Professional football may be the most popular game in America, but fans still find plenty to hate about it. We could start with the commissioner—Roger Goodell has infuriated and annoyed a lot of people in his 10-year tenure with his reactionary and arbitrary decision-making, and there's no person that fans like to hate on more than him. That Goodell has lost so much credibility and the game he oversees is still so popular says a lot about the NFL's enduring reach.
With all that passion that fans have for the game comes a lot of hate. It's a strong word, yes, but there's something or someone about the NFL that gets under the skin of just about every player or hardcore fan. Here are the people, places and things we see as the most hated in today's NFL.
Most hated team: New England Patriots
For the longest time the Dallas Cowboys held this spot, making their claim to being 'America's Team' at least mildly ironic. But the Patriots' recent title—and the issue of deflated footballs that hung over it—may have tipped the scales in the court of public opinion.
Whenever a franchise, in any sport, scores enough success to approach dynasty status, a begrudging dislike naturally forms outside its own fan base. Everyone loves an underdog. With four Super Bowl titles since the turn of the century, New England rarely qualifies under that heading. (Super Bowl XLIX was a bit of an exception, as the line flipped late to favor Seattle.)
Deflategate and Spygate have not scored the Patriots any brownie points, either. The organization doesn't really seem to care, which might further add fuel to the fire outside Foxborough. Bill Belichick is still the same as always, casting an almost smug figure. Owner Robert Kraft and Tom Brady have remained defiant and unapologetic.
Winning amid controversy has added numbers to the anti-Patriot crowd. Those numbers will keep growing, too, so long as New England stays a title contender. —Chris Burke
Most hated head coach: Bill Belichick
When it comes to hatred toward a coach, there are different factors involved. There are coaches who players hate but would love to play for, because they know they're going to win. There are coaches who fans hate because that coach's team keeps beating theirs in various obnoxious fashions. And there are coaches who are hated by players and fans, who don't win, though they don't tend to last too long.
If we're talking about the NFL coach who is most hated outside of his own building, there's no doubt that Belichick gets the vote. Between Spygate and Deflategate, his constant on-field trickery, his generally moribund press conferences and his undeniable football genius, Belichick is the guy most football fans love to hate, even if there is a grudging respect for his accomplishments. However, when it comes to his own players? You'll rarely find any, past or present, with a bad word to say. Players know that coaches like Belichick bring the best out of them and put them in positions to win.—Doug Farrar
Most hated owner: Dan Snyder
His own fans are fed up with him—last year, on the team's official message board, there was a discussion titled, "Why is Dan Snyder the most hated person in franchise history?" Opposing fans can't stand him, he has clashed frequently with the media and, oh yeah, Snyder is engaged in a p.r. battle against an entire race so his franchise can continue to be known as the Redskins.
What has caused such strife between Snyder and Washington's fans? It starts with little things like Snyder charging them money to attend training camp—a practice that's no longer occurring because of the backlash—to the simpler explanation: He's been unable to produce a winner.
Snyder's fiercest competition probably comes from within the NFC East, in the person of Dallas's Jerry Jones. Unfortunately for Snyder, the disdain for him has grown to such a level that it transcends merely the NFL. He may now be the most hated owner in sports, period.—CB
Most hated player in the locker room: Percy Harvin
Harvin has shown he can be one of the most explosive players in NFL history on the field—at least when he's healthy and the beneficiary of the right game plan—but that explosiveness also transfers to the locker room. This was especially true during his tenure in Seattle. The Seahawks traded a first-round pick to the Vikings for Harvin before the 2013 season, and Harvin missed most of the season with a hip injury. He did return a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVIII, and the idea was that he'd be a major part of the team's offense in 2014. In truth, Harvin couldn't do much more than catch bubble screens and deep straight routes.
In his first season in Seattle, Harvin got into altercations with teammates Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. The kicker was Harvin's refusal to play late in Seattle's 2014 Week 6 loss to the Cowboys—allegedly because he was unhappy with how he was used. Seattle traded him to the Jets shortly after, and there weren't a lot of unhappy folks in the Seahawks' locker room when that happened. Now with the Bills (where he's reunited with Rex Ryan, his coach when he was on the Jets), Harvin still insists that he's more than a gadget player. The proof on the field says otherwise.—DF
Most hated player by fans: Johnny Manziel
Perhaps this isn't fair. Heck, it's probably not. Manziel's bravado rubbed folks the wrong way even before he arrived in the NFL, though, and he took awhile to tone it down once he did. Who can forget him dropping his 'money sign' celebration on stage at Radio City Music Hall after the Browns drafted him?
Deserved or not, most of the NFL world was rooting against Johnny Football from the start. Of course, this is nothing new—Manziel's act pitted him (and Texas A&M) against the world during his college days. After Manziel's 2013 season-opener for the Aggies (a game in which he was suspended for the first half), former Bears linebacker/Fox Sports 1 analyst Brian Urlacher ripped him: "I'm not saying he's a punk, but he acted like a punk in that game," Urlacher said. Tom Brady offered up a similar critique when asked about Manziel's excitable behavior, saying, "Football's a physical game ... and as [Robert Kraft] would say, 'If you're a turd, it's going to come back to you.'"
Manziel's reputation preceded him to the pros. It has made him a target since his arrival.—CB
Most hated fan base: Eagles
It all started in December 1968, when those disenchanted fans of the Eagles sitting at Franklin Field decided that the best way to unleash their invective was to hurl snowballs at Frank Olivo, a 19-year-old man who stepped onto the field in a Santa Claus suit. The fans were disgusted because the then-lame franchise was winning too much at the end of the season—winning their way right out of the derby for USC's O.J. Simpson, who went to Buffalo as the first pick in the 1969 draft. Philadelphia took defensive back Leroy Keyes (who?) with the third pick, leaving Joe Greene on the board for the Steelers with the next selection.
In 1998, the team installed a jail in the bowels of Veterans Stadium and hired a judge, the delightfully-named Seamus McCaffery, to preside over the rowdiest of an infamous bunch. And in 1999, several of Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin's teammates were understandably distressed when they thought Eagles fans were booing the future Hall-of-Famer as he lay on the field with the neck injury that ended his career. In truth, the fans were booing Deion Sanders, but the fact that they cheered as Irvin lay on the field motionless tells you all you need to know. Every fanbase is unfortunately defined by the minority who do stupid stuff like this, but it seems that Eagles fans are more defined than any other group. —DF
Most hated rule: The "Calvin Johnson Rule"
Easy one here. This rule is the worst.
Dubbed the "Calvin Johnson rule" after the Lions' receiver had an apparent touchdown wiped off the board because, as referee Gene Steratore explained it, he "did not complete the catch during the process of the catch." Here's how the actual rule reads in the NFL book:
A player who goes to the ground in the process of attempting to secure possession of a loose ball (with or without contact by an opponent) must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, there is no possession. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, it is a catch, interception, or recovery. A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner.
Wordy, vague, difficult to interpret ... and yet the NFL has opted not to readdress the rule. There have been chances to do so, such as at this past March's league meetings, which came mere weeks after the rule cost Dallas's Dez Bryant a critical catch during a playoff game in Green Bay. Each referee seems to interpret the "process of the catch" differently, making it almost impossible to predict how and when this rule will be enforced.—CB
Most hated stadium: O.co Coliseum
Oakland fans have made the best of their team's outdated home (formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum, among other things), turning it into a unique atmosphere. That said, the place has got to go.
Part of the reason the Raiders are pushing for a new stadium is because this relic has fallen far behind the times in the NFL. Snyder recently said Washington needs a new place to play and FedEx turns just 18 this year. O.co is headed into year 50. Its full capacity of around 63,000 makes O.co one of the league's smallest venues, just ahead of Soldier Field (approximately 61,500) and the Vikings' temporary home at TCF Bank Field (52,525). The Raiders actually reduced that capacity in 2013, down to 53,200, so as to dodge the NFL's blackout rule.
And then there's the field, if you can call it that. Because the Raiders share residence of O.co with baseball Oakland A's, a dirt infield remains part of the playing surface until the baseball season ends. Owner Mark Davis called that situation a "travesty" in 2013 and players repeatedly rank O.co among the NFL's worst fields.—CB
Most hated announcer: The one calling your game
Here is an absolute truism for NFL broadcasting: The most hated NFL announcer is the one doing your game. Did you hear how he called that touchdown pass for the other guys? It was like he was rooting for them, no? And he was definitely celebrating when your quarterback got picked in the fourth quarter. Hey, I sympathize with you. How can the networks assign these guys to your team every week? They are totally biased.
Why does he (and it's always a him, no?) hate your team? Well, he is biased against your team for a number of reasons, including that he played against your team when he was a player. Those bonds run deep. If he's calling the play by play, he likely doesn't like your team because he grew up rooting for your rival. Didn't he grow up in that other city? The only truth here is that he hates your squad. He really does. Do not try to convince anyone otherwise. The most hated announcer in the NFL is calling your game this week and next week and the week after that. This will never change.—Richard Deitsch
Most hated uniform: Broncos' striped socks
There's no more infamous uniform in professional football history than the ones worn by the AFL's Denver Broncos in 1960 and 1961. The expansion Broncos didn't have a lot of money, so they got their first unis from the old Copper Bowl. Mustard yellow home jerseys with brown pants, and vertically striped socks which made the Broncos the laughingstock of the new league. Before the 1962 season, the Broncos switched to their current orange, white and blue colors, and set the old socks aflame in a public ceremony.
In 2009, to celebrate the AFL's 50th anniversary, those original member teams wore their first throwback unis, which meant that the Broncos had to don new versions of the worst garb in football annals. Let's hope the next AFL historical landmark is celebrated with something else. —DF
Most hated mascot: Rowdy, Dallas Cowboys
According to the bio for Rowdy posted on the Cowboys' official website (no, really), the spray-tanned, chubby-cheeked, large-headed mascot enjoys steak, working out, staying active and doing anything outside. He also claims that he wants to get back to the Super Bowl as much as possible. Which is interesting, as Rowdy was created in 1996, and the Cowboys last appeared in the Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season. Coincidence? We think not.
We think it's possible that Rowdy has angered the Football Gods, and his continued existence may keep the Cowboys out of another Super Bowl until he's "put down." Which almost happened in 2009, when Cowboys officials decided to re-evaluate Rowdy's role after he parked his ATV in the end zone during receiver drills and chest-bumped Terrell Owens after a touchdown the year before. But Rowdy is still alive and kicking... maybe you can tell us why. —DF