Sports Illustrated just published a list of the 25 most hated teams in sports history, and that reminded me of my own little mental list, composed as the Lakers and Celtics were sucking all the joy out of the NBA playoffs. A Lakers/ Celtics finals might have been great for the NBA, but to me it just meant that we'd have to suffer between one of those two teams winning a championship again, certainly not something to embrace. Now, I don't hate the Celtics, just dislike them, so I suppose I was pulling for them. But it was a tepid support, kind of like accepting Russia as an ally against Nazi Germany. Sometimes, the fight against evil makes for strange bedfellows.
There's really nothing worse as a sports fan then watching a team you truly despise march towards a championship. I'm sure that every Red Sox fan will tell you that the Curse of the Bambino years were made all the worse by watching the Yankees win some two dozen championships at the time. Yet, somehow, the Red Sox 2004 championship, seeing as it included the Sox vaulting over the Yankees in about the most humbling way possible, somehow seems to even things up. Yankees fans won't admit it, but I think they'd trade at least, oh, five or ten of those titles to get that one back. And this is something Sox fans don't get: to the rest of us, now, you guys are even. That was it, you slayed the dragon. You're not the good guys against the Evil Empire any more; you're both Evil Empires now.
Anyway, back to the SI list for a moment. It's a decent list, though it seems like they, for the most part, chose the 25 most hated franchises (or colleges, or countries, or whatever) and chose their most hated teams. I don't, for example, hate the '92 Dallas Cowboys any less then I do the '93 or '95 Cowboys that also won the Super Bowl, or, for that matter, the 2009 Cowboys. Well, maybe a little bit more. Plus, in the interest of being inclusive, there's things like the 1976 East German women's Olympic swim team, for whom I suspect the venom has mostly faded. There's even an honorable mention for an America's Cup sailing team. But not one Lakers or Celtics team. Nor the Lawrence Phillips-era Nebraska Cornhuskers. Hell, how about the 2010 French World Cup team, that was seemingly reviled by even the members of the 2010 French World Cup team? Now that's hatred.
So while there may be high spots in hatred for certain teams, and there are certain, otherwise harmless franchises that have the misfortune of assembling a truly despicable team (the 2000-01 Trail Blazers is a great call), I think it's really the year-in, year-out hatreds that stick with us. My list, of course, is biased from the perspective of a Philadelphia sports fan. There are teams on here (well, one team) that the average fan probably doesn't hate. Conversely, there are several other teams, such as the aforementioned Celtics, not to mention the Yankees, Red Sox, Steelers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Duke Blue Devils that just don't raise my ire like they do others, though I fully accede to them being eminently hatable (the Blue Devils, I must note, get a pass because I married into the family of a graduate). I encourage you to make your own list!
1. Dallas Cowboys. Oh hell yes. If you're a sports fan from outside the southwest, and you don't hate the Cowboys, there's just something wrong with you. They are, without a doubt, the most despicable organization in the Western Hemisphere not named the Tea Party. Though, let's face it, a lot of Tea Party members are probably Dallas Cowboy fans. I hate the Cowboys so much that, when it looked like they were heading back to the Super Bowl in 2007, I found myself desperately rooting for anyone to beat them, even the Giants. Only a team like the Cowboys can inspire mortal enemies to put aside their differences for the greater good. Oh, and don't even get me started about Tony Romo. I want to get some sleep tonight.
2. Los Angeles Lakers. I'm honestly a little surprised that they placed so high on my list, because I care so little for basketball in general and the NBA in particular that it seems odd to so hate an NBA team. Perhaps it's just the glow of their second straight championship, and the public redemption of Kobe Bryant, but the fact is that the Lakers get me stirred up more then just about anyone else these days. My dislike of them stems from the 2000-01, when they cruised through the Western Conference playoffs without loosing a game to meet the Sixers, whom were pretty beaten up by this point. I will maintain to my dying day that the Sixers would have won that series had the Lakers been even remotely challenged at any point along the way to the finals and weren't fresh as daisies. But whatever. Most of my hatred, really, is for Kobe, whom I never did like, but c'mon. He's a rapist. We all know it. He should be in jail right now, not staring back at me with come-hither eyes. You're still a scumbag, Kobe, no matter how many rings you have.
3. Atlanta Braves. This is a bit of a weird one, that I know most people don't share. It comes, mostly, from watching the Braves dominate the NL East for 14 straight years. But it also comes from their horrible, milquetoast fans, that can barely sell out a playoff game, and from years of watching excruciating Braves broadcasts on TBS. Oh, and that !@#$ tomahawk chop. Oddly, they've had several players over the years that I've liked, especially the big three of Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, and John Smolz, but also guys like Ron Gant and Fred McGriff. But I still can't stand them. This year, I've found my anti-Braves passions renewed once again, particularly on the day they came back from a seven-run deficit in the ninth inning to beat the Reds, punctuated by a game winning grand slam. I think we were all happier when the Braves were also-rans, don't you?
4. New York Giants. My hatred of them has tempered a bit recently, since several of the players that most especially struck a nerve- Strahan, Shokey, Barber- are gone. They do still have Eli Manning, though, so there's that. For a couple years there, when the Cowboys were down and the Giants were peaking, I honestly thought I hated the Giants more. But I can see now that I was mistaken. I can't believe that Eli Manning is a Super Bowl winning quarterback and Donovan McNabb is not, though.
4. New York Mets. This might be a bit stronger if the Mets hadn't embarrassingly collapsed several times of the last few years, to the benefit of the Phillies. It's hard to hate a team when they pratfall into a pie repeatedly. But they are the Mets, our biggest rival, so I can't not hate them. And that 1986 team really was a bunch of scumbags. Not that the 1993 Phillies weren't....