The Best Revenge Games in Sports

  • LeBron vs. Cleveland

    Did LeBron really need revenge? More than likely, it was probably the other way around considering the way he left his home state during The Decision in the summer of 2010. But still, when you’re hated on and cursed at and ridiculed the way Clevelanders did LeBron throughout the summer and preseason, James had to be looking for some type of payback.

    He got it, too, beating his old team by 28 on December 2, 2010, while racking up 38 points and eight dimes.

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  • Jon Gruden vs. Oakland

    In one of Oakland owner Al Davis‘ more suspect decisions, former Raiders coach Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002 by the team despite leading Oakland to back-to-back division titles…and it would’ve been two straight trips to the AFC Championship Game if it wasn’t for the infamous “Tuck” game. Davis didn’t like his offensive system and didn’t believe “Chucky” was worth the money he was about to command.

    Ironically, the two teams would match up in the Super Bowl the very next year, where Davis’ vaunted vertical offensive attack (what he always wanted Gruden to do) was obliterated by Gruden’s defense. The big game wasn’t even close in one of the ultimate “f$%& you” games by a head coach.

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  • New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

    The Giants might’ve played New England tight during Week 17 of the regular season but thanks to some big plays from Randy Moss and Tom Brady, they were still the springboard for the Patriots’ 16-0 undefeated season in 2007. Not cool.

    So what happened when they got a second shot at the NFL’s evil empire in the Super Bowl? They perfected the game plan they put forth during the regular season — get in Brady’s face all game long — and pulled off one of the greatest upsets ever. Word to David Tyree.

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  • Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

    The Lakers were humiliated during the 2008 NBA Finals, losing in six games to the Celtics, blowing a 24-point lead in Game 4, and losing by 39 in the finale in Boston. They waited two years for their chance at payback, and finally got it when the Cs snuck into the Finals in 2010.

    The 2010 Finals were heated — with Paul Pierce and Ron Artest getting into it almost right away — and they were physical — with Big Baby, Kevin Garnett, and Pau Gasol trading blows all series. Game 7 was a classic grudge match, the two equals going back and forth in a slugfest that wasn’t decided until the final moments when the Lakers pulled ahead and held off the visitors to finally get revenge.

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  • Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

    It wasn’t just that Boston pulled off the greatest comeback in baseball history, winning four straight to knock off the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, including Games 4 and 5 in extra innings. It was that they did it to end a nearly 100-year draught, advancing to the World Series and winning it all, destroying the Curse of the Bambino in the process.

    It also was sweet justice for Red Sox fans who had seen the team fall apart in Game 7 in 2003, losing a three-run lead to the Yanks in the eighth inning of the series’ final game.

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  • Brett Favre vs. Green Bay Packers

    Favre’s relationship with Green Bay soured during his final years with the team, and in the summer of 2008 the record-setting quarterback attempted to force Green Bay to trade him so he could comeback and play. After a few months of back-n-forth disagreements between Favre and the Packers’ front office, the team finally agreed to trade him to the Jets. It was a disappointing exit for a player who had been the face of the team for 15 years.

    In 2009, Favre finally got his long awaited shot to go against his former team. With Minnesota, he played them twice that season. Not only did he win both games, but in Week 8’s win during Favre’s return to Lambeau Field, the Hall of Famer threw four touchdown passes, completely shutting up everyone in attendance who thought he should’ve stayed retired two years earlier.

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  • Steve Young vs. Everyone

    The youngn’s probably only know Steve Young as “that former great quarterback who does commentary on Monday Night Football.” But for the rest of us, we can remember the times when no one believed in Young.

    He had to follow up a legend in Joe Montana in San Francisco, and while he put up big numbers during his first few seasons, Young and the 49ers continually lost in the playoffs. To make matters worse, Montana was known for always coming through in the clutch while Young lost in back-to-back NFC Championship Games against Dallas. He threw three picks in those games and had to watch Troy Aikman completely outplay him.

    With everyone in unanimous agreement that he’d never win the big game, the Niners blitzed Dallas the following year in the 1994 NFC Championship. Young wasn’t spectacular, at least in this one. (He was nearly perfect in the Super Bowl win over San Diego.) But it was a perfect redemption scenario for the guy who had spent years waiting for his chance behind Montana.

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  • Michael Jordan vs. Detroit Pistons

    The Michael Jordan versus the Bad Boys narrative has certainly run its course over the past 20-plus years, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Jordan, in 1991, was unquestionably the game’s best talent and most impressive megastar, yet he still wasn’t considered a part of that elite level housing names like Magic and Bird.

    Detroit was the main reason for that. For three straight years, they had beaten MJ and the Bulls in the playoffs, winning 12 of 18 playoff games between the two teams. The 1991 Eastern Conference Finals stated — definitively — that times had changed and while the sweep by Chicago must’ve been sweet, it was the way Isiah Thomas and the Pistons walked out during Game 4, before the buzzer had sounded, that probably left Jordan smiling as only he can.

    The GOAT lost so few times in his career from then on that this was really the only revenge he ever needed. (Orlando in ’96 is probably the only other option that qualifies.)

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  • Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

    At 38 years old, Manning has answered every question, every doubter. Whether the Broncos win it all this year or not, it doesn’t really matter. His legacy is secure. He has nothing left to prove.

    But in 2006 that was all different. Manning and the Colts had yet to make the Super Bowl in six tries, and had lost twice to Tom Brady and New England in the playoffs. Then in the 2006 AFC Championship, despite the home field advantage, the Patriots went up 21-3. Manning would eventually bring the team all the way back for a three-point win, throwing for nearly 400 yards, even running for a score, and finally shutting up the critics who viewed him as Dan Marino to Brady’s Joe Montana.

    They’d go on to beat Chicago in the Super Bowl.

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  • Don Nelson vs. Dallas Mavericks

    After coaching in Dallas for eight seasons, and pushing the team out of the cellar to visit the playoffs in four straight years, Don Nelson resigned and moved on to coach the Golden State Warriors. Why? He was locked in a bitter feud with owner Mark Cuban that had lasted for nearly a decade. It was so bad that at one point, Nellie said, “I actually thought when we split we would become friends again. That’s how naive I was.”

    It was all a fight over $7 million, money Nelson believed he was owed, money Cuban thought he had deferred for good by breaching a contract. The back and forth went on and on, and only picked up once the two sides split up.

    Then in a cruel twist of fate, they faced off in the first round the following year. Cuban had basically forced Nelson to leave a 42-22 team the year before, a sure title contender, for an upstart team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 1994. Luckily, Nelson had Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, and a motivated Baron Davis fall into his lap, and the No. 8-seeded Warriors pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NBA history, beating the 67-win Mavericks and leaving Cuban with the ultimate stone face.

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  • LeBron James
  • Jon Gruden
  • New York Giants
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Brett Favre
  • Michael Jordan
  • Baron Davis

I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it hard to believe you can be happier than Steve Young was on the night on January 29, 1995. That was the night of Super Bowl XXIX, and the San Francisco 49ers not only blew out the San Diego Chargers, but Young threw six touchdown passes, breaking the record by the man, the legend, that he’d replaced in the starting lineup. For years, Joe Montana WAS San Francisco, the epitome of a franchise quarterback and the master of the fourth quarter comeback. He’d won Super Bowls. He’d won MVPs. He was everything Young would never be. At least that’s what the critics said.

Despite racking up incredible passer ratings during his first few years as a full-time starter, Young continuously lost in the playoffs, falling to Dallas in two straight seasons. He couldn’t win the big one. He wasn’t a leader. He was a stat-padder. He didn’t have the cool of Montana. Young heard it all. So when he turned the 1994 season into his own personal revenge tour, leading the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating while beating Dallas and finally winning the biggest game of all, he couldn’t contain himself. He screamed. He yelled. He clenched the Lombardi Trophy like he’d never let it go. It was something no one expected.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and while it’s fun to watch on the big screen, it’s never sweeter than it is in sports. Today, from Young to Michael Jordan, we’re looking at 10 of The Best Revenge Games in Sports.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney