Sunday, March 09, 2008

Top 5 Best (current) Sports Rivalries

Watching the Carolina/Duke game last night made me think of what are the greatest sports rivalries going in sports today. I know every sports website in America has already weighed in with a post on this, but I thought maybe being the last will differentiate mine from the rest.

The only caveat I have that is different from some of the "established" sites is that the rivalry has to be currently relevant to the sports landscape, therefore archaic relics like Harvard/Yale are nowhere to be found.

Feel free to vehemently disagree in the comments. It's always more fun that way.

1.) Red Sox/Yankees MLB 1,744 games since 1901
I know, what a shocking first pick for a Bostonian, right?

It's true that some of the luster has been lost over the past few seasons, mainly due to the fact that they play each other a minimum of 19 times a year, if they meet in the playoffs usually tack 7 more onto that number, and the WWL and other outlets hype each one into oblivion, but there's a reason for all the hoopla:

This one is the best rivalry in the land.

The two storied franchises are in the same division of the same conference located in cities just 200+ miles apart, the denizens of each which act like their shit is the freshest smelling and believe their team is the most important sports franchise in the universe, well that's enough to spark a rivalry right there.

Throw in the fact that one team has the most championships in the game, while the other recently broke an 86-year-old title drought by capping a record-setting comeback against the other in the ALCS, then followed that crown up with a second one just three years later, and this thing only keeps getting bigger, folks.

So to all those outside "The Rivalry" who don't agree, I hate to say it but this one is the best, and it ain't gonna be any other way for a long while so you better get used to it.

2.) Duke/North Carolina NCAA Basketball 226 games since 1920
This is like the college version of Sox/Stanks--if you're not a fan of either team, no one seems to give a rat's ass about the rivalry. But if you're a true sports fan there's no denying that this blue-plated Carolina clash has classic written all over it.

Once again you've got two teams from the same conference that are located a stone's throw (8 miles) down Tobacco Road from one another, each one constantly ranked in the Top 5, with students, fans & alums who believe their team is the premiere ballclub in the history of college athletics, and a bunch of outsiders who couldn't disagree more.

But after numerous close battles, bloodied bodies and a legion of future NBA players, it's hard to say otherwise. Plus you've got the atmosphere of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the pride of being a part of an incredible academic institution and a couple of Hall Of Fame coaches (Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith) who have been behind the bench for a combined 151 of the 226 clashes.

Last night's barn-burner was no different, as the Dookies rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to take a late lead, then watched in horror as the Tarheels scored 10 in a row to close the game and end the regular season as the number one team in the ACC and the nation.

Just another game in the second best rivalry in sports.

3.) Michigan/Ohio State NCAA Football 104 games since 1935
This one has become the premier college football rivalry again of late, rekindling what was once the game in the sport when battle-hardened coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes waged a memorable 10-year war in the late '60s to late

Michigan dominated the rivalry in the early years, winning 20 of the first 25 meetings before the Buckeyes started to even things out over the next couple of decades. But another stretch of Wolverine whoppings (17-7 from 1976-2000) threatened to relegate this Midwestern border war to just another local annual skirmish.

And then John Cooper exited the Horseshoe and Jim Tressel, aka the Sweater Vest, took over.

Since taking the helm of the Buckeyes in 2001, Tressel has guided the team to a 6-1 mark against its hated foe, a run that included a National title in 2002, and a reign that forced the resignation of embattled Maize & Blue coach Lloyd Carr following last year's 14-3 grindfest in Ann Arbor.

They're from the same smashmouth conference (Big 10), meet at the end of the regular season every year, are located just 163 miles apart and are more often than not vying for a national championship when they do meet, with the end result usually being a memorable college football clash.

That makes it the best college football rivalry in the land, and good enough for third best on my list.

4.) Dallas Cowboys/Washington Redskins NFL 96 games since 1960
Although this once-heated NFL rivalry has cooled somewhat in recent years, thanks to the ups and downs that are a way of life in the salary-capped reality of the modern day NFL, this bitter rivalry still has a special feeling whenever these two NFC East foes meet.

Both teams have seen Hall of Fame coaches grace the sidelines, Hall of Fame players on the field, and a fair share of historic tilts, many of which have shaped the championships of the era.

But while Dallas was reeling off three straight Super Bowls in the mid-'90s, the Cowboys were also rendering this rivalry irrelevant, ripping off 10 straight wins in the series from November of 1997 to November of 2001. Then, thanks to a hard fought (are there any other in this one?) 20-14 win by the Skins in December of 02, Washington got made this one meaningful again and have since won 4 of the last 6 meetings, including a 27-6 thrashing to close out the 2007 season, a win that put the Skins in the playoffs and help cost the 'Boys home field advantage in the NFC.

Now that's what a rivalry is all about.

5.) Cubs/Cardinals MLB 2209 games since 1885
I know Dodgers/Giants is the more glamorous pick, but that's a left coast one now, and let's face it, no one on this side of the country cares about that one anymore except bitter old Brooklynites.

This classic hardball hatefest pits two of the games more heralded franchises against each other, just 262 miles apart down I55 but worlds apart when it comes to the fans of each. St. Louis lovers profess to be the nicest fans in sports, treating their team as an object of affection not to be mocked or scorned but worshipped like a religious artifact.

Meanwhile the Cubs fans have to deal with theirs being the sorriest franchise in sports, suffering a title drought that has now spanned nearly a century and with seemingly no end in sight. Yet the Northsiders embrace their team as much as those in St. Louie, even more so when you throw in the historic ballpark and Wrigleyville surrounding it that makes going to the game as much of a social event as a sporting one.

Although this rivalry isn't the kind where division titles are decided yearly and the winner goes on to win the World Series, this one gets the nod for the passion of the fans involved and for the love/love relationship each team has within its city.

That's my list folks. No hockey, no NBA, no cricket, no individual sports. Just good old-fashioned intensity and relevance in what are the most important sports today.

Like I said, you care to disagree, you know how to let it be known.