When it comes to rivalries in sports, several biggies immediately come to mind: Ohio State vs. Michigan, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Celtics vs. Lakers, Nadal vs. Federer. But what makes one rivalry fiercer than another. Is it longevity? Overall wins? Level of competition? Is it about the teams? The players? Or do the fans dictate the intensity of the rivalry? We asked our Facebook STACKletes to share their thoughts on which sports rivalry is the most intense.
Among the responses were multiple individual rivalries—Sabathia vs. Beckett, LeBron vs. DeShawn Stevenson and Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Rather than citing the competition between the two teams—Colts and Patriots, one of the most famous rivalries of the 2000s—STACKletes like Charles Smith zoomed in on the QBs. To say that the players themselves headline the rivalry between their teams reflects the amount of pressure, criticism and responsibility that falls on one person.
When you think of Celtics vs. Lakers, two players always come to mind: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Although the Celtics/Lakers rivalry has quieted a bit since their retirement, the teams have battled each other in the NBA Finals a record 12 times, most recently in 2008 and 2010. Between them, they have won more than half of all of the championships in NBA history.
The first Tarheel/Blue Devil basketball game was on January 24, 1920. That’s a long history of competition for two teams that have achieved elite status in men’s basketball for most of the last 50 years. Regular season games between Duke and UNC often determine the winner of the Atlantic Coast conference. Does their close geographical proximity fuel this rivalry, as it does with Auburn and Alabama (also mentioned by many STACKletes)?
In 2000, ESPN ranked Michigan vs. Ohio State as the greatest North American Rivalry. And it’s not just about sports. In 1835-36, the State of Ohio and the territory of Michigan fought over land boundaries in the bloodless “Toledo War.” Many people think this Big Ten rivalry is a modern manifestation of the historical conflict. Regardless, when the Wolverines and Buckeyes do battle, the sports world pays attention.
When the Longhorns and the Sooners play each other, the game has a special name—the Red River Rivalry (after the river that divides the two states). The rivalry is so fierce it was called the Red River Shootout until 2005, when it was changed to remove the connotation of gun violence. The winner of the Red River Rivalry in football usually has significant conference and national consequences.
Although some of you wrote that the New York Yankees vs. any team can be classified as a rivalry, the Bronx Bombers clash most loudly with the Boston Red Sox. One of the oldest and best known rivalries in professional sports, it was viciously propelled and solidified when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, creating the “Curse of the Bambino” and launching the Yankee dynasty.
Outside of professional sports, YOUR rivalries are often the strongest, as STACKlete Dorbor Cooper helpfully reminds us. Representing your school and your home town generates more emotion, enthusiasm, anxiety and passion than anything else in sports.