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TomKat have nothing on NFL breakups
Tom Cruise isn’t the only one who may now regret jumping on a couch.
Just like with Cruise’s recent split from wife Katie Holmes, NFL divorces can prove heartbreaking for those involved. Players form close bonds with franchises and/or teammates, only to have those relationships sometimes end in heart-wrenching fashion.
There are NFL breakups that can unfold relatively smoothly like the dissolving of TomKat. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that end with a Hulk Hogan-Linda Bollea type of bitterness that gets played out in public.
Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest NFL “divorces” since Cruise and Holmes were married in November 2006:
Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers
Time together: 16-plus years
How they met: Favre was acquired by the Packers in a 1992 trade with the Atlanta Falcons.
The memories: Too many to mention, as Favre became Green Bay’s most iconic quarterback since Bart Starr in the 1960s. He also broke most of the NFL’s career passing records while leading the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI, another Super Bowl appearance the following year and nine other playoff appearances.
What caused the split: Despite his stature with the Packers, Favre’s waffling during the 2008 offseason about whether he would continue playing prompted Green Bay to move on with Aaron Rodgers. Favre’s bitterness about what happened helped fuel him to play for three more years, including the final two with NFC North rival Minnesota in 2009 and 2010.
Irreconcilable differences?: No, despite how messy the Favre-Packers spat became during his playing days. The franchise doesn’t want to remain on bad terms with Favre as he nears Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Favre also realizes it’s in his best interest to salvage his Green Bay legacy by letting bygones be bygones. Expect the two sides to reunite within the next few years so Favre can have his No. 4 jersey retired, receive a fitting sendoff and get the chance to thank Packers fans before making his Hall speech in Canton, Ohio.
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts
Time together: 14 seasons
How they met: The Colts made Manning the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft.
The memories: Manning quarterbacked Indianapolis to victory in Super Bowl XLI, another Super Bowl appearance three seasons later and nine consecutive playoff berths (2002-10).
What caused the split: Four neck surgeries that left Manning’s NFL future in doubt, especially with him being set to collect a $28 million roster bonus in March while he was still recuperating. The Colts also had their sights on a younger trophy bride — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — as Manning’s heir apparent in the 2012 draft. Manning is now re-starting his NFL career with the Denver Broncos at age 36.
Irreconcilable differences?: Although there was some public chirping between the two sides in January and February, this divorce couldn’t have gone more amicably. Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay appeared together in a joint news conference announcing his release, ensuring the two will remain on good terms after parting ways.
Terrell Owens and Tony Romo
Time together: Three seasons
How they met: Owens signed as a free agent with the Cowboys during the 2006 offseason. Romo became Dallas’ starting quarterback six games into that season. The two instantly clicked, with Owens catching nine passes for 107 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Romo’s first NFL start.
The memories: With Romo at the helm, Owens enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2007 with 81 receptions for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. Owens was so upset when Dallas lost its first playoff contest, to the New York Giants, that he became emotional while defending Romo in the postgame news conference. “That’s my quarterback!” Owens blubbered while wearing dark sunglasses to hide his tears.
What caused the split: Owens believes he was spurned by Romo as tight end Jason Witten became his favorite receiving option during the 2008 season. T.O. complained about the situation, which created locker-room friction. After the Cowboys failed to reach the playoffs, Owens was released in the offseason.
Irreconcilable differences?: The Cowboys lost No. 3 wide receiver Laurent Robinson to Jacksonville in free agency but have no interest in re-signing Owens, who remains an unrestricted free agent. Owens didn’t help himself in April by ripping Romo during an interview with a Dallas radio station. “Man, that's a guy I shed tears for, I went to bat for,” Owens said on KESN-FM. “Then, obviously, ultimately I’m not in Dallas anymore. I know he definitely had a hand in that.”
Lane Kiffin and Al Davis
Time together: 18 months
How they met: Hoping to recapture the magic of Oakland’s glory days under John Madden in the 1970s, Davis wanted a youthful head coach to rejuvenate his declining franchise. Kiffin, who was offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California, became the youngest coach in modern NFL history at 31 years old when hired in January 2007.
The memories: Like his predecessors, Kiffin couldn’t get the Raiders headed in the right direction, with a 4-12 record in his first year. He quickly butted heads with the headstrong Davis and failed to develop quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.
What caused the split: After a 1-3 start to the 2008 campaign, Davis fired Kiffin for, among other things, “propaganda and lying.” “I didn’t hire the person I thought I was hiring,” Davis lamented, while also announcing that Kiffin would not be paid the remainder of his coaching salary because of insubordination (an arbitrator later upheld that decision). In April 2011, Kiffin told ESPN that it was “almost impossible” to win in Oakland with Davis running the team and the owner’s decline was “sad to watch.” The Raiders still haven’t finished above .500 since the 2002 season.
Irreconcilable differences?: Davis died in October 2011 without having made peace with Kiffin, who is now USC’s head coach.
Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan
Time together: One season
How they met: Upon taking Washington’s head-coaching reins in 2010, Shanahan wanted a replacement quarterback for incumbent Jason Campbell. McNabb was available via trade because the Philadelphia Eagles wanted to move on after 10 seasons. Despite the rarity of interdivision NFL deals, McNabb was acquired for second- and fourth-round draft picks.
The memories: McNabb did get some revenge against the Eagles by leading Washington to victory at Philadelphia in Week 4 of the 2010 season. McNabb, though, soon began a steady decline that resulted in his benching by year’s end.
What caused the split: After a decade playing under Eagles head coach Andy Reid, McNabb wasn’t comfortable in the West Coast-style offense run by Shanahan and his son Kyle, who was Washington’s offensive coordinator. McNabb and the Shanahans also never developed the trust factor between a quarterback and his coaches that is necessary for sustained NFL success.
Irreconcilable differences?: Although he didn’t fare any better during the 2011 season with Minnesota, McNabb continues to bad-mouth Shanahan. In March on ESPN, McNabb expressed strong doubt that rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III will succeed with the Redskins because “a lot of the time, ego gets too involved when it comes to being in Washington.”
Randy Moss and the Minnesota Vikings
Time together: 26 days
How they met: With Minnesota struggling during what would become quarterback Brett Favre’s final season in 2010, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf green-lighted a trade designed to provide the offense with more firepower at wide receiver. The Vikings thought Moss would thrive by returning to the Vikings — where he played his first seven NFL seasons — after wearing out his welcome with the New England Patriots earlier in the season.
The memories: Moss had 12 catches with two touchdowns in his first three games with the Vikings before being held to one reception for eight yards in his return to New England. Moss ranted afterward about not being used properly by Vikings coaches and expressed how much he missed playing for the Patriots.
What caused the split: Moss’ antics following the Patriots loss were the final straw for Vikings coach Brad Childress, who also was upset with how the wide receiver was carrying himself inside team headquarters. For instance, Moss had reportedly caused a scene by insulting the caterers during lunchtime. Childress wanted to get rid of Moss so badly that he cut him without first informing Wilf. That rash action helped seal Childress’ fate with the Vikings. He was fired several weeks later.
Irreconcilable differences?: The Vikings needed receiving help entering this offseason but expressed no interest in Moss, who returned from a one-year layoff to sign with San Francisco.
Carson Palmer and Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown
Time together: Eight seasons
How they met: The Bengals made Palmer the top overall pick in the 2003 draft.
The memories: Palmer led Cincinnati to its first two playoff appearances (2005 and 2009) since the 1990 season. The 2005 Bengals might have made a deep postseason run had Palmer not suffered a serious knee injury at the hands of Pittsburgh defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen during a first-round loss.
What caused the split: After a 4-12 record in 2010, Palmer had become exasperated by the direction he believed the Bengals were headed. Palmer told Brown he would rather retire than continue playing in The ’Nati. Brown, who is known for not being bullied by player threats, didn’t blink and instead drafted replacement Andy Dalton. Palmer didn’t report to training camp and would have withered on the vine had Oakland not made a sweetheart offer just before the trade deadline last October.
Irreconcilable differences?: After an impressive rookie season, Dalton may have a more secure long-term NFL future in Cincinnati than the 32-year-old Palmer with Oakland now that the Raiders are under new management following the 2011 death of owner Al Davis.
Bobby Petrino and the Atlanta Falcons
Time together: 11 months.
How they met: Falcons owner Arthur Blank wanted an offensive guru to replace Jim Mora, who was fired as Atlanta’s head coach following a disappointing 2006 season. Petrino, who displayed such prowess in the college ranks at Louisville, was hired in hopes his system would better utilize the athletic talents of quarterback Michael Vick.
The memories: Petrino’s best chance for NFL success went up in flames when Vick was indicted on federal charges related to dogfighting.
What caused the split: Believing he had little chance of righting the ship with Vick in prison, Petrino abandoned the Falcons after a 3-10 start. He quit to become the University of Arkansas’ head coach.
Irreconcilable differences?: No coach in Falcons history is as reviled as Petrino, who announced his departure through a resignation letter rather than addressing the team personally. Ex-Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy later said it was “karma” that Petrino was fired by Arkansas earlier this year for lying to his bosses about an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer.
Jay Cutler and the Denver Broncos
Time together: Three seasons
How they met: Then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan chose Cutler with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft.
The memories: The rifle-armed Cutler posted a pedestrian 17-20 record as a starter but displayed the most upside of any Broncos quarterback since John Elway.
What caused the split: Josh McDaniels, who replaced Shanahan, flirted with another quarterback. McDaniels inquired about acquiring Matt Cassel, who was one of his protégés with the New England Patriots. The move broke the trust that Cutler had in the Broncos' organization. When he refused to attend the start of offseason workouts, Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears in a deal that brought Denver two first-round picks and replacement Kyle Orton.
Irreconcilable differences?: Broncos management quickly regretted giving the overmatched McDaniels too much personnel power and fired him in less than two seasons. Denver’s new regime is now banking on quarterback Peyton Manning rebounding from his neck problems. Cutler remains with the Bears and is under contract through 2013. A reunion seems highly unlikely.
Tim Tebow and John Elway
Years together: Two seasons.
How they met: Then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was so enamored by Tebow’s potential that the former University of Florida standout became the No. 25 pick in the 2010 draft.
The memories: No Broncos quarterback since Elway created more excitement and lasting memories than Tebow, whose penchant for big plays in crunch time last season overcame his woeful passing accuracy.
What caused the split: Elway, who is now the team’s top football executive, fell head over heels for another. After touting Tebow’s potential late in the 2011 campaign, Elway showed how he really felt when Peyton Manning became available in free agency. The Broncos traded Tebow to the New York Jets shortly after Manning was signed to a five-year, $96 million contract.
Irreconcilable differences?: As long as Elway is running the Broncos, expect the team to have a traditional quarterback under center. Tebow is unlikely to ever fit that bill as he now projects to a jack-of-all-trades role with the Jets.
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