The Best Rivalries in Sports
ri·val·ry /ˈrīvəlrē/ noun: competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field
As an avid sports fan, I’ve spent a lot of time jumping from rivalry game to rivalry game in the hopes of seeing the next “Immaculate Reception,” “Christian Laettner Shot,” or “Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead to the Sox.”
What makes these games SO intense? Is it hate? Location? Or a combination of these and a string of consecutive “big game” battles that create and keep these rivalries strong?
One thing’s for sure, the closer you live to these rivalries, the more likely you are to be forced into having a clear favorite in the struggle for superiority.
Here’s a list of some of these top rivalries by sport and how they’ve kept the fight alive.
LA Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
This rivalry dates back to the days when the Dodgers were located in Brooklyn and the Giants in Manhattan. Then, in the 1950’s, both owners moved their respective teams out west.
Having met nearly 2,500 times, the Giants hold a slim margin over the Dodgers in the win column by just over 30 games. Unfortunately, like in many rivalries, recent violent incidents have marred this game. Vandalism, fighting, and even death have been the result of overzealous and aggressive fans.
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
Since their first meeting in 1901, the Yankees have owned this match-up leading the all-time series by nearly 200 victories and 27 World Series Championships to just 8 won by the Sox.
Since the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, the Sox went 86 years without winning the World Series. But in 2004 they overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees to finally win their first pennant since the “Curse of the Bambino.”
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
This new rivalry spans over 20 years. But the animosity and hatred stretches back to when the Ravens were located in Cleveland before 1996. Typically, a defense heavy matchup, these teams play a smash-mouth style of football not for the faint of heart.
And the players know what is on the line.
“The coaches hate each other, the players hate each other. There’s no calling each other after the game and inviting each other out to dinner. But the feeling’s mutual. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. There’s no need to hide it, they know it, and we know it. It’s going to be one of those black and blue games.” – Hines Ward, Steeler’s WR
Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins/San Francisco 49ers
Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys are hated by most foes. And depending on the era you began watching football, your team may have had a relevant rivalry with them as well.
The Redskins and Cowboys have met 114 times with the Cowboys holding a comfortable 20+ win lead. However, the Redskins have won both post-season match-ups to date. Because of Thanksgiving Day games, the rivalry is still visible on the national level but rarely does it carry any weight for both teams.
At times, specifically, when owner Jerry Jones fired Hall of Fame and legendary coach Tom Landry, even Cowboy fans hated their franchise.
When it comes to the 49ers and Cowboys, there have been only 35 regular season meetings and they are split down the middle 17-17-1. However, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s there were multiple postseason meetings.
In all but one of those meetings, the victor went on to win the Super Bowl. The only loss was by the Cowboys to the Colts in Super Bowl V.
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
Despite holding a 10-game advantage on the Buckeyes in the overall series, it may not feel that way to Wolverine fans. Since 2000, the Wolverines have only two W’s against Ohio State.
Woody Hayes, known for his hatred of Michigan, coined the phrase “the team up north.” He was overheard saying he’d rather push his car to the Ohio line before pulling into a gas station to fill up his empty tank because he didn’t want to give the state of Michigan even a nickel of his money.
When the two teams met as #1 and #2, both tied with an 11-0 record in 2006, Ohio State spoiled Michigan’s chance of going to the Championship with a 42-39 victory that some have called the “Game of the Century.” (However, only 6 years into the century, that may have been a little too early to call).
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers (Iron Bowl)
You’re either a staunch Tide fan or a die hard Tigers fan. There is no middle ground.
One of the best games of the famed “Iron Bowl” came in 2013 on a play known as the “kick-six”. With 1 second left on the clock, Alabama attempted a 57-yard game winning field goal. The kick fell short (inches from the back of the end-zone) and Auburn’s cornerback, Chris Davis, returned the ball 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Needless to say, the Iron Bowl will remain one of the best rivalries in the nation for decades to come.
Duke Blue Devils vs. UNC Tar Heels
Whether Duke is trying to squeeze out a win at “the Dean Smith Center” or UNC is working through the heckling of the “Cameron Crazies,” this game is sure to entertain.
These two juggernaut NCAA programs are located only 10 miles apart down Tobacco Road. UNC holds a 25 game win margin over the Tar Heels, but that is largely due to a 16 game win streak by the Tar Heels back in the 1920s.
The last time neither one of these schools were ranked nationally in this match-up was 1960.
One interesting fact, Duke and UNC have never met in the NCAA Tournament to date.
One U.S. Representative, Brad Miller (a die-hard UNC Fan), said of the rivalry “If Duke was playing the Taliban, I’d have to pull for the Taliban.” Now that may be taking rivalry a little far….
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Xavier Musketeers
Even closer in proximity than the Blue Devils/Tar Heels, 3 miles is all that separates these two schools which hold the annual “Crosstown Shootout.”
In 2011, this rivalry turned particularly nasty with a bench-clearing brawl that resulted in several suspensions and the game being called with 9.4 seconds still remaining on the clock.
Boston Celtics vs. LA Lakers
These two franchises have won the highest number of championships (Celtics 17 and Lakers 16) and have met for a record 12 times in the Finals. Although the rivalry has become less relevant in recent years it’s hard to discount the importance of this match-up.
“I’d like to think that the nature of the two teams – Boston being a championship team over the years and the Lakers, same thing – was a lot bigger than Larry Bird or Magic Johnson” – Oscar Robertson
Potential up and coming rivalry: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Although it’s only been 3 years of Cavs vs. Warriors in the Finals, the more they meet the more likely it will be considered an up and coming rivalry. However, the free-agency moves and the desire of teams to take down the Warriors in the West, may foil those plans.
Rivalries are one of the many things that keep sports exciting. Loyalty to a team, a player or even league (CFL vs. NFL or MMA vs. Boxing) will keep the rivalries strong and excitement in the air.
Let us know your favorite rivalry (especially if it’s not listed). We’d love to know who you support!