New York Sports Villains
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The retirement of Rob Gronkowski rings a specific, nagging sort of bell in relation to the most notorious sports villains in New York sports history.

Robby Sabo

Rob Gronkowski is officially retired. What a damn shame.

The big, boisterous tight end made it official on Sunday, ending a tremendous nine-year career (for the New England Patriots). In the eyes of New York and Northern New Jersey, the man is nothing short of a master torturer.

He’s killed the New York Jets time and time again. Even worse, he’s not the leading man, rather destroying Jets fans’ hopes from a support role.

Welcome to the master list ranking the most notorious New York sports villains of all-time.

The New York vs. New York category

A New York vs. New York category must be included and it’s especially necessary for hockey.

The New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils have been going at it for decades. Due to the league’s nature that showcases all three teams in the same division, it’s only natural that each team’s greatest villains come from other New York organizations.

The NBA also runs with an east-west setup, but the New York Knicks-Brooklyn Nets rivalry is nonexistent. We can throw in Patrick Ewing and Jason Kidd while really understanding the only villainess representation are created by jealousy. When Ewing’s Knicks ruled the 1990s, Nets fans wept. When Kidd lifted his Jersey team to the NBA Finals twice consecutively, Knickerbockers fans couldn’t adjust to their new unrealistic world.

The NFL and MLB keep the New York Yankees and New York Mets, New York Giants and New York Jets separate, and although some moments have been had, the rivalries within those sports are child’s play. Philadelphia and Boston are the cities that rise to the top of the enemy world.

Are you confused seeing Carlos Beltran on the list? Well, the New York vs. New York theme also rolls through the individual’s current organization. Much of Mets fandom will never forgive the caught looking to end 2006.

Keyshawn Johnson‘s silly attitude has Jets fans placing him in a specific category. Bobby Bonilla‘s contract does the same thing. Even Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden’s second New York career in the Bronx has both Mets champions thought of in a different fashion these days.

And yes, John Tavares makes the list for both the Rangers and Islanders. His return to Long Island will go down in history as one of the more impressive fan performances.

The listing of George Steinbrenner is no misprint. Some fans forget while the younger generation has no idea; it was Steinbrenner’s suspension from baseball that allowed Buck Showalter and Gene “Stick” Michael to build the four-time champion dynasty club. Other than the two Bronx Zoo chips, Steinbrenner was a villain. Tons of money spent on hitting with no pitching in the building and prospects packing bags at every turn.

Lastly, Walter O’Malley moving his Brooklyn Dodgers to the west coast needs no explanation.

Top 3

3. Denis Potvin (Rangers)

Look no further than Denis Potvin‘s ridiculously dirty hit on Ulf Nilsson to understand the hate.

The sole hit created one of the most dedicated chants in all of sports, “Potvin Sucks.” Four decades later it remains strong inside Madison Square Garden.

2. Roger Clemens (Mets)

One moment is all it takes.

As you’ll see later down the list, all it takes to make the villain list is one notorious moment. Of course, most villains put together a solid body of work over the course of a career, but in Roger Clemens‘s case, it was one moment that enraged the entirety of Mets fandom.

Firstly, who the hell throws a bat? Additionally, throwing it towards Mike Piazza, not only the man Clemens already hit in the head, but the individual whose off-days became a hot topic of fan frustration on WFAN, was insane.

Clemens also brushed villainess class as a member of the Boston Red Sox while taking on the Mets in the 1986 World Series and Yankees prior to his late 1990s arrival, but it’s nothing compared to the inexplicable bat throw.

1. Martin Brodeur (Rangers)

Forget the Islanders; the Rangers greatest rival over the last three decades has been the Devils and it’s not close.

Who in the world is this rookie named Martin Brodeur? He’s not supposed to be this good and the young, defensive-minded Devils should not be challenging the Rangers to this degree. It was the mindset of every fan during the Spring of ’94.

Nevertheless, he was that good and not only took New York to seven games in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, but took over the area’s hockey dominance with three Stanley Cups. The likes of Scott Stevens, Claude Lemieux and Mr. slap-shot in the direction of a Rangers player with time expiring himself, Bernie Nicholls, can’t compare. (Yes, this is the same Nicholls who cross-checked Alexei Kovalev in the neck.)

Brodeur was the leading man. He took over the city immediately following the breaking of a 54-year curse.


Some may be surprised to see David Ortiz in the notables section. It’s a fair criticism. Ortiz was a menacing figure throughout the decade of the 2000s and beyond. It was his leadership that finally slew the Curse of the Bambino. Big home run after big home run sparked the epic 2004 ALCS collapse.

He may belong in the top 10, but hey, there are too many villains to count, especially by way of the Boston Red Sox.

Carlton Fisk is another Yankees nemesis listed as notable. Manny Ramirez as well. For the Mets, Chipper Jones, Jimmy Rollins and the man who doused the Mets 2006 hopes, Yadier Molina are all present.

Like Ortiz, Sidney Crosby is the other top snub from the top 10 list. The hate generated from the Rangers faithful is massive in relation to any one hockey player of all-time.

Alex Ovechkin, sparked by Bruce Boudreau’s silly comments, is also noteworthy.

Johnny Unitas was an absolute Giant killer, especially on the grandest of stages. Dan Marino made a career out of making the Jets feel silly about the 1983 NFL Draft.

Then we get back to the NBA and the 1990s physical, unforgiving nature of basketball. Alonzo Mourning and the entire Miami Heat team deserve spots. It was as brutal a brand of basketball the world’s ever witnessed.

P.J. Brown‘s flip of Charlie Ward singlehandedly turned around a series in suspension fashion and allowed Miami its only series win against New York during the rivalry.

A Special Class All His Own

John Rocker

Former Atlanta Braves John Rocker deserves a category all his own. His nuisance directly tied in with the Mets, but his words attacked an entire city.

In 1999 he called riding the 7 train to Shea Stadium “depressing” in a Sports Illustrated article. It’s “like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids.”

Enough said.

Top 10

10. DeSean Jackson (Giants)

Of all the Giant killers throughout history, DeSean Jackson tops the list. His punt return in East Rutherford, New Jersey destroyed New York’s playoff hopes in 2010.

9. Curt Schilling (Yankees)

This is why David Ortiz couldn’t make the top 10. Curt Schilling actually made the difference during the hot stove season of 2003-04.

The Yanks still beat Ortiz and the Sox via Aaron Boone‘s epic Game 7 extra-innings home run. In 2004, Schilling’s pitching (and bloody sock) made the difference. It was the first time in a long time Yankees fans experienced legitimate, epic disappointment.

8. Dale Hunter (Islanders, Rangers)

It’s tough to find a cheaper hit in NHL history. The miracle 1993 Islanders were suddenly put to a halt for a moment when Washington Capitals captain Dale Hunter destroyed Pierre Turgeon after a clear goal.

Hunter was also a thorn in the side for the Rangers, too, yet nothing can compare to this single moment.

The Isles defeated the Caps in the Patrick Division Semifinals and then the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games a series later only to fall to Kirk Muller and the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens in the Prince of Wales Conference Finals.

7. Pat Riley (Knicks)

Mr. fax in my resignation took residency in Miami only to brutalize the Knicks for nearly a decade. While the Knicks enjoyed the playoffs edge (only losing once), Riley’s Heat teams were as physical as the Knicks teams he created.

His return to The Garden is evidence enough to understand just how much could change over the course of a sole summer.

6. Chase Utley (Mets)

The Miracle Mets enjoyed fun times; they just didn’t really field any overwhelming villains. As crazy as it sounds, the same can be said for the 1980s Mets (save for a Mike Scioscia home run and a few other moments). The late ’90s teams and on are a completely different manner.

The leader of the group is Chase Utley. He destroyed New York for 13 seasons while in Philadephia. His 36 home runs and 116 runs batted in while batting a cool .281 in 194 career games against the Mets is tough to match yet he saved his most villainess moment for last

In Los Angeles, his slide into second broke Ruben Tejada‘s leg during the 2015 NLDS.

5. Tom Brady (Jets, Giants)

Oh Mo Lewis, how Jets fandom still loves you.

A single brutal hit by Lewis on Drew Bledsoe set the stage for nearly two decades of pure misery in Jets land. Tom Brady has thrown 54 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions while collecting 8,094 yards in 34 career games. He’s actually torched the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills to a higher degree, but his 27-7 career record vs. New York is a killer.

The Giants can also be mixed into the equation as well; however, it doesn’t quite match up since New York has successfully slain Brady twice on the world’s greatest stage.

4. Reggie Miller (Knicks)

The choke sign with the genital grab; Reggie Miller provided us everything and then some.

The 1994 Eastern Conference Finals featured an upstart Indiana Pacers team taking on the favorite Knicks. In Game 5 with the series knotted at two games apiece, Miller went off in the fourth quarter.

Spike Lee drama ensued and save for a John Starks Game 6 effort and eventual Game 7 victory, the young movie director may have never gotten out of the five boroughs alive.

In 1995, Miller did his eight points in nine seconds thing and finally took out New York.

The man was build for the Mecca. He was built as the baby-faced, unsuspecting New York villain.

3. Pedro Martinez (Yankees)

Ortiz, Schilling … Pedro Martinez. Though the Yankees were his daddy for a solid period of time, daddy tried to take out grandpa.

Pedro’s takedown of Don Zimmer took things to an unprecedented degree. Remember, the Yanks and Sox could never meet in the playoffs until the wild card format allowed such an event in 1995.

Martinez is the greatest Yankees villain of all-time.

2. Bill Belichick (Jets)

Not a chance exists that Tom Brady outranks Bill Belichick on this list. By far, the Jets organization is the most tortured. Quarterbacks like Brady and Marino are just the tip of the iceberg.

Belichick lasted one day as the Jets sideline boss. When Bill Parcells ignored Bob Kraft’s fax requesting Belichick interest, a story unfolded that lasts until this very day.

The Jets have witnessed Belichick win six Super Bowls within the AFC East. They’ve also watched it while understanding he was theirs initially. Not even a fictional novel could write this very real narrative.

1. Michael Jordan (Knicks)

Don’t say you love Michael Jordan. Don’t you dare do it.

If you’re a diehard Knicks fan, you can respect the man all these years later. You’re allowed to respect his greatness. You can’t love the man.

How quickly we forget.

Jordan ranks first on the list for not only dominating the Knicks at every turn, but quite literally representing the lone factor keeping the Ewing-led Knicks from the title. In most other villain examples, such as the Yankees, winning was still commonplace or, at the very least, the villain didn’t keep the New York franchise from the title.

With head coach Phil Jackson whining at every press conference for fouls, Jordan knocked off the Knicks in 1990-91, 1991-92, 1992-93 after falling down 2-0, (New York’s best squad), and 1995-96 (Jordan’s first full season back). The Pacers and Heat rivalries were nice, but there was nothing like the Bulls. That team actually won chips.

Jordan singlehandedly stopped the Knicks from NBA title glory. For that reason, he’s the most notorious villain in New York sports history.

Robby Sabo is a co-founder, CEO and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor - Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. SEO: XL Media. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (Sold in 2020). SEO: XL Media. Email: robby.sabo[at]