Commentary

Is Brett Favre sports' biggest turncoat?

Originally Published: October 5, 2009
By Matthew Iles | Special to Page 2

When American colonists declared independence and flipped the bird to the British crown, it was an act of righteous defiance that gave birth to the greatest nation on Earth.

But when Benedict Arnold acted on his beliefs and switched sides in the heat of battle, he was remembered as a cowardly turncoat and the king of all backstabbers.

History is always kinder to the victor. The same is true today, perhaps more so considering the stakes. Sure, the Revolutionary War was a big deal, but this is the Vikings against the Packers, and Brett Favre, once Green Bay's favorite son, now prepares to enact his former team's demise.

But is Favre's sin of sedition the worst ever in sports?

Court is in session, as Page 2 passes judgment on the most treasonous sports figures ever.

Without further ado, we present the top 10 turncoats in sports:


    

No. 10 Defendant: Leo Durocher


Durocher took over dugout duties for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938 and immediately asserted himself as every umpire's worst nightmare. He ranks fourth in career ejections, and his salty assertiveness and unchecked mouth were outdone only by his managerial savvy. The Dodgers never saw a losing season under his watch.

The case: Mired in a gambling scandal, Durocher was suspended from baseball for the 1947 season. By midseason in '48, Durocher had worn out his welcome in Brooklyn, so he did what any good turncoat would do. He quickly negotiated a deal with the crosstown rival New York Giants to succeed Mel Ott as manager.

The ruling: Vindicated. For Durocher, revenge came served as a meaty pitch in Bobby Thomson's wheelhouse. The Giants outfielder crushed a game-winning home run against the Dodgers to secure the 1951 NL pennant. Actively seeking vengeance may be a bit unsavory, but as Durocher famously said: "Nice guys finish last."


    

No. 9 Defendant: Jerry Rice


During his 16-year tenure in San Francisco, Rice established himself as the greatest wide receiver ever. He was a prototypical clutch player, enjoying some of his biggest games on the biggest stage -- as evidenced by 527 total receiving yards and seven touchdowns in three 49ers' Super Bowl victories.

The case: In 2001, Rice hopped across the Bay to join the Raiders -- quaint cable cars be damned. He didn't go quietly into the night either, posting a Pro Bowl season and helping Oakland reach Super Bowl XXXVII.

The ruling: Absolved. Can you really blame Rice? Sure, Lombard Street is charming, but it can't really hold a candle to a scenic drive along International Boulevard on the way to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Plus, Rice's late-career moves to the Seahawks and Broncos indicate it had nothing to do with the 49ers personally and everything to do with his paycheck love of the game.


    

No. 8 Defendant: Mike Montgomery


Synonymous with Stanford basketball for nearly two decades, Montgomery coached the Cardinal to the team's first Final Four appearance in 56 years in 1998. In 2004, he led Stanford to a 29-1 regular-season record and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Montgomery won 393 games as coach of the Cardinal.

The case: It wasn't so much his leaving for the NBA that hurt; after all, you can't fault the guy for his ambitions. But it was what Montgomery did next -- after Golden State fired him for two lousy seasons -- that steamed Palo Alto. Jobless and humbled, Montgomery was welcomed back by Stanford with open arms as "Assistant to the Athletic Director." Less than a year later, he became head coach at Cal. Talk about cold.

The ruling: Dunce cap. Montgomery enjoyed more success than Stanford last year, leading the Golden Bears to the NCAA tournament. But the Cardinal did exact at least one small measure of revenge. Cal was riding the momentum of a nine-game winning streak and the team's first top-25 ranking in six years, but was politely shown the door by Montgomery's former employer. For that one night, Stanford tasted justice, and it was sweet.


    

No. 7 Defendant: Terrell Owens


For two years in Philadelphia, Owens was the beginning, middle and end of every controversial, tabloid-worthy NFL story. Whether insulting Donovan McNabb via the media or scuffling with Hugh Douglas, Owens essentially ransacked Philly with his rancorous mouth. Of course, he was a premier receiver, but still … soon even his on-field fireworks weren't worth enduring the off-field antics.

The case: When you burn your allies, you might find former enemies to suddenly be quite friendly. So it's no surprise Owens found a new home with division rival Dallas. With this move, Owens was actually able to backstab two teams at once, since he began his career as a 49er.

The ruling: What goes around … sometimes ends up in Buffalo. Owens has earned Pro Bowl nods, set NFL records and inspired us all to dream big on touchdown celebrations, but he's also proved that even Jerry Jones draws the line somewhere. Owens is a 35-year old man who already has two -- two! -- autobiographies and a reality show about his love life. A turncoat, yes, but one who's already serving perhaps his most devastating punishment: He's old news.


    

No. 6 Defendant: Nick Saban


Saban became a household name as head coach at LSU, racking up a 48-16 record in five years and securing the 2003 national title. He was absolutely positively sure he would succeed at the professional level … until he didn't. That's when things really got ugly.

The case: Two years into a five-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, Saban bolted back into his comfort zone by accepting the Alabama coaching job he had repeatedly said he had no interest in. Not only was he called a fraud and a liar -- Dan Le Batard bestowed the nickname "OSaban bin Lying" on him in The Miami Herald -- but he's also since rebuilt the Crimson Tide into an SEC power, so "backstabber" seems fitting, too.

The case: Communal shunning. Clearly, Saban has commitment issues. He saddled up with LSU in 1999, before even completing Michigan State's best season in 44 years. He left LSU as soon as the NFL came calling, and he panicked when he soon realized he couldn't touch the bottom of the deep end. Mother always told us to keep people liable to break our hearts at arm's distance. So Alabama, take note: Tuscaloosa might not necessarily be Saban's final coaching stop.


    

No. 5 Defendant: Johnny Damon


It was the perfect love story: When Boston met Johnny. Of course, it started with the Curse of the Bambino, and further tragedy struck in the form of a 3-0 deficit against the reviled Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. But wait, a twist! Here come those can-do Red Sox and their little-engine leadoff hitter. Damon hit two home runs in a historic Game 7 victory at Yankee Stadium. Sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series was anticlimactic.

The case: A year removed from helping to break the Babe's spell, Damon followed in Ruth's footsteps and moved to the Bronx. It's baseball, so let's be honest: We've seen plenty of sellouts. But there are just some lines you're not supposed to cross. Indeed, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs make worthy defendants here as well. But Clemens went to the Yankees in a trade, and Boggs didn't depart Fenway in the wake of the franchise's proudest moment.

The ruling: High praise. Damon should be applauded for his greedy ways. Because here's the new storyline: Boston falls in love with Damon; Damon cheats on Boston and moves in with its romantic rival, New York, further amplifying the long-simmering bad blood. Sometimes even the most famous rivalries need more fuel added to the fire, so be grateful for Damon and his Sherman-like march from Fenway to George Steinbrenner's pocket.


    

No. 4 Defendant: Rick Pitino


Kentucky basketball was in shambles after major recruiting violations landed the team on probation in 1989. But in stepped Pitino, fresh off two seasons coaching the New York Knicks, to restore the glory in Lexington with a NCAA championship in 1996. A year after that, he couldn't resist a $50 million offer from the Boston Celtics.

The case: After flopping with the Celtics, Pitino returned to the collegiate ranks at Louisville, a mere 90-minute drive from his old office. He led the Cardinals to the 2005 Final Four, becoming the first coach ever to lead three different schools to the tournament's final weekend. He first did it with Providence in 1987.

The ruling: Crime of fashion and passion. Fashion crime: Do you really have to wear the white suit? It seems tough to preach a team mentality when your wardrobe screams, "Look at me! Look at me!" Crime of passion: You've often referred to Kentucky as your adopted home state, but you named your horse racing interests Celtic Pride Stable. Are the restaurants that much better in Louisville than Lexington?


        

No. 3 Defendant: Bill Belichick


Viewed by some as a hooded football demigod, Belichick's coaching celebrity ballooned over the past decade through three Super Bowl victories and cunning mystique. Of course, he keeps things close to the vest and measures his words carefully, so it's unlikely we'll be quoting any Belichick-isms 40 years from now.

The case: The longtime Bill Parcells lieutenant followed his mentor from the Patriots to the Jets in 1997 … then returned to New England under surprising circumstances in 2000. Other than maybe "It's not Penny's boat," has any hand-scribbled note ever been more of a surprise twist than "I resign as HC of NYJ"? After Parcells stepped down as the Jets' head coach, Belichick was supposed to be announced as Parcells' successor. Instead, Belichick turned in his eloquent resignation and accepted the Patriots' head-coaching job soon afterward.

The ruling: Criminal mastermind. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue punished the Pats for tampering with Belichick while he was still under contract to the Jets, forcing them to hand over a first-round draft pick. One year later, the HC of NEP won the first of his three Super Bowls in four years. Ultimately, it was the Jets who blew the whistle on Spygate in 2007. But Belichick surely laughs loudest, knowing he stuck Gang Green with three years of Eric Mangini.


    

No. 2 Defendant: Brett Favre


In 16 seasons with Green Bay, Favre returned the franchise to its legendary status of the Lombardi era. Favre holds seemingly every passing record on the books, including career interceptions. He's won three MVP awards and Super Bowl XXXI. He's as Hall of Fame-certified as an active player can get. Consider this: In just his 30s alone, Favre has thrown for 251 touchdowns and 37,965 yards, which would rank 13th and 14th on the career lists, respectively.

The case: Favre has also been indicted on charges of waffling and crocodile tears. Despite retiring not once but twice from the NFL, he has continued to change his mind in the interest of another Super Bowl ring and another endorsement. This time, though, he came back as a Viking. It's a development that has turned the cosmos upside down -- well, at least the upper Midwest -- and inspired predictable and unpredictable responses from fans.

The ruling:

Hung jury, until the conclusion of Monday night's game. A win, and Green Bay might never fully recover from its broken heart. A loss, and the Packers vindicate their handling of the first Favre unretirement in 2007. A tie, and … can you imagine? All this tension and hype carried over to the Nov. 1 game in Lambeau Field as the most-watched, highest-stakes skins match ever. The universe might literally rip apart.


        

No. 1 Defendant: Deion Sanders


Sanders made a career of picking people off, but he wasn't all that bad at ticking them off, either. After five seasons with the Falcons, Sanders signed with the 49ers in 1994. He subsequently enjoyed a fantastic season, recording six interceptions and returning three for touchdowns. He even snagged a pick in San Francisco's Super Bowl XXIX win, but he later feuded with teammates who accused him of hogging the spotlight. In reality, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The case: After the '94 season, Sanders openly courted several teams in what became known as the "Deion Sweepstakes." When the dust settled, Sanders signed with the hated Cowboys in a deal that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. The move proved to be a wise one, as Dallas went on to win the next Super Bowl, earning Sanders his second ring in as many years.

The ruling: Repeat offender. Sure, Sanders' story sounds like many of the others chronicled here -- tossing team loyalty to the wind in exchange for the almighty dollar -- but what separates Prime Time's case from the others is his relentless pursuit of backstabbing. First, San Francisco to Dallas -- the 1990s dynasty rivalry. Then, Dallas to Washington -- longtime archrivals. Finally, Washington to Baltimore -- regional rivals! Even Benedict Arnold would have been impressed.

Matthew Iles is an editor for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE