"You hate to play against him, but you'd love to have him on your team."
In one sentence, the very essence of the instigator is summarized beautifully. Every professional athlete on the face of the Earth has a role - whether it's as big as handling starting pitching duties in Game 7 of the World Series or being a domestique (the guy who cuts the air in front of the team's all-star) on a Tour de France cycling team, everyone has a specific task to complete or goal to achieve.
There's a certain type of athlete that is given one of the more amusing (but also potentially dangerous) roles on a team - the instigator. Instigators is usually the last word used to describe the job title; the words rat, puke, and other NSFW terms often come to mind first. They are called upon not to only score goals and play a defensive role, but also to get under the skin of the opposition's best players and knock them so far off their game that they forget what sport they are even playing - since they'll be too busy looking to take the head off the instigator in question.
Most instigators are able to get the job done with their words, leaving the saying "sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me" at the door when it comes to professional sport. Some resort to more aggressive tactics, but the best instigators only need to get physical once the opponent they were trying to rattle finally cracks and begins to look for retribution.
There are plenty of these types of agitating individuals in sport today - just don't get annoyed while reading about them, as we aren't liable for any agitation you decide to take out on your computer screen.
16 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
15 Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck doesn't strike anyone as an instigator, at first glance. If it wasn't for a few opposing defensive players outing his on-field strategy to get under the skin of his opponents, no one would have a clue that Luck is one of the most effective instigators in the league.
14 Steve Ott
For a long time, Steve Ott was far-and-away the NHL's top instigator. Ott would do anything and everything to get under the skin of his opponents, and is best known for his ability to chirp and yap an opponent into submission in virtually no time - sometimes within minutes of the game starting. His ability to aggravate extends to those on the bench (including opposing coaches), so you know he's doing something right when he's got the men in suits losing it on him as well.
13 J.R. Smith
12 Steve Smith
11 Patrick Kaleta
10 Joakim Noah
Unlike Luck, Joakin Noah looks and feels like the kind of guy who was born and raised to play the role of an instigator. Noah has always played the game with an edge, with a cockiness rivaled by few in the NBA today. He has a penchant for pissing off opponents and has found himself in the middle of enough skirmishes to last him the rest of career. He sometimes allows his emotions to get the best of him is his attempts to rile up opponents, but overall he's proven to be extremely effective in the role.
9 Maxim Lapierre
8 Lance Stephenson
7 Kevin Garnett
6 Luis Suarez
5 Chris Neil
Pepe has an interesting way of instigating. Some have called it "being a wild animal" or "being absolutely crazy." Pepe would probably describe it otherwise, but it's hard to argue with some of the comparisons that have made over the years regarding his style of play. Pepe has a short fuse on the pitch, and has certainly pushed the boundaries of what kind of physical play can be allowed in a soccer game - but if you need someone to get under the skin of an opponent, Pepe is your guy.
2 Brendan Gallagher
1 Brad Marchand
The fact that Brad Marchand has earned a reputation as the NHL's top "rat" should say it all. Ever since he broke into the league, Marchand has been doing everything is his power to rattle his opponents. No one is safe from Marchand's antics - grinders or stars, upstanding players or the most ferocious of opponents, it doesn't matter. Along with teammate Milan Lucic, Marchand has reignited the former league-wide disdain for the Boston Bruins organization.
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