In the spirit of March brackets, Boston.com launched its own: Voting to decide who is Boston’s biggest sports villain. The Boston sports villain bracket continues with round-by-round voting, so head over and let your voice be heard.
The 1970s brought Boston sports a wide array of villains to root against. The Yankees franchise was revitalized under a new owner dedicated to winning above all else, setting the stage for the on-field drama that would define a generation of Red Sox baseball. The “Big Bad Bruins” of the 1970s, spearheaded by Bobby Orr, won two Stanley Cups and regularly battled a star Canadiens goaltender. The Patriots franchise played its first down in the NFL in 1971 and endured its first playoff heartbreak in 1976.
The following eight athletes and figures made their mark on Boston sports as antagonists in the ’70s.
The Yankees won the World Series for the 20th time in 1962. In the following two years, the Yankees made it back to the Fall Classic but lost. They would not reach the playoffs again in the next 11 seasons. The Yankees finished under .500 in five of those seasons.
George Steinbrenner led a group of investors in purchasing the Yankees for $8.7 million in January 1973, ushering in a new era of prosperity.
The Yankees reached the World Series in 1976, won two consecutive championships in 1977-1978, and reached it again in 1981. Joe Torre took over as manager in 1996 after Steinbrenner changed managers 20 times in the first 23 seasons he owned the team, and the Yankees won four championships in the next five years alongside additional trips to the Fall Classic in 2001 and 2003. The Yankees last won the World Series in 2009, the season before Steinbrenner’s death.
The Yankees’ success with Steinbrenner at the helm often meant failure for the Red Sox. It inspired a heated rivalry between the two teams, one so accustomed to winning and one desperate to win the World Series for the first time since 1918. For Boston fans, the Yankees became the “Evil Empire,” while the Red Sox became scrappy underdogs. The Bucky Dent game and losses to the Yankees in the ALCS in 1999 and 2003, along with a number of heated regular season confrontations over the years, all made the Yankees the most hated sports organization in Boston. Steinbrenner was the heart of it.
Steinbrenner may not have become such a perfect Boston sports villain if his team did not have talented and emotional players, such as Thurman Munson. Munson was drafted by the Yankees in 1968 and played catcher for 11 seasons, earning a Rookie of the Year award, MVP, two World Series rings, seven All-Star appearances, and three Gold Gloves. He was the Yankees’ team captain from 1976 until his accidental death in 1979 at 32.
Beyond his emergence as a Yankees star in the 1970s, Munson became a Boston sports villain due to inevitable comparisons with his Red Sox counterpart, Carlton Fisk.
Fisk became the Red Sox’ starting catcher in 1972, and from then on, the two AL East catchers competed as two of the best in baseball throughout the 1970s. The individual rivalry and Munson’s place as a villain were cemented with a bench-clearing brawl on August 1, 1973, when Munson and Fisk collided at home plate after a botched squeeze-bunt attempt by the Yankees.
Munson admitted to throwing the first punch after that game, according to the Boston Globe‘s archives.
“‘We said a few things and I hit [Fisk]. He kicked me off him with his foot pretty good. I don’t know what he was doing. Is he scratched up?’ [Munson] smiled cynically. ‘What a (bleeping) shame.”
Bucky Dent, who played shortstop for the Yankees from 1978-1981, was not exactly a star for the Yankees the way Thurman Munson was. He was an All-Star twice, but he only hit 40 home runs in a 12 year MLB career. However, his name forever lives in infamy in Boston.
Dent sealed his place in Boston sports history during an unprecedented tie-breaking game to decide the AL East champion in the 1978 season between the Red Sox and Yankees. The Red Sox held the lead, 2-0, through six innings until Dent hit a home run over Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster in the seventh ining that took the lead for the Yankees, 3-2.
The Yankees would go on to win the game 5-4, earn a place in the American League Championship Series, and win the 1978 World Series.
Nettles played third base for the Yankees from 1973-1983.
Nettles was a far more successful player than Bucky Dent throughout his career, earning six All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, and hitting 390 home runs.
Nettles played a significant role in a 1976 brawl with the Red Sox after the Yankees’ Lou Piniella collided with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk on a play at home plate. As Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee (No. 37) joined the brawl, Nettles tackled Lee, injuring the Boston pitcher’s shoulder. After the initial fight died down, Lee approached Nettles again and punches flew once more.
Lee missed two months after the shoulder injury and, as recently as 2008, still holds a grudge against Nettles for his actions during that 1976 fight.
“I got several thank-yous from [Red Sox] players after that happened,” Nettles told the Hartford Courant in 2008. “Thanking me because they said, ‘Now we don’t have to put up with him for the next three months.”‘
Dryden was the Montreal Canadiens’ immensely successful goaltender throughout the 1970s.
Fun fact: Ken Dryden was originally drafted by the Bruins in 1964, but the team almost immediately traded him to the Canadiens in exchange for two prospects that never played in the NHL.
After attending college at Cornell and spending most of his first professional season in the AHL, Dryden played six games for the Canadiens and was named the team’s starting goaltender for the 1971 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the rookie Dryden in net, the Canadiens outlasted the Bruins in seven games in the playoff quarterfinals and won the Stanley Cup. Dryden’s Canadiens would win six Cups total in the 1970s and win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender five times in seven full NHL seasons.
Barnett was the home plate umpire during Game 3 of the 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Reds pinch hitter Ed Armbrister laid down a bunt in front of home plate and made contact with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk as he ran out to retrieve the ball. Fisk threw the ball to second base to force out Reds runner Cesar Geronimo, but the throw sailed high and into the outfield. Geronimo ultimately advanced to third base, and Armbrister to second.
Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson, Fisk, and the rest of the team insisted that Armbrister interfered with Fisk’s ability to make a play on the batted ball, but Barnett refused to reverse his call or appeal to the rest of the umpiring crew.
Two batters later, Joe Morgan hit a single to center field, scoring Geronimo from third and winning the game for the Reds. The Reds ultimately won the 1975 World Series in seven games.
Dreith was the referee during the Patriots’ AFC divisional round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 18, 1976.
Late in the game, the Patriots’ Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was assessed a roughing the passer penalty against Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler on an otherwise incomplete pass attempt. Despite the Patriots’ protests, the penalty allowed the Raiders to march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown, narrowly beating the Patriots 24-21.
The Patriots’ frustrations with Dreith’s call were intensified by a belief that the Raiders’ offensive line had committed several holding penalties that went uncalled throughout the game.
“‘After every time I rushed the passer,’ Julius Adams told the Boston Globe postgame, ‘I had to tuck my shirt back in. Now I don’t play with my jersey outside, and I don’t pull it out myself. Draw your own conclusion.'”
Tatum was a safety for the Raiders from 1971-1979 and gained a reputation for dishing out the hardest hits in the NFL, even becoming known as “The Assassin”.
One such hit went horribly wrong in 1978 during a pre-season game between the Raiders and the Patriots. Wide receiver Darryl Stingley reached to receive a pass on a slant route, lowering his helmet in the process. Tatum had cut across the field to hit Stingley and drove his shoulder directly into Stingley’s helmet, knocking him to the ground.
Tatum walked away from the play, but Stingley was paralyzed from the chest down.
The pair never met after that horrific collision, though Tatum said he tried to visit Stingley in the hospital shortly afterward and was turned away by Stingley’s family. In later years, Stingley said he had forgiven Tatum for the hit, though he remained unwilling to meet with him as part of a promotion for one of Tatum’s three books about his experiences in the NFL.