“You put him in a phone booth with half those guys that he's taking those shots at, he'd get his a** whupped.”
– Scott on Ward
“Maybe they feel like their defense wants to bully everybody, and we're not bullied by them.”
The image played out on a highlight film as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott watched in rage, grinding his teeth into a fine powder. He knew what was coming. He saw Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward peel back on the television screen. He saw Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers running in a full sprint, head turned away from an artillery shell headed in his direction. As Ward's helmet connected with Rivers' jaw – breaking it into three pieces – a sports anchor squealed gleefully.
Scott muttered an expletive. He looked at the hit, and saw only a coward.
"The media was like 'Oh, Hines is tough,' " Scott said of the Oct. 19 hit. "No he's not. He's a cheap-shot artist."
Of all the feuds raging in the NFL, this is as good as it gets. You talk to Scott, and he has no qualms about admitting his hatred for Ward and the Steelers. You talk to Ward, and he feels a certain satisfaction that he's got linebackers hearing footsteps.
While the influx of money and fame has mellowed the warrior souls of some players, Scott has some news for the NFL suits: Legitimate hatred still exists in this league. Blood still boils. It might not be a selling point anymore on Park Avenue, but there are marked men. There are bounties.
So we called a few guys with axes to grind. And when Scott answered the phone, he didn't waste any time airing his feelings:
"I hate everybody on every other team than mine. I don't give a [expletive] about anybody on any other team – period. I don't speak to them during the game. I'm not high-fiving guys. And I'm talking about guys who have been here and left, too. It doesn't matter. You're trying to take something away from me that I deem important. Why should I care about you? Why should I like you? You don't have to like me, and I don't have to like you.
"Ask me who I'm rooting for in the Super Bowl. If I'm not in it, I hope they cancel the damn thing."
With those thoughts in mind, we came up with our top five feuds of 2008. And Scott's beef took No. 1 with a bullet.
1. Bart Scott vs. Hines Ward
Ravens LBs Scott (57) and Suggs (55) watch Steelers WR Ward (86) and RB Willie Parker (39) laugh during the first quarter at Heinz Field in November 2007. The Steelers won 38-7.
(Luc Leclerc-US Presswire)
There is a special dark spot in Scott's heart, and it's filled with every nasty thing he wants to unleash on Ward. He never liked the Steelers receiver, but his furor intensified Nov. 2007, when Ward blew up Scott and safety Ed Reed on a pair of running plays. Both plays were legal by the letter of the NFL law, but both lit a fuse under Scott, who threatened to kill Ward late in that Ravens loss.
Since then – and despite various warnings from the NFL – Scott has continued a slow burn. He's watched Ward light up several other players, including the jaw-shattering shot on Cincinnati's Rivers, and dreamt of a day he could return the favor without a fine from the NFL.
"There's nothing mano y mano about that," Scott said of Ward's penchant for peeling back and leveling defenders who aren't looking. "You put him in a phone booth with half those guys that he's taking those shots at, he'd get his a** whupped.
"If we're going to play that way, let's play that way. Let's not play that way just when it benefits you, let's play that way all the time. That means when Keith Rivers is defenseless and you take a shot and break his jaw, that means when you come across the middle and you're defenseless, I get to take that shot. … That's not man on man. That's a cheap-shot artist. If you're going to take a shot, that's cool. But allow me to take mine without a $35,000 fine."
Scott's anger has added intensity to an already white-hot disdain between the two teams. A disgust that included linebacker Terrell Suggs at one point suggesting the team had a bounty on Ward and running back Rashard Mendenhall. The Ravens knocked out Mendenhall with a season-ending shoulder injury when the teams met in September. Suggs later recanted the notion of a bounty, but only after an NFL official met with him about it in Baltimore.
Asked about Suggs' talk of a bounty, Scott replied, "Whatever Suggs said about Mendenhall or Hines or whoever, everything was done cleanly on our side. Mendenhall got put out the game legally. What he said about a bounty, I don't understand why people deem that as something dirty."
When you talk to Ward about it all, he gives only a Cheshire grin. It seems there is a certain sense of satisfaction to be gotten when other players are out there thinking about you.
"I'd be mad too if a 200-pound wideout knocked me out," Ward said. "I'd get upset at that, too. He has every right to be upset. But a cheap shot? If that's what he wants to call it, then I'm a cheap shot.
"Maybe they feel like their defense wants to bully everybody, and we're not bullied by them. We know they're going to hit us in the mouth and we're going to hit back. And they don't particularly like that."
“…he has to be able to channel his emotions more productively on the field and in the locker room in a way that supports the system that he's in.”
– Blank on Hall
“You know what? I've got thick skin. If Arthur Blank wants to throw more dirt at me, tell him to go ahead and throw it.”
Just when you thought this one was going away, Blank stoked the flames by saying during a Sirius radio interview that Hall "needs to grow up." This was following Oakland's horrendous 24-0 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 2, which featured Hall and Falcons wideout Harry Douglas nearly coming to blows in the tunnel at the halftime break.
"He's a superior athlete but he just hasn't played consistently at that level," Blank said in the interview, "and I think to some extent he has to be able to channel his emotions more productively on the field and in the locker room in a way that supports the system that he's in."
Normally such comments wouldn't matter, but Hall was released by Oakland and picked up by the Redskins, which means he's bound to run into Blank now and then. That could be awkward considering what Hall had to say about Blank after reading his comments.
"I took that as a slap in the face," Hall said. "Even seeing him in Oakland for the game against Atlanta, he embraced me and wished me the best. I sat down and had time to talk to his wife and his kids.
"A lot of this has to mainly do with him putting so much trust and love into Michael [Vick], and Michael pretty much – I don't want to say destroying the franchise, but putting it into a little downspin the last two years.
"To say I need to grow up? And you hired a guy in [Bobby] Petrino who picks up and quits on your whole organization? And you put all your trust and confidence in him and backed every decision he said and made as if he was lone dictator. [Petrino] was just totally wrong for that team and totally wrong for this league. It wasn't the right person to back and he backed him. He backed him. …
"You know what? I've got thick skin. If Arthur Blank wants to throw more dirt at me, tell him to go ahead and throw it. The other people around this league know me and know what kind of person I am."
“I'll be honest about it – I don't like him.”
– Cutler on Rivers
It certainly adds to the league's drama factor when two of the NFL's best young quarterbacks are in a snit with each other. A dust-up that goes back to late 2007, when Rivers was caught by television cameras pointedly celebrating a failed Broncos fourth-down attempt, and directing some taunts in Cutler's direction.
A Chargers source pins the blame on Cutler, saying the Denver quarterback's personality rubs Rivers the wrong way. The source also pointed to some of Cutler's in-game gestures as the reason for the friction.
"Cutler is the one who was grabbing his crotch [last season] and saying stuff to Philip in the first place," the source said. "He started the whole thing."
Whoever is to blame, the brewing animosity isn't going to subside soon.
"I'll be honest about it – I don't like him," Cutler said. "He's playing really good football right now, but I have no desire to be his friend.
"There was no reason for it, to come out on the field and attack me and say some of the things he did. Then he continued it when he went to Indy and was [shouting] at the fans. There have just been different instances of him going out of his way to say something to somebody else. It looks bad. I get riled up out there and I go after some guys and talk to other guys, but the way he does it, I just don't have a lot of respect for it. He has gone out of his way to come out onto the field and say something to me. I think it's personal."
Belichick, right, congratulates Dungy after the Colts defeated the Patriots in 2006.
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Belichick is to hard feelings what the sun is to natural energy. He offers a limitless supply. And with all due respect to the Jets, the feelings of bitterness run deepest for the Colts, who have found a myriad of reasons to loathe the Patriots coach. From the postseason history to Spygate to his annually frigid handshakes with Colts coach Tony Dungy, it's a recycled hatred that has reached self-sustaining proportions.
This year's moment didn't get a lot of media attention, but it irked the Colts just the same. It took place when, during the run-up to the Nov. 2 game at Indianapolis, Belichick seemed to make a subtle hint that the Colts weren't being honest with their injury report. At least, that's how some Colts players took it, when Belichick said of Peyton Manning's lingering knee issue, "If I'm not mistaken he hasn't been on the injury report all year, other than maybe one day right at the beginning of the season. I'm not really sure what injuries you're talking about."
It had the feel of a deft poke in the eye – one that some Colts players didn't appreciate, particularly considering the source.
"Coming from Bill Belichick, that's frickin' hilarious," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Tony's not going to do that. He's not that type. That's the type of stuff Bill does. That's just the type of mentality Bill has and they have as a team. Every week last season, frickin' Tom Brady was on the damn injury report with an ankle or whatever, and he was playing every week. That's just the kind of stuff they do. So don't come out and try to act like we're doing something with our report."
There was no way we were getting out of the top five without the feud that ended with the jettisoning of a Hall of Fame quarterback from a team which was supposedly part of his DNA. This one has always been simple. Thompson refused over the years to be manhandled and manipulated into decisions by Favre, and Favre couldn't stand that he wasn't a larger part of the decision-making process.
Thompson chafed under Favre's need for annual homage and attention. Among the things that blew Favre's stack? Thompson's refusal to retain aging and salary-cap bloated guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera; Thompson's hiring of coach Mike McCarthy without considering Favre confidant Steve Mariucci; and Thompson's failure to land Randy Moss. Drafting and grooming Aaron Rodgers didn't help, either.
Even with Favre gone, the tension is still in Green Bay and likely always will be. Favre has become a landmine topic – nobody wants to talk about him, and even if they do, they won't do it on the record. That doesn't mean the acrimony doesn't occasionally bubble to the surface.
There were quite a few chuckles internally when Jets coach Eric Mangini and his wife gave their newborn son "Brett" as a middle name – and also had the child on Favre's birthday, no less. Some in the Packers facility have even gone as far as jokingly suggesting the Manginis induced labor on Favre's birthday and used "Brett" as a middle name as part of a contract obligation. Woooo. Yeah. No hard feelings left over in this one at all.
Porter was fined $20,000 for complaining about officiating this season.
(Marc Serota/Getty Images)
It was hard to put a top five of 2008 together and leave Porter out. So we'll let Porter do the talking throughout the course of the season. Here are some highlights, in chronological order:
In September, speaking to reporters about Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel: "If it's not Tom Brady, it shouldn't be that hard. … I don't care what anybody says. It's not the same team without Brady."
In October, talking to reporters about the officiating in Miami's loss to Houston: "I'm looking for an apology or something on Tuesday or Wednesday on NFL Network, but it will be too late by then."
In November, talking about Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall after Miami's road win: "I didn't get inside his head, we just were talkin'. He got in his own head. He was done. He's one of those soft receivers, where he has to have the ball all the time. If he don't get it, he's going to mope and cry. He did it to himself."
In November again, talking about getting fined $20,000 for the previous rant about officiating, and wondering why Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Matt Jones hadn't been suspended: "If I knew the answers, I'd still have 20 more thousand dollars. But I'm still trying to figure out how a guy gets caught with cocaine in his car and still plays the game and nothing happens. He got caught with cocaine and Matt Jones is still playing football. How does he get away with that? And then you fine people $20,000 for making comments to the media about the refs. The guy got caught with cocaine."
In November (busy month for Joey, apparently), telling ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson that the Patriots cheated him out of Super Bowl rings: "Two times we could have blown [the Patriots] out easily. They say, oh, [Belichick's] so smart. This is the best brainstorming coach. Yeah, because he's cheating. He got caught."
How does this guy not have his own reality show?
THE REST OF THE BEST
Cleveland Browns TE Kellen Winslow vs. Browns GM Phil Savage
It was one of the bizarre, mysterious cat fights of the season, following Winslow's hospitalization for a mysterious malady. Winslow would eventually point to a staph infection and complain that Savage never visited him in the hospital. Savage would reply by suspending Winslow and suggesting to the media that there was something more embarrassing than the player was letting on. The tension is still there for Winslow, but Savage has moved on to engaging his admiring fans over email: "Go root for Buffalo - f#@* you".
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Aqib Talib vs. Denver Broncos RB Cory Boyd
Talib and Boyd, who were both drafted by Tampa Bay, entered the history books last summer by jawing, trading punches and then wrestling in the middle of a workshop on money management during the league's rookie symposium. A Buccaneers source said the two had been exchanging words since the Bucs brought their rookies together following the draft. Eventually the trash talking escalated into a donnybrook at the symposium. Forget money management. Sink the rookie budget into anger management.
Jets TE Chris Baker
The Jets vs. any player wanting more guaranteed money
Kevin Mawae, Pete Kendall, Chris Baker, Laveranues Coles – and probably a host of other guys – have become disgruntled over their contract terms. A lot of players, former and current, distrust the front office. Some feel the Jets don't keep promises. Others, like Kendall, have labeled the Jets liars. Our favorite player to fight back? That would be Baker, who at one point during his contract spat this offseason parked his Bentley in the "Team President" parking spot. And then, before getting a new deal, said what many Jets players wouldn't publicly utter: "If you don't get something in writing, you might as well take it with a grain of salt. Because, obviously, those ends of the bargain aren't held up."
Showtime's Warren Sapp vs. ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson
Sapp and Johnson had a history of undercutting each other in Tampa Bay's locker room as teammates, with Sapp viewing Keyshawn as a selfish prima donna, and Keyshawn portraying Sapp as a phony loudmouth. This year they both hold major analyst spots – Sapp with Showtime and NFL Network, and Keyshawn with ESPN – and still can't stand each other. Keyshawn has been quiet, though he regarded Sapp as one of the top defensive linemen he's seen play during a segment on ESPN's most recent "Sunday Countdown." However, Sapp has lobbed several bombs on air, even calling Keyshawn a "bitch" for potentially doing an interior decorating show. We sense an "Anchorman" fight scene on the horizon. Rule No. 1: No touching of the hair or face!
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan vs. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis
It's a cold war that will keep giving as long as the two are in the AFC West. While his venom has faded slightly, Shanahan will never be over his scorched earth fallout with Davis. That much was clear when Shanahan appeared to border on giddy during this season's Davis/Lane Kiffin implosion. The latest conspiracy theory is that Shanahan is trying to rile Davis through the media by lavishing praise on Oakland's free-agent-jewel-to-be Nmandi Asomugha. Asomugha in a Denver uniform? Davis would surely litigate.
Defensive players vs. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
It doesn't take much to get a defensive player ripping the league for micromanaging good-old fashioned contact out of the NFL. Just grab the nearest linebacker or defensive lineman and pull his string. Defensive players have two main theories as to why Goodell is trying to turn them into, as Troy Polamalu put it, a bunch of pansies: First, some believe the commissioner wants high-scoring games that draw in a larger fan base. Second, others believe the commish is trying to limit injuries so the league can eventually expand the regular season to 18 games. Whatever the reality is, they are all fuming over the fines handed out this season. Said Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott: "Sometimes people get hurt. Sometimes people have helmet-to-helmet contact. That's football."
Kansas City Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez vs. Chiefs GM Carl Peterson
Tony Gonzalez flipped his lid when he wasn't dealt at this year's trade deadline – largely because general manager Carl Peterson was asking for a second-round pick in exchange. Gonzalez blamed Peterson for being greedy and unrealistic. At the same time, a source said former Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen was calling Gonzalez from Minnesota, stoking the flames and ripping Peterson in Gonzalez's ear. When Gonzalez finally spoke to the media, he unleashed: "I'm not the first guy that's felt like he's been wronged around here. Ask Jared Allen. Ask a lot of guys. Ask John Tait. That's what happens." Which means you can cross Carl off Tony's Christmas card list.
Vikings coach Brad Childress
Brad Childress vs. the Packers
The list of people Childress has locked horns with is extensive. But he got into an epic personnel tiff (tampering!) with the Packers this offseason over Brett Favre. Add this one to his fights with the Seattle Seahawks (over Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson) and the Patriots (Garrett Mills and David Herron), and throw in Childress' criticisms of Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson's college coaches, Terrell Owens and Troy Williamson. The guy has more enemies than Pakistan.
Chargers OLs Nick Hardwick and Marcus McNeill vs. Patriots DE Richard Seymour
A Chargers source says this trio has had some of the most foul on-field exchanges ever between the two teams. Hardwick and McNeill say Seymour is one of the dirtiest (expletives) in football, and went public with it after last season's AFC championship game. We thought the beef had blown over, then McNeill left the field after an October matchup with the Patriots, screaming about how (expletive) ugly Seymour was. It's tragic that this love triangle won't have another postseason rendezvous.
St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson vs. NFL Network's Marshall Faulk
They've been at odds in one manner or another since Jackson took over as St. Louis' primary running back in 2005. Jackson is said to be extremely thin-skinned when it comes to Faulk, and he's taken notice of Faulk's various criticisms while working as an analyst for the NFL Network this year. He was particularly upset when Faulk ripped Jackson for his contract holdout. Said Faulk on Sporting News Radio: "I don't know where he's getting his advice. He's played four years and he's played every game once and he's been hurt three times." Scratch Jackson off the guest list of Faulk's Hall of Fame party.