An Unwelcome Homecoming

November 02, 2009 - 2:57 pm

One can only imagine the intensity of emotions that ran through Ricky Bobby's head before he made his return to NASCAR to race in the Talladega 500.

Revving his engine while sitting in a car with a cougar painted across the hood, Ricky Bobby's return to the racing world was greeted by a mixture of cheers and encouragement from his crew team, jeers and gibes from Jean Girard (the Frenchman who orchestrated his descent from the top) and taunts and teases from his former best friend, Cal Naughton Jr., who was now married to his ex-wife and living in his million-dollar mansion.

Still, Ricky Bobby did not allow his emotions to get the best of him. He did not walk away with a first-place finish, but his return to NASCAR was one he will surely never forget (though he may want to). Even though Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is a fictional but inspirational comedy, many athletes have had to deal with returning to a place where they were once hailed as heroes and now looked upon as a modern-day Benedict Arnold. Yesterday, Brett Favre finally made his long-anticipated return to Lambeau Field, returning to his football home of 16 years, where he was once heralded as one of the greatest to ever put on a Green Bay Packer uniform and play in front of some of die-hard Cheeseheads. As soon as he trotted onto the field in a Minnesota Vikings jersey, Favre drew an immediate chorus of boos as if he was being attacked by ghosts lingering from the previous night's celebration of Halloween. Not only did a plane fly over the field carrying a banner that read "Retire 4 Good," but a multitude of fans showed their displeasure with the quarterback by wearing shirts calling him names such as "Judas," "Traitor" and "Drama Queen," including one fan who held a Fredo-Favre sign to illustrate his dissatisfaction with his deal with the Vikings. Much to the dismay of Packers fans, however, Favre got the last laugh as his team overpowered the Packers, 38-26, in a game in which Favre threw for four touchdowns and 244 yards to give him a 128.6 quarterback rating. While fans in Wisconsin were disappointed by the outcome, Patriot fans can empathize with them. On Nov. 5, 2006, Adam Vinatieri, perhaps the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the NFL, returned to Gillette Stadium after leaving the Patriots to join the rival Indianapolis Colts. Winning three Super Bowls with New England, Vinatieri was hailed with boos and jeers. Later in the game, the kicker heard the cheers he was accustomed to at Gillette only after missing a 37- and a 46-yard field goal for his first two misses of the season. He did, however, connect on two other kicks  for 23 and 31-yards to help secure the Colts' 27-20 victory. On the baseball end, Phillies fanatics got a taste of what Red Sox fans felt when they watched Johnny Damon advance from first base to third in the top of the ninth inning to give the Yankees the go-ahead run to win Game 4 of the World Series, 7-4. As a free agent following the 2005 season, Damon signed a four-year contract worth $52 million with his former AL East, rival leaving Red Sox fans flabbergasted and stunned. Previously stating that he would never sign with the Yankees, Damon was greeted back at Fenway on May 1, 2006, to a combination of boos and applause.

Like Favre, Damon was the target of "Judas" comparisons (though he actually looked like him before he shaved away his caveman persona). Tipping his helmet before his first at-bat, Damon received a welcoming shower of dollar bills as fans who were not in attendance were quick to resort to other extravagant public displays of disaffection. Damon did not get the opportunity to enjoy beating his former team, as he went 0-for-4 in the Yankees 7-4 loss. Yet Damon may soon obtain his first World Series ring as a Yankee as his former teammate Pedro Martinez will have to wait at least another year to continue his quest to win another World Championship on the Phillies' bench. Leaving the Red Sox after the 2004 Championship season, Pedro inked a four-year, $53 million contract with the other New York team when he chose to sign with the Mets instead of remaining in Boston. Unlike Damon, Pedro was the recipient of a warm welcome when he took the mound as a member of the Mets during an interleague game on June 28, 2006. The fans had other reasons to cheer for Pedro that night, as the ace surrendered eight runs (6 earned) in only three innings as the Red Sox defeated the Mets 10-2. Not all former Boston players cozy-up to the fans the same kindhearted way Pedro did. On July 12, 1997, Roger Clemens made his return to Fenway Park as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays just months after former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette proclaimed that the ace was "in the twilight of his career". While on the mound, Clemens glared directly into the owner's box where Duquette was sitting, still angered by the general manager's comment. If Clemens had any disdain for Duquette he clearly used it for further motivation as he pitched a memorable game, striking out 16 batters in eight innings and only allowing one earned run in Toronto's 3-1 victory. Players come and go. Whether it be via trade or free agency, many treat their respective sport as a business first and a game second. Players are cheered, others are booed, and some just can't seem to find their seat, just like Stephon Marbury.