Ask any professional athlete; there is always some level of animosity when facing a former team. A sportsman’s competitive nature always forces them to compete, but situations where players face teams for which they previously played are especially amplified with intensity.
The following matchups are examples of highly publicized first matchups between a notable player and his former team. Mostly, players on this list managed to perform to a reasonably high level of performance. However, some managed to make it on the list due to the sheer highly publicized nature of the bitter reunion. Hence, not all players on this list managed to perform highly in their first matchup against their former team. Furthermore, there is one instance where the player’s new team was trumped by their former team.
However, all of the following reunion matchups were highly publicized at the time of their happening. The list is as follows:
10. Jeremy Lin Returns to New York
There was a time when Jeremy Lin dominated sports headlines—the birth of the national sensation known as “Linsanity”.
During his hot streak with the New York Knicks, Lin was reputed as a breakout superstar that was performing feats of seemingly divine magnitude. ESPN was speaking of him non-stop, and headlines in New York City all featured the player of subject.
All of the aforementioned established, it surprised some when the Knicks let Lin sign with the Houston Rockets after the conclusion of the 2011-2012 NBA season.
During the most recent NBA season—in December of 2012—Lin returned to Madison Square Garden in a Rocket’s uniform. And, a trace of the prowess that Lin showed with the Knicks managed to make itself revenant.
The Rockets defeated the Knicks by a thirteen-point margin and Lin scored 22 points while accounting for eight assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
9. Ray Allen Faces the Boston Celtics
Foreshadowing the Beantown Big Three’s demise happened in the 2012 NBA Offseason—the span of time when Ray Allen opted to join the Association’s burgeoning dynasty, the Miami Heat.
Allen played for the Seattle Supersonics and the Milwaukee Bucks prior to his time in Boston. But, he was seen as something of an adopted son in the New England city.
Allen sank nineteen points in a Heat victory. But the most notable happening in the discussed matchup was Kevin Garnett’s unwillingness to greet Ray Allen as the latter attempted to approach him as a friendly gesture.
8. Drew Brees Beats the San Diego Chargers
Drew Brees fully realized his potential as a member of the New Orleans Saints. But, doubtfulness occurred in 2006 when Brees suffered a horrible injury at the end of the 2005 NFL Season—a queue for the San Diego Chargers to send Brees on his way and place their future hopes in the young Philip Rivers.
Enter the 2008 NFL Season; Brees was on his way to completing the first of his two 5,000 yard campaigns. The game was played in London England, and Brees managed to defeat his former team by four points.
7. Wayne Gretzky Returns to Edmonton
Gretzky was known as the “Great One” for a very good reason—he was epic at hockey. The number 99 wearing puck slinger had a career that spanned over two decades. But, his best years came when he engineered a dynasty in Edmonton. With the Oilers, Gretzky managed to win four Lord Stanley Cup Championships.
However, in a move that is known by NHL fans as “The Trade”, Gretzky was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings.
While the Kings were ultimately unsuccessful in their competitive endeavor against the Oilers, Gretzky managed two assists in the game and received multiple standing ovations during the matchup.
It was a homecoming event that was more welcoming than others to be listed.
6. Sonny Jurgensen Gets Revenge On Philly
Donavan McNabb was not the first Philadelphia Eagles signal caller to get shipped to their southward rivals in Washington. In fact, NFL Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen had similar experiences in his playing career. The difference being that Jurgensen veritably lit it up during his first game against the Eagles, while McNabb’s return home left a lot to be desired.
For Sonny, revenge was sweet; 66% completion accompanied with 385 yards and five touchdowns showed the Eagles that the trade was something to be reconsidered.
5. Marcus Allen Shows the Raiders He Can Still Play
It is unlikely that any Hall of Fame player was treated worse than Marcus Allen—a running back who endured a seemingly conspiring level of disrespect at the hands of the late Raiders’ owner, Al Davis.
Allen was at the height of his career when Davis opted to limit his playing time. After his 1985 season, he never broke the 1,000 yard mark—a result of Davis’ constant benching of the superstar.
After a season where Allen only rushed for 301 yards, he chose to sign with the Raiders most hated rival, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Allen’s first matchup against the Raiders took place in Kansas City, and it was a stunning performance that proved Allen was still a premier half back. In the game, which took place during Week 5 of the 1993 NFL Season, Allen scored his 100th career touchdown in a 24-9 Chiefs victory.
Allen would later refer to the victory as “poetic justice”.
4. Roger Clemens Returns to Fenway Park
The Rocket is one of those players that the Red Sox would like to disown—a process that would allow them to associate him with their New York Yankee rivals.
But, no amount of disassociation attempts will diminish the fact that Clemens spent the majority of his career as a member of the Red Sox.
Clemens parted ways with the Red Sox in 1997, after he opted to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays—the team that served as the median between his time with the Red Sox and the Yankees.
In July of 1997, Clemens only allowed one run in an 8 inning, 16 strikeout performance—one that showed that he still had plenty of youth left.
3. Joe Montana faces the 49ers
Joe Montana is one of the few quarterbacks in NFL History to earn four Super Bowl rings. But, the NFL—like all other professional sports leagues—is a business. Hence, Montana was shipped off to Kansas City after the Niners opted to place the future of their franchise with the more youthful Steve Young.
In 1994—his final NFL Season—Montana avenged his trade in a Monday Night Matchup where he defeated the Niners 24-17.
2. LeBron James Returns to Cleveland
“Lyin’ King” posters were passed to all of the Cleveland fans who were occupying the stands, and James was booed nearly every time he touched the ball.
However, the fan’s abuse did not rattle the stoic James as he sank baskets that ultimately equated to 38 points— a total that was, at the time, his best of the season. And the Heat rolled to a 118-90 victory.
1. Brett Favre Returns to Lambeau
At this point, there are few relationships in sports that are more complicated than the one between the Cheeseheads from Wisconsin and their former gunslinger of a quarterback.
After the 2007 NFL Season, Favre semi-retired and the Packers placed their faith in Aaron Rodgers. By doing so, Favre was force to find a different home—one that would be different than the abode wherein he spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career.
After a one-year stint with the New York Jets, Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings. In 2009, he had his best statistical year—he sweetened the span of 16 games by sweeping his former squad.
In the Vikings’ away game against the Packers, Favre entered the field under a litany of boos. However, such disdain did not faze Favre as led the Vikings to a decisive 38-26 victory over the Pack.
Revenge is something that no athlete will openly strive to claim. But, to say that players don’t want to play better against their former squad is a falsehood. People will always say that no game is any different than any other. But, if there’s a chance to spite an organization that cast you out—or if there’s a chance to prove that you’re better off with your new squad– then that motivation to compete will be heightened evermore.