The Best Rivalry You've Never Heard of

Trent DeesContributor IFebruary 7, 2009

This evening, starting at five o'clock, two of the biggest games in Houston will be played in Hofheinz Pavilion, on the University of Houston Campus.

And most people don't know about them.  Most people don't care about them.  Most people don't know why they don't care, or why they should.

Tonight, on Cullen Blvd., the Super Bowl will be played, twice.

Alright, alright, I know that the NFL is basically done, and Houston hasn't had anything to do with that big game since 2004.  And I know that most people don't even bother to look out the window at the vast expanse of Houston as they fly between the coasts. But these really are two of the biggest games of the year.

Tonight, on Guy V. Lewis Court, the University of Houston Cougars face the Rice Owls in two games of NCAA Division I basketball.

Wow, you say.  That was really built up, only to come down to insignificant games between insignificant teams.  And maybe you're right.  Maybe they are insignificant teams.  But these certainly aren't insignificant games.

Houston and Rice are the two closest Division I campuses, only six miles apart.  They're connected by a dedicated T-3 network line to each other and the Texas Medical Center, exclusively for sharing research in biochemistry, nanotechnology, superconducting, and any number of other unpronounceables.  They're connected by the city they share, specifically by MacGregor Drive.

But they're separated by mission:  Rice is part of the Ivy League of the South; Houston is the school for the working-class families.  They're separated by athletic history and tradition: Rice athletics has been nearly noncompetitive since the 1960's; while Houston only began to blossom then, and now has five Final Fours, three NBA players of the century, three Cotton Bowl wins, sixteen golf team national titles, and many other honors.

In basketball, they're also separated by all-time record: UH women lead 42-7, UH men lead 53-14.

This year, the Houston men are in a tie for fifth in conference, and with teams ahead of them playing in tough games or trap games, could move to third by midnight with a win. The Rice men stand 10th, but a hot streak could help them leapfrog two teams at a time to climb the standings quickly.

The Lady Cougars are surprising the league this year, in fourth place with a team of freshmen and sophomores, ready to climb on any game day.  The Lady Owls haven't won a conference game yet.

Okay, so you still think I'm silly for getting so excited about four insignificant teams.  But you haven't seen these games lately.

As Houston coach Tom Penders told a local radio show on Friday, in these games against Rice, you can throw out the records.  The hosts agreed, remembering that they had never seen another series with such strange twists and developments.

While I say that Rice has been nearly noncompetitive (except in baseball), they are always competitive when playing Houston.  This is their NCAA tournament, Finals, World Series, and Olympics.  This is their Super Bowl.

And Houston does not back down from that challenge.  Coaches, writers, scouts, fans - all marvel at the way both teams play "faster;" not just running faster, but with that edge and grit and determination normally reserved for the last game of one's life.

Tonight, you can come see the Super Bowl of college basketball.  Twice.  The ladies will tip-off at 5 PM, with the gentlemen to follow at 8 PM. One ticket will be valid for both matchups, and can be acquired at the door, or at the Cougars' athletic site.