Top 20 NFL Player Rivalries
NFL Player Rivalries: Top 20
It is certainly a tough task putting together the most memorable and noteworthy rivalries that have taken place in the NFL, due to the widespread animosity that is harbored between so many players.
A vicious rivalry can be sparked in the NFL in many ways. Whether it be a couple of pretty-boy quarterbacks battling it out for professional supremacy, or a set of opponents who square off against each other on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage.
No matter what starts a rivalry between players, these feuds can last throughout the athlete’s entire career and can even escalate into life after football.
In some cases, an NFL player will decide that scuffling with a peer is just too easy, and they will take their controversies to another team’s coach, or even a league executive.
There are plenty of rivalries that contain players who truly despise on another and would love nothing more than to leave their opponent battered and shaken. On the other hand, there are some light-hearted rivalries between friends or even family that entails a couple of buddies trying to prove who is better.
While most of the rivalries in the old days were between divisional foes that put their heart and soul into every snap, a lot of the spats nowadays tend to appear baseless and silly. But man, are they fun to watch.
After plenty of consideration which included countless instances of crossing out, re-writing and re-ordering the top NFL player feuds in recent years, I have constructed my own, personal list of the 20 best.
So, sit back and enjoy an in-depth look into the 20 most exciting NFL player rivalries.
20. LeSean McCoy vs. Osi Umenyiora
I will kick-off my Top 20 with a feud that is more of a knee-slapping war of words, instead of an actual bitter hatred. New York Giants DE Osi Umenyiora and Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy have spat at each other over the past couple seasons over Twitter and through the media.
The only reason I pay this rivalry any mind is because it is between players on the Giants and Eagles, in which we all know are intense NFC East foes. McCoy began this controversy by calling Umenyiora “over-rated” and “soft,” where Umenyiora responded by wishing McCoy a “Happy Mother’s Day” and comparing him to pop-star Lady Gaga.
The rivalry between the two has never escalated much, although McCoy did refer to Umenyiora as a “ballerina” before one of their showdowns this season.
19. Warren Sapp vs. Brett Favre
The trash-talking rivalry between fellow future Hall-of-Famers Warren Sapp and Brett Favre has always been one of my favorites, and I feel like it is hugely underrated and under-recognized.
While Sapp was still a member of his beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Favre was the QB of the Green Bay Packers, the two could be seen jawing at each other constantly before, during and after nearly every snap.
Former Packers head coach Mike Sherman even had a war of words with Sapp in light of his conduct, which included laying out Favre once in his pursuit of an interception return. Sapp, a young and fiery d-end, even pranced through the Packers’ pre-game drills just to rile up Favre and Sherman.
This rivalry between old and young was a thing of beauty, before it was put to rest by Favre’s wife, Deanna, in fear of her husband’s well-being. Now that’s a good look for you Brett.
18. Wes Welker vs. Rex Ryan
The controversy between New England Patriots WR Wes Welker and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan consisted of a single press conference in which Welker took some personal shots (or kicks) at Ryan.
In a 2011 press conference during the week leading up to the Patriots vs. Jets divisional playoff game, Welker made 11 references to feet, in the wake of an embarrassing video that was leaked in which Ryan and his wife mutually expressed their ‘fondness for feet,’ to say the least.
Ryan quickly put this feud to rest, calling it a “personal matter” and commented no more. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave Welker ‘the boot’ for an offensive series, but did still allow him to play in the contest.
17. James Harrison vs. Any Opponent
Now here is a rivalry between one man, and everybody he lines up against. Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison carries the most obvious ‘chip on his shoulder’ I have ever seen in my life, after going undrafted out of college and being cut by multiple NFL squads.
Harrison is one of the most vicious tacklers to ever play the game, and looks to despise every opponent that he faces. And when I say despise, I mean he truly shows personal disgust and disregard for anybody he is about to tackle, or maul, for that matter.
Throughout the past few years, Harrison has been the poster-boy for fines and discipline in light of helmet-to-helmet hits and ‘launching’ blows to a player’s head and upper-body.
Harrison has never showed any sympathy towards his victims, and has even stated that he “likes to hurt” his opponents.
16. Randy Moss vs. Darrelle Revis
An already attractive rivalry between two of the game’s best, WR Randy Moss and CB Darrelle Revis, was amplified in 2010 when Revis referred to Moss as a “slouch” during an interview.
With Moss a member of the New England Patriots and Revis (as always) the top CB of the New York Jets, the two had the pleasure of battling one-on-one at least twice a season. Even though they faced off from 2007-2010, while Moss was with Patriots, the rivalry escalated in 2009 and 2010.
Following the “slouch” comment, Moss was ready to show Revis his stuff in Week 2 of 2010, after being held down by the cornerback in both 2009 contests (58 receiving yards, one touchdown combined).
Moss ended up having the last laugh in their personal grudge-match when Moss snagged a gorgeous one-handed 34-yard touchdown over Revis in the Week 2 duel. Revis, embarrassingly, pulled up lame with a hamstring injury on the play and was forced to leave the game.
Moss was shipped off just weeks later for his second stint with the Minnesota Vikings, leaving Revis with an all too vivid memory of “the slouch” clowning him in their final Patriots-Jets match-up.
15. Peyton Manning vs. Eli Manning
The rivalry between current Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning and his younger brother, New York Giants QB Eli Manning, is the definition of a friendly-feud. Hey, even a family-feud if I may be so bold.
Since Eli entered the NFL in 2004, he has been constantly compared to his older brother. While it seemed almost impossible for Eli to match Peyton’s elite status, the Giants QB has given his brother a run for his money. Eli has been an underrated over-achiever in his relatively short professional career, and has raised a Super Bowl trophy two times, while winning the MVP in both championships.
While Peyton has put up career passing numbers that will go down as some of the best in NFL history, he still only has one Super Bowl win, compared to Eli’s two. While football is the most team-oriented game in all of professional sports, greatness is still largely judged by championships.
Rest assured, Peyton and Eli will continue to challenge each other season after season, and both will be staples in the record-book, and one day enter the NFL Hall of Fame.
14. Keyshawn Johnson vs. Jon Gruden
This player-coach rivalry is one of my favorite bouts in the history of professional sports. I mean, it isn’t hard to find a fiery, pompous, young wide receiver in the NFL, but when that player is coached by a no-nonsense nut-job, now that is a treat for us all.
In 2003, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and WR Keyshawn Johnson had what you could call a tumultuous relationship. And that is putting it lightly.
After Gruden and Johnson won a fairy-tale Super Bowl XXXVII together, their relationship turned sour the next season. The two did not hide their disgust for one another, as the feud boiled over on the sidelines, and the player-coach duo was caught on video jawing uncontrollably. Johnson was deactivated for the final 7 games of the 2003 season, and was traded to the Dallas Cowboys thereafter.
The funny thing is, Gruden and Johnson (pictured above with ex-Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) are both now NFL analysts for ESPN and see a good amount of each other while they are covering the league.
The two have remained professional in their duties since their time together in Tampa (alliteration acknowledged), but few will ever forget the public spat between these two controversial characters.
13. Cam Newton vs. Robert Griffin III
This very recent rivalry is certainly early in its development, as Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton and Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III have only faced off once in the NFL.
While Newton was the 1st overall pick in last year’s 2011 draft, Griffin was the 2nd overall pick in this year’s 2012 draft. The two are always compared to one another because of their similar playing styles, as both have supreme running skills as well as NFL-caliber passing abilities.
The two were both also drafted by struggling franchises who are attempting to build winning teams around these young studs. No pressure or anything, guys.
Even though Newton bested Griffin in their first head-to-head match-up, the rivalry is just budding and is guaranteed to be a battle to keep an eye on for years to come.
12. Ronde Barber vs. Tiki Barber
There’s nothing like some genuine brotherly love.
Former New York Giants RB Tiki Barber and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB/FS Ronde Barber are twin brothers who share some incredibly talent-rich blood. While Ronde is currently in his 16th NFL season, Tiki retired after his 10th season due to the injury-heavy nature of a professional running back.
The intriguing aspect of this family feud, as opposed to the Manning brothers, is that Ronde and Tiki played on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage. This meant that Ronde actually covered, shadowed and tackled Tiki when their teams faced off.
I mean, what more could you ask for growing up than to be able to put a lick on your own twin brother while playing against each other on the sport’s biggest stage.
Both Barber brothers have always been famous for their wide, bright, grinning smiles, but when it came to playing football, these twins left it all on the field against one another.
11. Roger Goodell vs. Jonathan Vilma
An interesting rivalry has development in the past year between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and many members of the New Orleans Saints organization. The most notable Saints’ player involved is LB Jonathan Vilma, who was originally suspended for the entire 2012 season.
This feud of course is in the wake of the “bounty scandal” that included an alleged “pay for play” system in which Saints players were rewarded money for injuring opposing players.
There is great speculation concerning the truth and severity of these infractions, and there are also many questions regarding Goodell’s knowledge and his motives. Vilma’s suspension has since been lifted following multiple appeals. The lesser suspensions of Saints DE Will Smith, current Cleveland Browns LB Scott Fujita and free agent DE Anthony Hargrove have been vacated as well.
Vilma has accused Goodell of “dragging his name through the mud” and attempting to tarnish his image. Vilma and the rest of the Saints in question have maintained their innocence, and plan to fight Goodell and the accusers until the very end.
10. Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow
This New York Jets quarterback controversy has grabbed more media attention than a battle between two horrendous signal-callers ever should. The answer is easy when it comes to whether QB Mark Sanchez or QB Tim Tebow should start for the Jets. The answer is neither.
While Tebow actually showed the ability to win games in a very unconventional way when with the Denver Broncos last year, Sanchez has looked like a scrub since day one.
Even when the Jets were actually winning games thanks to their elite defense, Sanchez could still hardly help himself from ruining their success.
But since Tebow’s trade to the Jets, the debate over which quarterback should be at the helm has hogged headlines nation-wide. This rivalry needs to be squashed immediately, with Sanchez being cut, and Tebow remaining a backup, and holding onto the “locker-room-leader” image.
9. Albert Haynesworth vs. Andre Gurode
There is a fine-line between a relentless football player and a dirty football player. In 2006, DT Albert Haynesworth, then a member of the Tennessee Titans, hurdled over that line into the category of inhumane and disgusting in a game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Following a Cowboys’ touchdown, a typical scrum in the trenches ended with Cowboys C Andre Gurode losing his helmet. Haynesworth then did the unthinkable, as he lifted his cleat and attempted to stomp on Gurode’s helmetless head and face. Haynesworth missed the first try, but connected on his second go-of-it, opening a massive gash across Gurode’s face that required 30 stitches.
Fans watched in horror as Haynesworth was penalized with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call, and was subsequently ejected from the game after removing his helmet and slamming it to the ground in protest.
Haynesworth apologized multiple times in the wake of the incident, but there is really no explanation to be given as far as I’m concerned.
Karma has certainly come around for Haynesworth, being that he signed a massive $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins in 2009, but is now an unemployed bum.
After proving to be out of shape and incredibly thick-headed, Haynesworth was cut by the Redskins and has since been axed also by both the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
8. Peyton Manning vs. Mike Vanderjagt
I have always loved this rivalry between QB Peyton Manning and K Mike Vanderjagt, while they were both members of the Indianapolis Colts. It amuses me most of all because Manning is usually so polite and is known for staying away from controversy.
In 2002, After Vanderjagt publicly criticized Manning and former Colts head coach Tony Dungy in an interview following the team’s first-round playoff loss, Manning gave Vanderjagt and the world a piece of his mind.
Manning held nothing back in a Pro Bowl interview that year, calling Vanderjagt an “idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth.” Manning went on to say that “he’s a good kicker, but he’s an idiot.”
I still laugh out loud whenever I hear or see the quote, because I love the fact that Manning decided to refrain from holding his tongue in that single instance. In reality, Vanderjagt needs to thank Manning, because if it wasn’t for this rift, nobody would ever remember his name.
7. Golden Tate vs. M.D. Jennings
Now here is a controversy for the ages that just took place in Week 3 of this year’s 2012 season during the era of the NFL’s replacement referees. This one play, nicknamed the “Fail-Mary,” is also the reason that the referee lock-out ended, and the actual referees returned to the gridiron.
On the final play of the Week 3 match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, a desperation pass was chucked into the end-zone by Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.
After Seahawks WR Golden Tate shoved Packers CB Sam Shields in the back, he leaped into the air at the same time as Packers SS M.D. Jennings, when both looked to have corralled the pass. When the two hit the ground, a pair of replacement referees famously signaled opposite calls, with one ruling a touchdown and one ruling a touchback.
Upon further review, the ruling was confirmed to be a touchdown, but it was obvious to viewers nation-wide that Jennings had total possession of the ball, with Tate wrapped around his back.
This single play set off a fire-storm of controversy, being that the last-second touchdown gift-wrapped the Seahawks a 14-12 victory that they did not deserve.
In an interview after the game, Tate attempted to confirm that he caught the ball. But he didn’t catch it. The Seahawks know it, the Packers know it, Tate knows is, Jennings knows it and the entire nation knows it. But still in the books, the Seahawks won that game 14-12, with a 24-yard touchdown pass with time expiring.
6. DeAngelo Hall vs. Everybody
Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall is truly the definition of “that guy.” He is a smack-talking, fast-running, self-loving, incredible athlete with all the potential in the world to be the best. But instead, Hall decides to stay in the spotlight by just aggravating players, coaches, referees and fans alike.
While Hall has put together an incredibly impressive career when it comes to statistics, his reputation has always been tarnished by his words and actions. Hall is outspoken to say the least, and has even publicly called for his own release from the Redskins, saying he’s “definitely not worth” the money he’s getting.
In 2008, Hall pulled a robbery of the Oakland Raiders when he signed a 7-year, $70 million contract, before being cut by the team just 8 games into the season.
Hall refused to adapt his selfish play to the ways of the team, and also seemed to be lagging in the effort department. Hall received a total of $8 million from the Raiders for the 8 games played.
Most recently, during Week 8 of this 2012 season, Hall removed his helmet and verbally berated a referee with a profanity-laced tirade. Hall was ejected from the game and fined $30,000 by the league.
But we all know that nothing will hold Hall back from doing and saying what he wants. It's always just a matter of “what will be next” when it comes to this childish cornerback.
5. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning
This is a rivalry that has developed due solely to the elite level that both of these quarterbacks play at, game in and game out. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady came into the NFL at about the same time (Manning: 1998, Brady: 2000) and have consistently failed to disappoint throughout their careers.
Although New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees is a product of the same era, Manning and Brady are the poster-boys of the quarterback position in this day and age. Brady does sport more Super Bowl rings than Manning (Brady: 3, Manning: 1), but it is largely ill-advised to rank one as the better quarterback.
Every time that the two of these future Hall-of-Famers take the field against each other, it is a must-watch contest that is likely to be on national television in a prime-time match-up. The games are usually intense shoot-outs, which are decided more by whoever makes the most mistakes, instead of who actually makes bigger plays.
The NFL record books are sure to be peppered with both of these stud’s names forever, and once one retires from the game, a rivalry for the ages will be put to rest.
But until that day comes, I know that I will be tuned-in every Sunday when I know that Manning and Brady are facing off head-to-head.
4. Ndamukong Suh vs. Matt Schaub
Isn’t Thanksgiving supposed to be a day of gratitude and thanks? Well, Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh sees it as a day to viciously kick opposing quarterbacks in the groin.
During the Week 12 Thanksgiving Day match-up between the Lions and the Houston Texans, Suh was caught on video kicking Texans QB Matt Schaub below the belt. Suh was being brought to the ground on the play, and was not looking at Schaub when the kick took place.
But just because he was not looking, I do not buy the notion that the kick was unintentional. On the replay, you can see Suh’s foot slowing swing towards Schaub’s groin area, and then upon contact, Suh extended his leg forcefully.
I do believe that Suh’s foot did reach Schaub’s groin accidentally, but the ensuing thrust of his leg was certainly an intentional, forceful movement. Suh’s history also does not help his cause, as he stomped on the arm of Green Bay Packers OL Evan Dietrich-Smith last Thanksgiving day.
In an interview following the incident, Schaub ridiculed Suh and said that he is not “Houston Texan worthy” because of his style of play and tainted track record. We may not have seen the end of this rivalry, as the two involved still have plenty of time remaining in their careers.
3. Andre Johnson vs. Cortland Finnegan
Have you ever seen a mild-mannered, soft-spoken individual absolutely blow his top?
This is exactly what took place in 2010 when Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson unloaded a slew of hay-makers to the head of former Tennessee Titans CB Cortland Finnegan. After being provoked by Finnegan all game long, Johnson obviously had enough of his antics and decided to take matters into his own hands. Or fists, I should say.
After being repeatedly jabbed and whacked in the head by Finnegan all game long, Johnson decided enough was enough, and ripped off Finnegan’s helmet. Finnegan then decided to remove Johnson’s and fling it across the field. This was the last straw for Johnson.
The Texans’ wide-out immediately starting swinging at Finnegan, where he connected on multiple blows before the melee was broken up.
Typically, Johnson would have looked like the aggressor, but due to Finnegan’s reputation of provoking and baiting his opponents, nobody really blamed Johnson for his outburst. This rivalry has partially dissolved now that Finnegan is a member of the St. Louis Rams, so the two will no longer face off multiple times a year.
2. Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers
Now this is the definition of a rivalry between the young pup, and the ole gun-slinger. Now-retired QB Brett Favre made it very clear from the beginning that he did not feel any obligation to help Green Bay Packers teammate, QB Aaron Rodgers, adapt to the NFL when he entered the league in 2005.
Favre was never directly mean or abusive towards Rodgers, but he said that he didn’t think he had to help mold the quarterback because he himself never had that kind of guidance.
To me, Favre just looked like a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, who didn’t want to accept the fact that his professional career was on the brink of extinction. And as we all know at this point, Favre was never sure of when to throw in the towel, as he officially retired 3 separate times.
This rivalry turned into a feud to be remembered when Rodgers quickly proved to be an exceptional quarterback himself, after taking the reins of the Packers’ offense in 2008. Packers’ fans still harbor great anger towards Favre, but are elated to have Rodgers at the helm as one of the best QBs in the NFL.
While both quarterbacks have one Super Bowl ring with the Packers, Rodgers already has a Super Bowl MVP to his name, something that Favre never accomplished. Rodgers also still has plenty of time to expand on his legacy, while Favre gets to watch his one-time backup from the couch.
1. Terrell Owens vs. His Own Quarterbacks
“I love me some me!”
Now there is a quote that will ring in the heads of every teammate, coach and fan that has ever interacted with, seen or heard the pompous, selfish, outspoken, boastful man that is Terrell Owens (T.O.).
T.O. believed that is was just too easy to form rivalries with opposing players, so he decided to take on the one person that he should have always had the closest, most positive relationship with. His own quarterback.
Owens’ first quarterback feud came while he was a member of his initial suitor, the San Francisco 49ers. In an interview with Playboy magazine, Owens eluded to the idea that his own quarterback, Jeff Garcia, was a homosexual. It was widely believed that Owens wanted out of San Francisco, and this controversial assertion surely helped expedite the process.
Following a lengthy battle with the 49ers regarding his free-agent status, Owens finally jumped on-board with the Philadelphia Eagles, ready for a fresh start. But of course, it didn’t take long for Owens to cause turmoil in his own locker-room once again.
Comically, his enemy chosen was again his own quarterback, Donovan McNabb. Following his first season with the Eagles, Owens made a comment that he “wasn’t the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl,” almost obviously referring to McNabb the year before in Super Bowl XXXIX.
An already shaky relationship completely unraveled when Owens continued to berate McNabb on the sidelines the next season, and Owens continued to voice his negative opinions on McNabb and the Eagles. Owens was suspended for the final four games of the 2005 season, and was subsequently released after just two years with the Eagles.
You would think that when Owens was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, he would learn to find an enemy on an opposing sideline. But of course he kept his spats in-house, with his QB, who this time was Tony Romo.
Owens kept it civil in Dallas, but still decided to run his mouth about how Romo wasn't looking his way enough in the passing game. Even though Owens kept his comments out of direct interviews, he still let the world know of his displeasure with Romo and the Cowboys.
Answering the prayers of most NFL quarterbacks, Owens is currently a free-agent. After one-year stints with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, and a pre-season with the Seattle Seahawks this year, Owens looks to be finished competing.
But believe me, I’m sure this will not be the last we hear from the controversial, always grinning, T.O.
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