Breakups: Sports Edition

Stefan Collins

Fall has crept up on us again. Kids go back to school, there’s a new football season, the weather gets a little cooler, and of course, there is the annual tradition of couples breaking up as they both go their separate ways for college. Some break ups are clean, and you remain friends, and maybe end up getting back together at some point. Others can be messy. A hypothetical example would be, you end up being civil to your ex-girlfriend and send each other a message on their birthday and wish each-other well. But you hold a grudge against her because she broke your heart and left you all alone. Meanwhile, she almost instantly got into another relationship with a guy who isn’t particularly attractive… but his father drives an Aston Martin to make up for it. Or is that too niche?

Anyway, this isn’t an agony aunt column, it’s a sports column. There have been two huge storylines in professional soccer this offseason. The first was the transfer of Argentinian Super Star, Lionel Messi, from the only club he has ever played for, Barcelona, to Paris Saint-Germain. The second was Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Juventus and heading back to Manchester United. These two “break-ups” may go down in history as some of the greatest. But which are the greatest right now? It’s time for a top 5 list.

Number 5: “The decision” (NBA)

Love him or loathe him, LeBron James has been the face of the NBA for many years. Even if you casually follow basketball, you will know that LeBron caused a lot of media controversy in 2010 when he made “The decision” to “take his talents to south beach.” Abandoning the Cleveland Cavaliers, to chase his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat. The fans in Cleveland were furious and it led to some fans burning their number 23 jerseys in outrage.

LeBron’s super talented team in Miami appeared in four consecutive finals series and won the series in 2012 and 2013, when he also won league MVP. In 2014 however, LeBron and the Cavaliers decided to give it another shot and rejoin forces. The Cavs won the NBA title in 2016, coming from a 3-1 series deficit against the Golden State Warriors. With that being the case, all was forgiven and what would have been an ugly breakup for Cavs fans, ended up being a rekindling story.

Number 4: Patrick Roy and the Canadians (NHL)

Patrick Roy is widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest, goal tender in NHL history. Roy won two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe trophies with the Montreal Canadians. Despite the abundance of team and individual success that Roy had, he did not get along with Head Coach, Mario Tremblay. Tremblay tipped Roy over the edge on December 2nd, 1995, by making a poor coaching decision. Roy was having a bad game against the Detroit Redwings and was not pulled by Tremblay until he had conceded nine goals. Once he left the ice, he walked past Tremblay and gave him a death stare before speaking to the team president, Ronald Corey. According to his NHL Legends video he said, “I’m not playing another game for the Montreal Canadians.”

Days later, Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, where he won the Stanley Cup in May of 1996 and again in 2001. Trembly left the Canadians in 1997 and the most decorated team in the history of the sport have yet to capture another Stanley Cup since Roy defended the goal. There is a clear winner in this break up.

Number 3: Jimmy and Jerry (NFL)

On February 25th, 1989, the Dallas Cowboys were purchased by Jerry Jones. Jones’s first move as owner was to fire the Cowboys legendary coach, Tom Landry and replace him  with NCAA championship winning Head Coach, Jimmy Johnson. A very unpopular move in Dallas at the time. It led to the press and the fans in North Texas wanting to run the pair out of town.

But fast forward to 1994 and Johnson and Jones had created one of the greatest dynasties in the history of professional sports, winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the youngest and most talented roster in the NFL. Unfortunately, the two had a complicated relationship which involved a lot of arguments and disputes. Disputes that led to Jerry Jones reportedly telling Ed Werder and Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning news on March 28th 1994, “There are 500 coaches that could win a Super Bowl with this team.” The following morning the pair mutually decided to part ways. Johnson was replaced by Barry Switzer, who won another Super Bowl in January 1996, but the dynasty could have lasted much longer with Johnson’s leadership. Jones recently stated that he regrets how he handled the situation and took the blame for the Cowboys not reaching their full potential stating simply that he completely, “F***ed it up.”

Number 2: The “Damned United” (First Division Soccer)

On the 30th, July 1974, Leeds United, the defending champions of Football’s first division in England, made the decision to hire Brian Clough to replace their beloved manager, Don Revie. The latter, who had recently resigned to manage the England national team. But not before winning two league titles, the FA Cup, and the League Cup for the club.

Clough had fallen out with multiple teams that he had managed, Derby County being the most obvious example. During his time at Derby, Clough and Don Revie developed a huge rivalry. Clough described Leeds under Revie as, “The dirtiest, most cynical team in the league,” due to their fearless physical approach to the game, which earned them an infamous disciplinary record from the FA. Peter Lorimer who played for Leeds between 1963 and 1979, stated in The Brian Clough story documentary that Clough told Leeds players on his first day as manager, “The first thing you can do for me is throw your medals in the bin because you’ve never won anything fairly; you’ve done it by cheating.”

Needless to say, Leeds players were not welcoming of Clough and did not buy into his style of management. This led to the team losing more matches in their first six weeks of 1974-75 than they had done in their title winning campaign of 1973-74. After 44 days, Clough was relieved of his duties after the Leeds players passed a vote of no confidence in him. After being “sacked” by Leeds, Clough appeared on a nationally televised interview on ITV with Don Revie, which led to some very entertaining live television. The sports equivalent of two of your exes expressing their dislike for one-another on national television.

Leeds appeared in the European Cup Final that season under Jimmy Armfield. The England team under Don Revie failed to qualify for the ‘78 World Cup. Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor went on to take a Cinderella club named Nottingham Forrest from the second division to the First Division champions in 1978. Then win the European Cup in 1979 and 1980. One of the most remarkable achievements in the history of sports. You be the judge of who won this breakup.

Number 1: The Baltimore Mayflower (NFL)

Imagine how devastating it would be if you woke up one morning to find that your significant other had packed their belongings and left in the middle of the night without so much as leaving a note. Then you find out through social media that they have moved 594 miles away to shack up with somebody new. Well, the sports equivalent of that happened on March 28th, 1984. Residents of the City of Baltimore woke up on the morning of March 29th to discover that their beloved Pro Football team had vanished! Robert Irsay, former owner of the NFL Franchise formally known as the Baltimore Colts, decided to move the team to Indianapolis in the middle of the night, without making any public announcement. I mean that literally! Irsay hired moving workers from, “The Smith Mayflower” to pack up the team’s facilities and drive them 594 miles west to Indianapolis overnight.

Why would Irsay do this you may ask? Irsay requested that the Colts have either a new stadium built, or renovation improvements be made to Memorial stadium. The city, according to The Baltimore Sun, “dragged the negotiations on [for too long.]” Therefore, Baltimore lost its team and many businesses that operated close to Memorial stadium suffered from the loss of customers.

Baltimore would be awarded another NFL franchise in 1996, the Ravens. The Ravens won two Super Bowl’s in 2000, in the 2012 season, and have been one of the most respected franchises in the league since. The Colts struggled until the end of the century but enjoyed success in the 2000’s with Peyton Manning under center, winning Super Bowl XLI. Both parties may have turned out okay in the end, but this was undoubtably the ugliest break-up in sports history.