In the heat of the moment, sports can sometimes make athletes get caught up in their emotions and do pretty dumb things to their opponents. Over the years, biting opponents has proven to be no exception. Just ask Luis Suarez, Mike Tyson, or anyone else accused of having literally sunk their teeth into the skin of whoever they’re playing against. After Suarez’s recent incident of biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup in Brazil, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking he should be running onto the pitch wearing a Hannibal mask. For Chiellini as well as Dutch player Otman Bakkal and Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic, they would probably feel safer in that case. Luckily – if that’s the right word to use – for Suarez, he’s actually far from being the only athlete to be involved in a biting controversy, though he’s probably been involved in them the most often. With that in mind, this list will be counting down the top 10 biting incidents in sports history.
Strangely enough, biting incidents aren’t just limited to soccer either, and Suarez’s incidents aren’t the only ones to have happened in the sport itself. Hockey, rugby and even basketball have seen athletes bite into others without a good reason, and harsh penalties have rightly been awarded to all of these athletes committing Lecter-esque crimes. However, these incidents are not merely an unnecessary means of trying to get the opponent off their game, but also so incredibly bizarre in pretty much every context imaginable. Because of that, it’s a topic that gets people talking for not just the days after a bite incident happens, but for years. Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest ones in sports history.
10 Alex Burrows Bites Patrice Bergeron
During game one of what would eventually become a long and heated Stanley Cup Finals, Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows allegedly bit the finger of Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron while the two teams were scrumming at the end of the first period. However, nothing came of it: the league couldn’t find any conclusive evidence that Burrows had actually bit Bergeron’s finger, and no suspensions or fines were handed to him – although he’s not the only player in Canucks history to have been involved in a finger-biting fiasco (more on the other one later). The game ended in a 1-0 victory for Vancouver, but the Bruins would end up taking the series in seven games.
9 Marc Savard Bites Dan Carcillo
The season before the Burrows-Bergeron incident, another Boston Bruins player was connected to a finger biting incident, with Marc Savard accused of biting then-Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Dan Carcillo after a whistle during the second period of Game 2 of their playoff series. It might seem a bit backwards for the tough guy to be the plaintiff of this kind of situation, but Carcillo complained of the incident to TSN and then went on to call Savard “pretty cowardly” in post-game interviews, saying the last time he had been bit was in grade school. Savard was actually a repeat offender, having apparently bitten Darcy Tucker during a game seven years earlier.
8 Jermain Defoe Bites Javier Mascherano
During a Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United in 2006, then-Spurs striker Jermain Defoe bit then-Hammers midfielder Javier Mascherano in the arm in a match Tottenham eventually took 1-0. Mascherano rolled on the ground afterwards, and slammed then-Tottenham manager Martin Jol for accusing him of putting on a “theatrical” reaction. Defoe wasn’t shown a red card when the incident actually happened, and the FA did not punish him for his actions either, as they said that they were “bound by FIFA rules on retrospective punishment” despite admitting that Defoe’s behaviour was “not in the spirit of the game.”
7 Jarkko Ruutu
Although he’s played for numerous NHL teams in his lengthy career – Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Anaheim among them – Jarkko Ruutu was plying his trade with the Ottawa Senators in 2009 when he allegedly bit the thumb of then-Buffalo Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters during the first period of a game between the two teams. Despite Ruutu’s denial of the incident and his accusation of Peters gouging his eye and putting his fingers in his mouth during the altercation, he was still fined $31,700 and suspended two games. At age 38, Ruutu currently plays for Jokerit in his native country of Finland.
6 Johan Le Roux Bites Sean Fitzpatrick
The game of rugby is known for sometimes being violent, but not usually to the extent of having one player bite the ear of another. In 1994, then-South African prop Johan Le Roux did exactly that against New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick in a game between the Springboks and the All Blacks. New Zealand won the match by 13-9, but arguably the bigger story was the implications the incident would have on Le Roux’s rugby career. Following the bite, Le Roux was given a 17-month ban which would effectively end his career in international rugby; a ban that he said made him feel like he “probably should have torn [the ear] off.”
5 Luis Suarez Bites Otman Bakkal
Although he’s garnered a reputation nowadays as one of the best – and most controversial – footballers on the planet, Luis Suarez was an emerging young star in the Dutch Eredivisie playing for storied club Ajax in 2010 when he was seen biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder. The backlash came quickly both in the Netherlands and around the footballing world, as Ajax would fine Suarez money that the club said would donate to a charitable cause, and the club also handed him a two-game suspension. He apologized for his actions soon after, but as you’ll see later in this list, this would prove to be just a sign of things to come.
4 Wayne "Tree" Rollins Bites Danny Ainge
In an incident sometimes referred to as “Tree Bites Man,” Atlanta Hawks center Wayne “Tree” Rollins got into a scuffle mid-game with Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of a playoff series between the two teams in April 1983. It began with Rollins elbowing Ainge in the face after the latter called the former a sissy, which then proceeded to Ainge – who already had a reputation as a scrappy player as it was – tackling Rollins. The end result? Rollins bit Ainge’s middle finger, which required him to get stitches and a tetanus shot. The Celtics would win the series as a result of winning Game 3.
3 Luis Suarez Bites Branislav Ivanovic
Three years after the incident while playing with Ajax, Luis Suarez ended up transferring to Premier League giants Liverpool. Despite establishing himself as a superstar at Anfield, history would repeat itself as Suarez bit Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic on his right arm, which had not been noticed by the referees and he was not sent off. Shortly after, Suarez scored the equalizer for Liverpool in a game that ended in a 2-2 draw. He was then found guilty of the incident and the FA slapped him with a 10-game ban. Although Suarez would later claim that his teeth-sinking ways were a thing of the past, he would eventually be proven wrong.
2 Luis Suarez Bites Giorgio Chiellini
Although a Chelsea-Liverpool matchup is a mouthwatering clash in its own right if you’re an avid follower of the Premier League, a World Cup game between Italy and Uruguay is one that is just as enticing if not more so. With much of the world watching, Suarez was found being up to his old antics once again in the 79th minute of this group stage match, appearing to bite Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, but the incident was not seen by the referee despite Chiellini pulling down his shirt from his shoulder to show the bite marks. FIFA has charged Suarez for his actions, and he has been banned for 9 games and 4 months which will see him sitting out the rest of the world cup and the beginning of the next Premier League Season.
1 Mike Tyson Bites Evander Holyfield
Although Suarez has given him a run for his money several times, Mike Tyson’s biting of Evander Holyfield’s ear still goes down in infamy as the most memorable biting incident in sports history. During a rematch in 1997 of their WBA title crown matchup that Holyfield had won the previous year, Tyson bit both of Holyfield’s ears, with one of his bites causing a piece of the ear to fall off. Although Tyson claimed that the bites were revenge for Holyfield headbutting him numerous times and getting away with it, Tyson would certainly not get away with his actions, with the Nevada State Athletic Commission taking away his boxing license as well as fining him $3 million.