From Yankees/Red Sox to local high school rivalries; the most intense and interesting part of fandom is the relationship teams have with their rivals.
With the famous North London Derby between North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham taking place this past weekend in the English Premier League and the NFL season kicking off Thursday night with the leagues oldest rivalry, the Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers, I thought it would be a good week to discuss rivalries in sports. Rivalries in sports seem to develop from one of three “sources”.
- Proximity/ Shared Division – The North London Derby or Steelers/Ravens in the NFL.
- Shared Success – 90’s Cowboys/49ers or modern day Rockets/Warriors in the NBA.
- Historical Reasons – Yankees/Dodgers in MLB or Barcelona/Real Madrid in Spanish football.
Many rivalries can encompass more than one of these “sources”, but will always have one of the three. Rivalries can also change through the years and get stronger or die off, especially if one of the teams changes divisions or goes on a stretch of losing. The NFC West in the NFL is a great example of how rivalries can shift and change. In 2003 when the NFL realigned, the biggest match-up in the division was Rams vs Seahawks. Fast forward to 2012 and it was Niners/Seahawks that took center stage in the division. Today, Rams/Seahawks are back as the big match-up in the division. In this case, since all four teams play in the same division and have some history versus each other, the state of who’s winning now has the most effect on which two teams are seen as ” THE rivalry” from year to year. If Kyler Murray and Jimmy Garoppolo lead the Cardinals and Niners to surprise playoff bids next season you’ll hear a lot about a budding rivalry between those two teams.
Combining all three of the “rivalry sources” is what makes the biggest and best rivalries in sports. This holds true for Yankees/Red Sox, Giants/Eagles, Bayern Munich/Dortmund and the other massive rivalries in each sport. It is why many think of the Duke/UNC rivalry in college basketball as the biggest in the sport. Not just because they play twice a year and are located within a few miles of each other, but because both teams win a lot of games so their match-ups generally have more riding on them combined with the other two aspects of the rivalry. A match-up versus NC State (who both Duke and UNC also play twice a year and are located in the same area) or Duke/UNC in football (neither school is very good at football) doesn’t have the same fanfare, you need all three to have a legendary rivalry.
With these rivalry match-ups coming in multiple flavors, one thread seems to tie them all together and make them enjoyable for the fans; intensity. There’s an old saying when it comes to rival match-ups – “You can throw the records out”. No matter how much better one team’s record or form is going into a rival match-up, you can bet it’ll be a close game with each team bringing their A-Game to these specific tilts. The players on these teams get hyped up to play their biggest opponent and you can see the difference on the field. This intensity leads to some of the moments that define sports for their fans; just mention the name Aaron Boone to a Red Sox fan and be prepared for a giant rant on how much they despise him for that one homer he hit in a playoff game. It’s incredible the amount of fans that live and breathe for these games each season (myself included).
While this intensity can lead to memorable moments, they can also lead to not-so-good moments as well, when the fans take things a little too seriously. While the increased intensity is great for on-field moments, fans can take this too far. One such moment in history involved my beloved Dodgers and their biggest rival the San Francisco Giants. Back in 2011, after an opening day win for the Dodgers, three fans decided to take the rivalry WAY too far and attacked a visiting Giants fan in the parking lot after the game. The victim of the attack, Bryan Stow, was left in a wheelchair with a traumatic brain injury. While the family won lawsuits against both the attackers and the Dodgers organization, the life of Mr. Stow was irreparably damaged, all because a few fans took the rivalry too far and into the realm of hatred. Instead of enjoying some trash talking and keeping in the spirit of sports, some will look to use their team affiliations as a reason to hate another person. This is against what sports and being a good-sport is all about.
Rivalries can be great fun to experience as a fan, just remember that at the end of any game, both teams should be able to shake hands and live to play another day. The extra intensity and build-up for these games and matches should be enjoyed, not turned into a reason to hate or hurt another person just because their team beat yours. Personally, I think people who root for the Giants, Niners or Tottenham are a little messed up in the head and will get trashed on relentlessly, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the match and then have a hand-shake and a beer after the game. Rivalries wouldn’t be as fun without the opposing team and it’s just a game, so while you might say you hate Eagles fans as a Cowboys fan – remember that they are just rooting for a sports team and after the game are still just a regular person, just like you.
Do you have a favorite rivalry match-up or story from a rivalry from your life? Tell me about it in the comments!
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Just a guy who loves sports.