When French midfielder Zinedine Zidane pounded his bald, rock-hard noggin into Italian defender Marco Materazzi’s sternum during the 110th minute of the World Cup final last Sunday, approximately 1.2 billion people gasped in unison. What could Materazzi have possibly said to provoke Zidane, perhaps the best player of his generation, into committing an act he had to have known would send him off with a red card, in the last game of his career?
Post-game, both players were mum. But several enterprising English newspapers hired lip readers to screen footage and get to the bottom of it all.
According to The Sun, Materazzi called the Algerian-born Zidane a “son of a terrorist whore.” The Daily Mirror, on the other hand, claimed he sneered, “All Muslims are terrorist bitches.” According to the Guardian, the slur was more along the lines of “I wish an ugly death to you and all your family,” followed by a terse “go fuck yourself.” And the lip-reader for the Independent said it was a classic sister insult.
Whew. Leaving aside the sensitive geopolitical ramifications of the verbal war, there’s no denying that this was some of the most effective trash talking in history. Here are four other competitors from the past.
Muhammad Ali, taunting George Foreman before the “Rumble in the Jungle,” Kinshasa, Zaire, 1974. “For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale, I done handcuffed lightning, and put thunder in jail. You know I’m bad. I have murdered a rock, I’ve injured a stone, and hospitalized a brick. I’m so bad, I make medicine sick. I’m so fast, man, I can run through a hurricane and not get wet. When George Foreman meets me, he’ll pay his debt. I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree. Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.” Poetry in motion. Pure and simple. From the greatest smack-talker of all time.
Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, during the 2003 ALCS. “You’re next. I’ll hit you in the head.” “Posada is Latin,” Seth Mnookin reports Martinez as saying post-game in his book, Feeding the Monster. “He should know, if you don’t want to fuck with someone, you don’t say anything about their mother.”
Drederick Tatum on Homer Simpson, prior to their title bout on The Simpsons in 1996. “I think he’s is a good man. I like him. I have nothing against him, but I’m definitely gonna make orphans of his children.” Informed by a reporter that “uh, you know, they do have a mother, Champ,” Tatum replied: “Yes, but I would imagine that she would die of grief.”
This is a one-sided rivalry, of course, with Homer picking War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” as his entrance music.
Mike Tyson (the real-life Drederick Tatum) to Lennox Lewis in 2000. “Lennox Lewis, I’m coming for you.… My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable. And I’m just ferocious. I want your heart; I wanna eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”
Yum. Search for this one on YouTube: the look of tremulous incredulity on interviewer Jim Gray’s face is priceless.