During a Monday Night Football game 1998, we saw the Patriots tune out their head coach, Pete Carroll, in the final moments of a game against the Dolphins. I’m not saying that in a figurative sense, like the same way you hear talking heads in the media carelessly say a team “hates their coach” (See: Jackson vs. Belichick). Nope. The Patriots turned on Pete Carroll that day. Literally ignored him. And on national television, nonetheless. Watch the tape below. To this day, it’s remarkable.
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Yup. That’s Pete Carroll, visibly irate, passive aggressively grinning. This moment would break the Internet today. Websites like Buzzfeed and Deadspin and Barstool Sports would spend a week milking content out of the real-time mutiny. It was as surreal as it gets, but even casual observers could see this coming.
Carroll’s penchant for using positive reinforcement is lauded today, but back then, it was (justifiably) derided. This is a guy that would tell anyone who’d listen that he was “pumped and jacked” about the Patriots’ potential. He couldn’t see what was so obvious to everyone else around him: the Super Bowl XXXI-losing team he inherited was withering away into mediocrity over his three-year tenure in New England. A 10-6 season became 9-7, which became 8-8. He was fired by Bob Kraft. Thank God.
Carroll lost his team then, but now, more than 15 year later, he is the toast of the NFL. Pete Carroll is a Super Bowl Champion. For most of the country the earned designation makes sense, but for fans of the New England Patriots, it’s just eerie, and almost sounds as strange as Pete Carroll, NCAA National Champion. But both accomplishments happened, I swear. We were all witnesses.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think Carroll’s success is particularly frustrating for anyone here in Boston (obviously, winning three Super Bowls after letting him go didn’t hurt matters). Not only that, I actually think the general reaction was quite the opposite. We were happy for the guy. Yes, happy. For my money, Ray Bourque is the only other former Boston sports figure whose success in another city resonated this way. (Bourque’s lone Stanley Cup championship run with the Avalanche happened right in the middle of a 15-year title drought in Boston sports history. We actually held a parade for him. Frankly, I’m not sure we were thinking rationally at the time.)
Because the positive side of this equation is as common as a safety occurring in a Super Bowl (see what I did there?), let’s look at the five expatriates of Boston sports who we should actively root to fail. These guys reaching championship heights, basically, would be the worst. So, call it cattiness, but here they are – ranked from “I mean, I guess I could stomach that” to “Really? REALLY! Good for you, Judas. I hope they serve beer in (sports) hell.”
5. Wes Welker
Yes, Welker’s success would presumably mean Peyton Manning is also succeeding, which in turn means Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning is still a thing that needs to be talked about. Yet we’re keeping him on the outer realm here, and for good reason(s).
People run to point out the drops in big games, but the guy was extraordinarily productive in his time with the Patriots. He caught more than 110 passes in five separate seasons while with the Flying Elvis. Pretty crazy stuff, especially considering no other player in league history has accomplished that feat more than twice in their entire career. You can’t deny Welker’s heart, either. He came back from a gruesome Week 17 leg injury in the 2009 season in time for Week 1 of the following year.
And the feeling Out There is that he wanted to stay put in Foxboro, but was lowballed by New England, leading to his trip cross country to play for Denver prior to the start of last season. In the end, it’s tough to justify holding ill-will towards your ex for moving on after you break up with them, you know?
4. Jacoby Ellsbury
As a general rule, sports fans should feel a connection to teams, not players. You know, root for the laundry. All of that. And last year’s World Series champion Red Sox team was special. I don’t buy the whole “sports can help heal real life tragedy” narrative, but after the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sox were pretty damn close to doing so. And from a more practical perspective, they managed to undo the damage done from the 2011 September collapse, the Chicken, Beer & Video Game Scandal, and the Bobby Valentine Era by Memorial Day.
But even as that magical October came to a close, it was clear the (newly) fiscally responsible Red Sox weren’t going to pay the likely hefty price tag for Ellsbury. As a Scott Boras guy, we knew he was a mercenary. He used us, we used him. Fair is fair, and reasonable fans shouldn’t be upset at his departure this offseason. Ellsbury is a lot closer to the 2013 iteration (9 homers, 53 RBI, and a solid .355 OBP) than the 2011 “Holy-crap-he-could-be-the-MVP!” Ellsbury (32 HR, 105 RBI, and a ridiculous .376 OBP). He’s turning 30-years-old and paying him just south of $22 million for the next seven years hardly makes sense for the Sox.
But all that said – man, the dude fled to the Yanks. That still means something around here, right? Would a championship with New York, a la Johnny Damon, cheapen last year’s experience? Or have we become so closely associated to the laundry that this is a non-story? Worse, is the business of sports becoming too much? Does loyalty matter at all?
The answer to each of those questions is maybe … maybe not. I don’t know – if Ellsbury selected any other team to flee to, then we’re not talking about him in this capacity. Yet, in all honesty, the Johnny Damon situation was identical to that of Ellsbury’s and I still feel like Damon is beloved in Boston. I kind of want to hate Ellsbury for selfish reasons. I feel like Jacoby needs to be here for the rivalry’s sake, for it to mean something, if that makes sense.
3. Tim Thomas
Not much to say here. He wowed us with his play en route to the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup Final championship. Then, he wowed us with his words and general life views the following season. A weird career arc, a weirder guy. His success in the future would spell disaster and sleepless nights for Bruins fans.
2. Doc Rivers
All of the stories you’ve heard? They’re true. Each of them. Great guy. One of the nicest dudes you’ll meet in all of sports. But unlike the Welker situation, this is a case of your significant other dumping you. Despite the early promise of the Brad Stevens regime, Rivers leaving Boston really hurt. And hurts deeply because he may believe what we don’t want to believe – that it’s going to be a long road back to prominence for the Celtics. Yeesh.
So yeah, Doc bailing on the rebuilding Celtics then winning a championship is a painful scenario to think about. That’s why he ranks so highly on my list. And yes, I realize he’s much more adept to coach-up a veteran roster with championship pedigree than younger teams, but regardless, after signing a long deal to stay with the Green, Rivers ended up forcing his way out in an ugly he-said/(s)he-said divorce, leaving a permanent scar.
1. Tyler Seguin
I know, I know – how can we really rank Seguin this high when we don’t even know what he is. He could be great. He could flame out. Everything is on the table. I get all that.
But look, here’s what you need to know: at times he was the most electric player during the Bruins recent championship runs. Thinking in broader terms, given his age, Seguin has the potential to do the most damage in the future. Certainly more than anyone else on this list (three veteran players and a coach). His prime is a few years away.
What stings the most is that Boston took 70 cents on the dollar to ship him out of town for being either a malcontent, immature, or both. The mere possibility that the hype surrounding him could manifest itself for the next decade-plus is a frightening prospect.
There’s also this: the infamous sound clip of the B’s front office claiming if Seguin had played more like his counterpart, Patrick Kane, in the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Bruins would’ve prevailed in the series. We’ll always think about what could’ve been if Seguin reaches just 80 percent of his potential, and that’s why – more than any other athlete – I’m rooting against him.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter: @Hadfield__