a petulant Johnson to “lose the diapers.” After Johnson quieted the coach and critics with his play (another 1,789 yards in 2006), his troubles began anew when he threatened to sit out training camp in 2007 unless he got a fat new contract. That pact, six years and $45 million, made him the highest paid running back at the time. Injuries would catch up to him and his play faltered, leading to very public feuds on Twitter, where he enraged fans by using gay slurs and taunting one about making more money than him.
16. Miami Dolphins – Ricky Williams And Richie Incognito
If there were two more dissimilar reasons for being hated, Ricky Williams and Richie Incognito owned them. Williams, a hugely talented running back out of Texas, was detested because he never quite lived up to his advance billing after being drafted fifth overall by New Orleans in 1999. Compounding his so-so performance was the fact he loved to smoke marijuana, in lieu of working hard at his game. He was suspended multiple times for his love of ganja. Incognito, who still plays for Buffalo, turned into a bully during his time with the Dolphins (2010-13), earning a team suspension for his mistreatment and harassment of Jonathan Martin. He never played another down for Miami after that (sitting out the 2014 season).
15. Minnesota Vikings – Randy Moss and Adrian Peterson
Before Vikings fans jump all over us for piling on Adrian Peterson, we will say he was an impact running back worthy of donning the purple and gold and maybe one day winning a championship. As a parent and a human being, however, he leaves a lot to be desired. It’s really hard to like a guy who whipped his four-year-old son enough times with a switch to leave noticeable and ugly marks. He should have been jailed for felony child abuse, but got off light with a no contest plea to misdemeanor reckless assault. Moss, for his part, made himself hated — by Packers fans, especially — for his hilarious, but ill-timed, moon after scoring a TD against Green Bay. Off the field, Moss was just as reckless, getting arrested for parole violations, marijuana possession, and traffic incidents.
14. New England Patriots – Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski
It’s really, really hard to detest guys who are talented and successful. Somehow, though, both Tom Terrific and The Gronk manage to have legions of haters. And that is saying something for players from a team that once had convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez in its ranks. Brady is hated for a number of reasons, a few of which include being a four-time champ, being married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and his political affiliations. We can imagine the Schadenfreude felt by his haters over the reinstatement of his “Deflategate” suspension. Gronk, also hugely successful and talented, is reviled for his off-season regimen of Twitter-covered partying, carousing, womanizing and socializing. None of this suspect behavior seems to faze him, either.
13. New Orleans Saints – Russell Erxleben
As easy as it is to loathe high profile position players like quarterbacks and wide receivers, it’s mighty difficult to hate on a kicker. However, when Russell Erxleben was drafted in the first round of the 1979 draft by New Orleans — a true rarity — he quickly got caught in the fans’ crosshairs. A standout with the Texas Longhorns (who also produced future Saints’ draft pick and hated man Ricky Williams), Erxleben made a name for himself by kicking a record 67-yard field goal for the ‘Horns in 1977. Despite his collegiate exploits, Erxleben never panned out as a kicker/punter in New Orleans. His most infamous miss, which resulted in a season-opening loss to a terrible San Francisco team in 1980, precipitated a 14-game losing streak and 1-15 finish. He was out of football by 1984.
12. New York Giants – Lawrence Taylor and Odell Beckham Jr.
That Lawrence “L.T.” Taylor was one of the finest linebackers the game has ever known is not a boast. He’ll even tell you that. The Hall of Famer and former MVP was a force on the gridiron, making all who crossed his path pay for it. Off the field, though, L.T. was a mess. He drank too much, snorted too much cocaine, partied too hard and infamously soliciting near under-age prostitutes. All this recklessness turned even his own fans off. Beckham Jr., who has quickly established himself among the NFL’s best pass-catchers, isn’t hated so much by fans but by his opponents and league executives. His incessant whining and instigating ways (see wrestling match with Josh Norman) have made him a lightning rod for controversy, for sure.
11. New York Jets – Mark Gastineau
While Lawrence Taylor got all kinds of headlines in East Rutherford for on and off field exploits, Mark Gastineau was making an equally good, but mostly bad, reputation for himself with the Jets. A part of the Jets’ “Sack Exchange” in the 80s, Gastineau set the record for sacks (since surpassed) with 22 in 1984. As beloved as he was on the field, he was detested off of it, mostly for his poor choices involving steroids and other substances. Gastineau also made no friends on his team during the 1987 strike, when he repeatedly crossed the picket line, causing teammates to say publicly that Gastineau always “put himself in front of the team.” He was also a long-haired pretty boy who dated actress Brigitte Nielsen and later spent some time in prison on domestic violence and drug possession charges in 1998.
10. Oakland Raiders – JaMarcus Russell And Jack Tatum
Let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine to the 1970s, shall we. Like, when the Oakland Raiders were a thing and won a Super Bowl title. The Raiders were Team Dirty then and even employed a safety (!) known as “The Assassin” Jack Tatum. One of the hardest hitters the game has ever known, Tatum was involved in two famous hits. One, on “the Immaculate Reception” in 1972 inadvertently ended up in six points against the Raiders. The other, in a pre-season game in 1978, left New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed. We’re not sure anyone was more hated then. Fast forward to 2007 when the miserable Raiders selected LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell first overall. The most hated man in Raiders Nation held out for a massive contract and completely tanked thereafter.
9. Philadelphia Eagles – Riley Cooper
A dirty hit is one thing. Being suspended for substance abuse, another. Those may be forgivable offences. But, when you’re caught on camera making racial slurs, the hate is going to rain on you like a torrent. Cooper can’t undo the remarks he made backstage at a Kenny Chesney concert, where he directed some filth at bouncers who refused to accept the old “don’t you know who I am” thing and let him into the event. He did apologize and was fined by the Eagles, however, that video is still on the internet. He compounded his problems by scrapping with fellow wide receiver Cary Williams in a practice not long after.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, and Hines Ward
Take your pick, football fans. In the long history of the Pittsburgh Steelers there have been many villains and tough guys, but the three we put here deserve special mention for being hated. Hines Ward, one of the game’s best receivers, used tactics so questionable he was voted “dirtiest” by his peers in 2009. Roethlisberger, like Tom Brady, is hated by opposing fans for being a winner (two Super Bowl titles), but also for accusations of sexual assault in two separate incidents, making him detested by the public at large. Harrison, who is one of the league’s most feared edge rushers, has pretty much been a bad boy on and off field, compiling civilian assault charges off of it and getting fined thousands for dirty hits on it.
7. Los Angeles Rams – Eric Dickerson
We could have picked current Rams owner Stan Kroenke and called it a day. But, he hasn’t, and won’t, play a down in the NFL, so we went with former superstar running back Eric Dickerson. In the sordid history of the Rams, from L.A. to St. Louis and back to L.A. few players have raised the ire of the team’s fans (and ownership) more than Dickerson. The Hall of Famer was the team’s best ever running back and had the accolades and statistics (four rushing titles) to back it up. Yet it was the endless contract disputes with the team, staining his legacy, that he will be remembered for. The Rams, sensing he would never sign and tired of his whining, traded him to the Colts in one of the biggest deals ever in 1987.
6. San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers
He might be one of the game’s premier passers, however, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is abhorred league-wide for being a big crybaby when things don’t go his way. On top of that, he’s been one of the top ten pivots over the last decade but has not been able to produce playoff success for long-suffering Chargers’ fans. Known to be a great Dad and generally a good dude off the field, Rivers is widely known for yelling at officials, shouting at teammates, and barking at coaches who dare make a call that doesn’t go his way or pick a play he doesn’t like. He’ll be a Hall of Famer, that is certain, and a Hall of Shamer, too.
5. San Francisco 49ers – Terrell Owens
Just how much was talented wide receiver Terrell Owens hated during his 15-year career? Let us count the ways. The six-time Pro Bowler had talent for catching footballs and just as much for being on the receiving end of league-wide dislike. As a point of matter, he could be the most hated on the five teams he played for, not just the Niners. And get this, the Los Angeles Rams thought about being sixth on his list of teams played for, after reporting interest in the not-as-yet officially retired T.O. On his list of actions earning him most hated were the overly elaborate TD celebrations, poor relationships with quarterbacks, me-first attitude, and being a cancer in every locker room he set foot in.
4. Seattle Seahawks – Brian Bosworth and Richard Sherman
The Seahawks have had many showboaters and grand-standers in their NFL history, none greater than Bosworth and Sherman. Bosworth was a star out of Oklahoma who was supposed to set the league on fire, but became known and hated only for his outlandish haircuts, trash-talking established stars and being pretty much a complete bust. Put it this way, he’s a better actor than a football player. Sherman, for his part, is a great Seahawks’ defender with the same personality ticks as Bosworth. Sherman never met a Twitter feud he didn’t like or an opponent he couldn’t throw some inciteful barb at. You know you’re detested widely when you make this list and your former teammate Marshawn Lynch doesn’t.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Keyshawn Johnson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ fans never hated Keyshawn Johnson, who won a Super Bowl with them. No, he was hated by others for being a prima donna and locker room cancer. Even during that Super Bowl campaign in 2002, he openly feuded with head coach Jon Gruden and chafed at being uncomfortable in the Gruden’s offensive scheme. He was caught on camera screaming at Gruden during the next season, earning him a seat on the sidelines for the remaining seven games. He openly griped about that incident later and showed his true colors for being a me-first guy by saying he didn’t like the way he was coached or talked to. Poor guy.
2. Tennessee Titans – Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones
Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones is more of a model citizen as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. Too bad he was such a miscreant early in his career. Now known more for being a dirty player on the field, Jones’ history off of it is replete with evil misdeeds and he was vilified for it. There have been arrests for assault, felony vandalism, marijuana possession, and the penultimate set-to involving a stripper in Las Vegas in 2007. Jones, who was in a Vegas strip club with singer Nelly, first “made it rain” on stage with hundreds of Benjamins. When strippers were directed by security to pick the money up, Jones got mad, grabbed one by the hair, and allegedly slammed her head against the stage. For shame.
1. Washington Redskins – Albert Haynesworth
Albert Haynesworth makes Ndamukong Suh look like a choirboy, in retrospect. The former first round pick of the Tennessee Titans was one of the dirtiest players to ever step on a league field, especially that infamous stomp to the head of Cowboys’ center Andre Gurode. Even with all of that bad press, he was more hated while a member of the Redskins, where he was viewed as a complete bust after signing the biggest deal for a defensive lineman ever Washington (after seven good seasons in Tennessee). All that money went straight to his head, as he refused to participate in off-season workouts, showed up to camp fat, and couldn’t pass a basic fitness test. He also whined about his role in the ‘Skins defensive scheme. Hate might not be a strong enough word here.