When former Boston sports stars leave town and return wearing an opposing team’s uniform, the reception they receive from local fans can vary depending on the circumstances of their departure, and what team they ended up joining. Johnny Damon, one of the most accountable Red Sox players in history, was booed heartily at Fenway after he joined the New York Yankees in 2006. Pedro Martinez ripped the Red Sox on his way to signing with another New York team in 2005, but he’s been revered as a hero in Boston ever since.
With former Celtics coach Doc Rivers due back with his new team, the Clippers, let’s take a look at some high profile sports figures who took their talents elsewhere or left town on less than ideal terms, and you can let us know whether they deserve a cheer or boo when they return.
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
We can only wait and see how fans react when former Celtics Doc Rivers returns on Wednesday with his Los Angeles Clippers. It turns out he did not want to stay around for the rebuilding. From 2004 to 2013, Rivers guided talented Celtics teams to seven playoff runs, six Atlantic Division crowns, two finals appearances and one NBA championship in 2008. In 2011, after rumors that he would retire from coaching to be closer to his family, Rivers signed a five year, $35 million contract extension with Boston, where it was assumed he’d be the steward of a rebuilding process.
On June 25, the Celtics and Clippers agreed to a deal that let Rivers out of the remaining three years of his contract so that he could sign a deal with Los Angeles, where he also became the senior vice president for basketball operations. Rivers finished his career with the third-most wins of any Boston coach at 416, trailing only Tom Heinsohn (427) and Red Auerbach (795), but many fans feel he forced his way out of Boston and gave up on the Celtics.
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
Tom Brady’s former favorite target received cheers during introductions in his initial return to Gillette Stadium on Nov. 24. During the game, Welker was booed when he touched the ball, and cheered when he muffed a punt.
The biggest offseason loss for the Patriots in 2013 was Welker. Acquired from the Dolphins in 2007, Welker was the most reliable option for Brady and earned a reputation as “automatic.’’
Welker caught more than 100 passes in five of the six seasons he spent in New England, was named to five Pro Bowls, and racked up almost 7,500 yards receiving and 37 touchdowns. Welker also set the Patriots’ career record for receptions.
The end of Welker’s tenure in New England, however, was not as smooth as his catching ability. After a dropped pass on third down that arguably cost the Patriots the Super Bowl in 2012, Welker and the Patriots could not agree to a long-term extension, with the Patriots instead placing the franchise tag on him for the 2012 season.
After playing out the one year franchise tag, Welker opted for free agency, and, in a seemingly unthinkable turn of events, Welker decided to leave New England and sign a two-year, $12 million deal with the Denver Bronocs, with speculation suggesting that he took less money to leave the Patriots after he decided he did not want to play for New England anymore.
Welker is remains one of the top receivers in the NFL, catching nine touchdown passes from likely future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning so far.
Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers
In December 2010, Carl Crawford signed a 7-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox, but never lived up to expectations in Boston. In 130 games in 2011, he batted .255 with 56 RBIs and. In 2012, he was frequently injured and played only 31 games.
Crawford was traded to the Dodgers in August along with Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, and, after undergoing Tommy John surgery that ended his 2012 season, he came back to hit .283 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 2013. Crawford has often been quoted as saying his time in Boston was terribly unpleasant for him.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Before Tyler Seguin, there was Phil Kessel – whom the Bruins traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the draft picks that would be Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins selected Kessel with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. He hit his groove in Boston during the 2008-09 season, scoring 36 goals to go along with 24 assists. The Bruins were unsuccessful in trying to sign Kessel to a long-term deal in July 2009 and rumors swirled that he wanted a trade out of Boston. In September of that year Kessel was dealt to Toronto and subsequently signed a five-year, $27 million deal with the Leafs.
A Boston tradition was born when fans chanted “Thank You Kes-sel’’ in unison whenever Seguin had a big night against the Leafs. And Bruins fans continue to boo Kessel whenever he takes the ice at the Garden because they haven’t forgotten that the star forward may have wanted out of town.
Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
The kicker was a hero around here, but then he left for one of the Patriots’ biggest rivals and was booed lustily when he returned with the Colts in 2006.. Vinatieri, the Patriots’ career leading scorer with 1,158 points, signed with the Colts as a free agent after the 2005 season. In his first season with Indianapolis, he added to the three Super Bowls he had won in New England, earning his fourth ring after the Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Vinatieri is in his 18th NFL season in 2013 and is still going strong. He kicked 26 field goals and made 37 extra points in 2012 for the Colts.
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
For a while it looked like Jonathan Papelbon was going to be Boston’s version of Mariano Rivera, racking up big save numbers for many years with one team. Papelbon began his major-league career in Boston and spent seven seasons pitching for the Red Sox. Papelbon, a fan favorite for his dominance and enthusiasm, closed out the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies and recorded 229 saves in his Red Sox career, the most in franchise history. And he danced to Dropkick Murphys while wearing a Bud Light box on his head, endearing him to the Fenway faithful for years, so it seemed.
After the collapse of September 2011, Papelbon signed a four-year deal, $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies after the Red Sox held the line on offering him a big contract. The now NL all-star got in some hot water with fans in Boston when he implied that Philadelphia fans were smarter baseball fans than the ones that cheered him on at Fenway year after year. In his return to Boston last May, Papelbon received a mixed reaction from the crowd faithful when he took the mound in the ninth and closed out the Red Sox for his 105th career save at Fenway Park.
Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers
Beckett was the ace of the staff when he led the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2007, but he was also the poster boy for the team’s collapse in September of 2011. The righthander from Texas pitched for Boston from 2006 to 2012 after being traded to the Red Sox from the Florida Marlins on Thanksgiving 2005. Beckett recorded his 1,000th career strikeout in 2008 and his 100th career win in 2009 with the Sox, and was the first Red Sox pitcher to hit a home run in 35 years.
Beckett fell out of favor with fans in Boston in 2012 because of poor performance and his role in the previous season’s fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse scandal, and was traded to Los Angeles in August 2012. Beckett has been on the DL since May 13 after starting eight games this season for the Dodgers, going 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. He underwent season-ending surgery on his neck later in July.
Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets
The former Celtics captain was second on the team’s all-time scoring list behind John Havlicek, third in minutes played, and fourth in games played at the end of the 2012-13 season. Pierce’s Celtics career was rejuvenated when the new Big Three was born when when Boston acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007. During the first season of the new Big Three, the Celtics won their 17th NBA championship, defeating the Lakers in six games.
It appeared certain that Pierce would retire as a Celtic, but after playing 15 seasons in Boston, he was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets along with Garnett and Jason Terry as the Celtics went into full rebuilding mode in the summer of 2013.
Pierce took out a thank-you ad in the Globe once the deal with the Nets was completed. He’s averaging 13 points per game in his role with Jason Kidd’s struggling Nets. It would be hard to imagine nothing but a loud ovation when he makes his return to the Garden on Jan. 26
Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers
To say things did not end well for the two-time Vezina trophy winner in Boston would be an understatement. Thomas had a .967 save percentage against the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, and came up with an epic shutout in Game 7 to help clinch the Cup in Vancouver. But things started to go south for the 2011 Stanley Cup MVP when he decided not to attend a White House ceremony honoring the team.
Next thing you know, the ex-Bruins goaltender decided to sit out the final year of his contract, announcing in June 2012 that he intended to miss the next in order to “reconnect with the three F’s: Friends, Family, and Faith.’’ He was traded to the New York Islanders in February 2013 though Thomas refused to report and was subsequently suspended by the team. He signed with the Florida Panthers as a free agent this past offseason.
Thomas received a standing ovation when he was introduced at the Garden on Nov. 7. The ex-Bruin was out of the Panthers lineup with an injury that night but when the camera spotted him and a video tribute was played on the big screen, the majority of the Garden faithful stood and cheered for Thomas.
“It was great to be back at the Garden, great to be back in Boston,’’ Thomas told the Miami Herald after the game in Boston. “I was hoping for that kind of reaction from the fans. I loved playing here. I loved Boston. It was nice to see that response.’’
Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Gonzalez joined the Red Sox in December of 2010 when the Red Sox traded four players to San Diego for him. The four-time All-Star was productive in Boston, hitting 42 homers in two seasons, but never appeared comfortable in a Red Sox uniform.
Gonzalez was part of the team’s epic collapse in 2011, and his casual dismissal of the turn of events as being part of God’s plan rubbed many fans the wrong way. He was traded in August 2012 to Los Angeles along with Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
During his first game with the Dodgers, Gonzalez hit a three-run home run and ended the season 36 games later with three homers and 22 RBIs. In 2013, he hit .293 with 22 home runs and 100 RBIs, and led the Dodgers to a postseason appearance.
Ray Allen, Miami Heat
Allen was a longtime Celtics fan favorite for his demeanor on the court combined with tenacity and his long-distance shooting prowess. He was traded to the Celtics in June 2007 from the Seattle Sonics and immediately cemented his place as a member of the Big Three with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. On June 17, 2008, in the series-ending Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the rival Lakers, Allen tied a Finals record with seven three-pointers in the Celtics’ 131–92 victory. The championship was Allen’s first of his career.
After the 2010-11 season, Allen rejected the Celtics’ two year offer and signed with the Heat on a three-year deal, and he went on to win his second NBA championship in Miami. When Allen returned to the Garden as a member of the Heat for the first time last January, he was greeted with with boos whenever he touched the ball during the Celtics 100-98 double-overtime win.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
We have some data on this one as Seguin was serenaded with boos when he returned to the Garden in November any time he touched the puck. The former second overall draft pick for the Bruins in 2010 never quite lived up to his potential in Boston but has been averaging more than a point per game playing center for the Dallas Stars this season. Boston had high hopes for the 21-year-old native of Brampton, Ont. after his signing and a strong 2011 season, finishing with a career-high 67 points, but things went downhill during his last season in Boston, with rumors persisting of excessive partying dogging Seguin until he was traded after the 2013 season.
Seguin scored just one goal in the Bruins 2013 playoff run that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals, but for now, it looks like the Stars got the better of the trade as the former beleaguered Bruin has regained his scoring touch. “In the end, I know I made my wrong choices and bad decisions,’’ Seguin told USA Today Sports in September. “But the things I won’t man up to are things that are untrue.’’
Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets
The Big Ticket was a huge part of the Big Three Celtics team that delivered the 2008 NBA title to Boston. Providing relentless defense, Garnett bolstered the Celtics’ front line after coming to Boston in a trade with the Timberwolves before the 2007-08 season. Garnett averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game during his six seasons in Boston.
In June, after waiving his no-trade clause, KG was traded to the Brooklyn Nets along with Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for a collection of players including Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, and draft picks. Garnett is currently averaging 6.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in a reduced role with Brooklyn.
Patrick Chung, Philadelphia Eagles
Safety Patrick Chung was a staple of the New England secondary for most of four seasons from 2009 through 2012. A 2009 second round draft pick by New England, Chung played 38 games for his first three seasons in New England, recording 195 combined tackles with five interceptions, three tackles, and one INT returned for a touchdown.
Lack of stopping power from the secondary, combined with increased efficiency seen from moving cornerback Devin McCourty to safety, saw Chung lose his starting position in 2012, and he was not re-signed by New England following the season. Chung signed with the Eagles in March 2013.
Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets
Horton, now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has been recovering from shoulder surgery he underwent in July. Horton was the third overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft and spent seven seasons with the Florida Panthers before joining the Bruins in 2010. Horton scored 26 goals to go along with 27 assists in his first season in Boston, but injuries slowed him down and Horton’s production dropped off in the regular season. But in the playoffs, Horton found his scoring touch with 15 goals and adding 21 assists in 43 postseason games.
Horton suffered a concussion during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2011 when he was blindsided by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome. The right winger received standing ovations when he shown on the screen at the Garden for the remainder of the finals. Last July, Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with Columbus after his agent told the Bruins he would not be returning to Boston.
Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics
After losing Johnny Damon to the Yankees in 2006, the Sox decided on Coco Crisp to fill the void. Crisp displayed brilliant defense, making highlight-reel catches in center field during his time in Boston, but he could never replace the consistent package that Damon provided.
In his three years in Boston, the injury-plagued Crisp batted .271 and totaled 21 home runs and 137 RBIs. Crisp stayed with the Sox until November 2008, when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Ramon Ramirez. His only season with the Royals was a rough one, as Crisp recorded a career low batting average of .228. Crisp has now completed four seasons with the Oakland Athletics, where he’s batted .264 and led the A’s to the playoffs the past two seasons.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
BenJarvus Green-Ellis collected more than 2,000 yards in a Patriots uniform from 2008-11, and did not fumble once. The Patriots did not retain Green-Ellis, and the Bengals signed him to a three-year deal. The Law Firm rushed for 1.094 yards and six touchdowns for the Bengals in 2012, and is back with the Bengals again in 2013. He has 522 yards rushing to go with three touchdowns in 2013.
Alfredo Aceves, free agent
The former Red Sox versatile starter/reliever is currently without a job, but the 30-year-old hurler could return to Fenway in 2014. The sometimes hot-tempered Aceves saved 25 games for the Red Sox as the fill-in closer in 2012 under Bobby Valentine and started the 2013 season in Boston. But after a rough spring with the rebuilt Red Sox, manager John Farrell shipped him down to Pawtucket to get his game together. In 11 appearances (six starts), Aceves went 4-1 with a 4.86 ERA over 37 innings with the Red Sox. He went 4-2 and posted a 4.25 ERA in eight starts with the PawSox.
Aceves, who was famously referred to as having “Satan in his eyes’’ during a World Baseball Classic brawl last year, was outrighted off the 40-man roster in July and elected free agency after the 2013 season ended.
Brandon Meriweather, Washington Redskins
The Patriots cut the two-time Pro Bowler and 2007 first-round draft pick from the University of Miami Sept. 3, 2011 and coach Bill Belichick doesn’t regret the decision. “I think each year is a new year, and I just don’t think you can pick teams, or pick your players based on what’s happened in the past,’’ Belichick said. “You have to pick them based on what you think is going to happen this year, and that’s relative to the competition, to the make of your team, and player’s performance.’’
The Bears scooped up Meriweather a day after the Patriots cut him. On March 15, 2012, he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Redskins. He had seven combined tackles and one interception in 2012 with Washington. He has 42 tackles and one pick so far in 2013. After two helmet-to-helmet incidents against the Bears on Oct. 20, the NFL suspended Meriweather for two games until an appeals process reduced the ban to one.
“I guess I just got to take people’s knees out,’’ Meriweather said after the suspension. “That’s the only way. I would hate to end a guy’s career over a rule, but I guess it’s better other people than me getting suspended for longer.
“You just have to go low now, man. You’ve got to end people’s careers. You got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees. You can’t hit them high anymore.’’
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
It’s been a while since Thornton was the face of the future for the Boston Bruins before he traded to the San Jose Sharks in a blockbuster deal made eight years ago that never quite panned out for Boston. The 6-foot-4 Thornton was selected first overall by the Bruins in the 1997 draft and eventually was named team captain prior to the 2002-03 season. After Thornton produced a 100-point season in 2002-03, his production dropped to 73 points in 77 games the next season. Thornton became a free agent during the summer of 2005 as was reportedly unhappy with the criticism he faced after the Bruins early exit from the playoffs the previous season. On Nov. 25, 2005, Thornton was traded to the Sharks.
In his first year in San Jose, Thornton took home the MVP award after winning a scoring title. As solid as Thornton’s been since leaving Boston, his team has yet to get a taste of the Stanley Cup finals as they’ve notoriously underachieved in the playoffs.
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