Tuesday October 27th, 2009

Though it threatens to become as over-played as the no-respect angle, did you notice how the revenge factor was all the rage in the NFL on Sunday?

We had Cincinnati's Cedric Benson running wild against Chicago to make the Bears pay for letting him go in the offseason of 2008; Drew Brees lighting up Miami, the team that dawdled on signing him in 2006; and even ex-Raiders head coach Bill Callahan getting the Gatorade-bath treatment from his Jets offensive linemen in celebration of New York's 38-0 victory at Oakland.

In the NFL, there's no such thing as forgive and forget. Vindication is in.

Those were mere appetizers to the main course that will be served Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, where we will be treated to the unprecedented tableau of Brett Favre returning in enemy colors.

For sheer must-see theater, what could possibly top No. 4's first trip back to Lambeau, with the NFC North division race very much in the balance, the wounds of Favre's bitter divorce from Green Bay still fresh, and both sides still convinced the other side was largely at fault for the historic breakup?

Think Cal Ripken Jr. in Yankees pinstripes, strolling back into Baltimore's Camden Yards for a first-place showdown in midsummer, and you might have something approaching a comparable situation. Might. Because let's face facts: When it comes to the landscape of pro sports in this country, Green Bay is probably unique.

So it's once again Revenge Week in the NFL, and that means nothing can keep us from fixating on the latest chapter of Favre-apalooza. In its honor, we've even come up with a list of our favorite top 10 revenge-themed games in NFL history. To be a true revenge game, there had to be some real animus involved, a palpable dislike or grudge against someone or some team that pervaded the backdrop of the pairing. We're not talking about nice guy Kerry Collins facing the Panthers or Giants here. Save the mamby, pamby crap. This stuff went deep:

10. Jon Gruden routs the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII

Does it ever end well for Al Davis and one of his former employees any more? (See Marcus Allen, Mike Shanahan, etc....). Unwilling to give Gruden the huge new contract he was in line for, and knowing his coach was conspiring to move on to greener pastures, the Raiders owner outsmarts himself and trades Gruden to Tampa Bay in February 2002. Then he winds up facing him 11 months later in the Super Bowl. Despite the Bucs being four-point underdogs, they win 48-21, building a 34-3 lead late in the third quarter. Gruden's intimate knowledge of the Raiders playbook is a major factor in Tampa Bay's blowout win. That had to hurt.

9. Chad Pennington beats the Brett Favre-led Jets to go to the playoffs

Karma, baby. It's all about the karma. New York's ill-fated fling with Favre last season necessitated Pennington's departure in early August, and, of course, the longtime Jets quarterback wound up signing with AFC East rival Miami. Boy, did the worm turn by Week 17. It was Dolphins at Jets, with both teams still alive in the playoff chase at the beginning of the day. Playing in his old stadium, Pennington threw two touchdown passes as Miami upset New York 24-17 and became just the second team in NFL history to improve by 10 wins from one season to the next. Oh, and did we mention the loss ended both the Favre and Eric Mangini eras in New York? That's the NFL's version of a twin-killing.

8. The Eagles shut down (and shut up) Terrell Owens

No team ever had a more acrimonious denouement with a player than Philadelphia's rollercoaster saga with Owens, who almost single-handedly tried to drive Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb crazy in 2005. So when T.O. came back to Lincoln Financial Field in October 2006 as a member of the hated Dallas Cowboys, it was like a thief returning to the scene of a crime after heavily advertising his intentions to do so.

The Eagles defense made the loudest statement of the game, limiting Owens to just three low-impact catches for 45 yards, with several drops. McNabb threw for two touchdowns and 354 yards, and ran for another score, in Philadelphia's gratifying 38-24 win.

7. Bobby Layne faces the Lions for the first time and nobody wins

By now, most NFL fans have heard about the Curse of Bobby Layne in Detroit. The Lions, who won three NFL championships in the 1950s with Layne on their team, traded their star quarterback to Pittsburgh two games into the 1958 season. Layne is famously said to have responded to the deal by declaring that Detroit wouldn't win for another 50 years. Lions players didn't like the trade, and Layne hated it.

In Week 7 of the 1959 season, the Steelers and Layne got their first shot at Detroit in the aftermath of the deal. The game ended in a 10-10 tie, with Layne being responsible for all of Pittsburgh's points. He kicked a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter, then threw a 20-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, converting the game-tying point after, as well. You know the rest of the story. The Lions have won just one playoff game in the 50 seasons since dealing Layne. Now that's revenge.

6. Patriots beat the Jets even without the cameras rolling

This one really didn't live up to the hype, but how can we overlook the first meeting between New England and New York after the never-ending firestorm set off by the Spygate saga in early 2007?

The Patriots won at New York 38-14 in Week 1, but the illegal video-taping incident that surfaced the next week wound up costing Bill Belichick $500,000 via a fine, the Patriots a $250,000 fine, and the team its first-round pick in 2008. So when the rematch rolled around in Week 15 in Foxboro, with the record-setting Patriots still undefeated at 13-0 and the Jets reeling at 3-10, we expected a kill of Christians versus the Lions proportions. It didn't happen.

New England won 20-10 to clinch homefield advantage in the playoffs and tie the 1972 Miami Dolphins' 14-0 regular-season mark, but it was becoming apparent by then that the Patriots had already peaked in 2007.

5. Cedric Benson blackballs the Bears

Let's not discount the significance of what Benson accomplished against his old team last Sunday, just because the payback is only two days old. Facing for the first time the club that he says attempted to "blackball'' him after cutting him in June 2008, Benson made it his personal mission to humiliate Lovie Smith's team and a Bears defense that never included many of his fans.

The former Chicago first-round pick (fourth overall in 2005) ran for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown on 37 bruising carries, highlighting Cincinnati's 45-10 demolition of the Bears. For a guy who looked like a total flameout in Chicago, Benson proved he can carry the ball as well as he can a grudge.

4. Paul Brown and the Bengals turn the tables on Cleveland

We're taking a little liberty here in that the legendary Brown actually needed two games against his former Cleveland team in 1970 -- the first year of the NFL-AFL merger -- to exact a measure of revenge against the Browns.

Fired by relatively new Cleveland owner Art Modell in January 1963, Brown waited five long years for the chance to coach again, but got it when he became the principle owner, general manager and coach of the AFL's expansion Cincinnati Bengals. In their third season, now integrated into the NFL and part of the AFC's Central Division, the Bengals got two shots at the Browns. They lost 30-27 in Week 4 at Cleveland, with Brown going all Bill Belichick and refusing to shake the hand of Cleveland coach Blanton Collier -- his former protégé, a'la Eric Mangini -- afterwards. But in Week 9, the Bengals and Brown were revenged, beating the Browns 14-10 in Cincinnati, part of a seven-game, season-ending winning streak that earned the Bengals the division title and made them the youngest expansion team to ever make the playoffs. Modell's Browns finished 7-7 that season, one game behind Cincinnati.

3. Joe Montana proves he's still Young enough to get the best of the 49ers

In Week 2 of 1994, his final NFL season, the legendary San Francisco quarterback got to play against the 49ers for the first and only time in his career. He won the duel that day with Steve Young and the 49ers, 24-17 at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, throwing for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 of 31 passing.

But it was Young, the man who bumped Montana off the pedestal in San Francisco, who eventually got the last laugh that season, leading the 49ers to their fifth and most recent Super Bowl victory -- a win that punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Young threw for 288 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs, but was picked off twice. Montana led Kansas City to a 9-7 mark and its fifth consecutive playoff berth in 1994, but retired shortly after the Chiefs were beaten in the first round by Miami.

2. Brett Favre and his purple reign all over the Packers

While this week's return to Lambeau provides a two-way street when it comes to revenge, given that jilted Packers fans can voice their feelings about Favre's betrayal, you can't overlook the statement game No. 4 turned in against Green Bay less than four weeks ago. Facing the Packers for the first time, Favre was fabulous, throwing for three touchdowns without a turnover in Minnesota's convincing 30-23 win at the Metrodome. Favre was 24 of 31 for 271 yards, and held his emotions perfectly in check as the Vikings improved to 4-0 and took a two-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North.

1. The Colts finally ride past the Patriots in the playoffs

Indianapolis and New England have provided the NFL with its glamour rivalry of the decade, and there was no more memorable meeting between the Patriots and Colts than the 2006 AFC title game in Indianapolis -- the teams' third playoff showdown in a four-season span. The Patriots had owned Peyton Manning and the Colts when it mattered most, beating Indy in the 2003 AFC title game in Foxboro, 24-14, and going through them again in 2004's divisional round, 20-3. Both seasons, New England went on to win the Super Bowl.

When the Patriots raced to a 21-3 second-quarter lead in the 2006 AFC title game, it looked like another New England rout was in store. But the Colts revenge would not be denied. Indy stormed back into a 21-21 tie, and then the two teams traded punches and the lead until Joseph Addai's 3-yard run gave the Colts a 38-34 margin with 1:00 remaining. Indy's Marlin Jackson sealed the deal with an interception of Tom Brady in Colts territory, and this time, it was Manning and Indianapolis who used the victory as a springboard to a Super Bowl ring.

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