30 of the Biggest Individual Rivalries in Sports
Competition is the life blood of sports. The NFL is unequivocally the most popular professional sport in America, and while the league and it's 32 franchises have evolved into a billion dollar juggernaut, it would never succeeded without the fierce rivalries and passion fueled by the competitive spirit of those who play the game.
This holds true in the NBA, MLB, NHL and all collegiate, professional and amateur sports. This same spirit not only inspires the heart-stopping drama and historic, game-defining plays that live long in the minds of fans everywhere, it naturally sparks individual feuds.
Hockey sticks jabbed into ribs away from the action, shoving long after the whistle has blown—bad blood is part of the game, part of the fierce desire to win. And, it's not something exclusive to rivals on the field; there are plenty of examples of teammates, coaches and others with a stake in the game.
Adversaries have given us some of the greatest, most iconic moments in sports, as well as some of the most entertaining.
Let's take a look at 30 of the best rivalries ever in sports.
30. Sidney Crosby & Alexander Ovechkin
For years, the Penguins Sidney Crosby and the Capitals Alexander Ovechkin have been called the greatest players in the world. You aren't likely to find a hockey fan with a neutral opinion on this one, trust me.
But the rivalry wasn't all media hype; as the Pens and Caps rivalry intensified, it became increasingly clear that these two genuinely disliked each other. They've exchanged a few barbs via the media, though they've been relatively tame compared to feuds in other sports.
29. Boris Said & Greg Biffle
NASCAR drivers Boris Said and Greg Biffle obviously had bad blood brewing between them long before the ridiculous incident that happened in August, 2011.
Bumping and violent crashes are pretty routine occurrences in NASCAR, but when Biffle bumped a car that sparked a violent crash at the Watkins Glen International, Boris Said absolutely when off on Biffle. Per ESPN:
"He is the most unprofessional little scaredy cat I've ever seen in my life...He wouldn't even fight me like a man after. So if someone texts me his address, I'll go see him Wednesday at his house and show him what he really needs."
"He needs a whooping and I'm going to give it to him. He was flipping me off, giving me the finger. Totally unprofessional. Two laps down. I mean, he is a chump."
28. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell & Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson
The on-court rivalry of Wild Chamberlain and Bill Russell is (arguably) the greatest in the history of the NBA. A close second would be the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. In their day, each of these pair did battle on the court like gladiators in an arena.
But off the court they were actually friends, at least eventually. Russell never considered Chamberlain a rival he disliked and the two were friends in private life. Thing started off a bit rockier for Magic and Bird, but they always had a mutual respect for each other, which eventually led to a friendship.
27. Tony LaRussa & Dusty Baker
Retired manager Tony LaRussa and Reds' manager Dusty Baker had one of the nastiest and longest standing feuds between managers in MLB history. The longtime rivals had engaged in a number of dustups over the years, and they never failed to entertain.
Click over to STLToday.com to read the full and fantastic history of these two angry birds.
26. Chad Johnson & Carson Palmer
I truly believe that if any other quarterback in the NFL had pulled the "trade me or I'll retire" stunt that the Bengals' Carson Palmer did, he would have become an instantly reviled figure. People would have called him ungrateful, a diva and whatever super mean things people on the interwebs seem to come up with.
Yet surprisingly, the reaction outside Cincinnati was a collective head nod—it just made sense. Palmer had been dealing with the Bengals never ending parade of underachievers, divas and straight up criminals for years, and the dude just had enough.
But it was diva wide receiver Chad (then) Johnson that gave Palmer all the grief he could handle and then some. Week after week, Johnson could be seen raging at Palmer on the sideline—likely "explaining" how wide open he was. Because they are the Bengals, they decided adding Terrell Owens to that mix was a good idea.
The experiment may have worked out for T.O., but an already strained relationship between Johnson and Palmer came to a head during a game in November 2010. Johnson, increasingly frustrated with his decreasing production, had to be physical restrained from Palmer by one of the linemen.
25. Bud Selig & Pete Rose
Honestly, hasn't the entire world been feuding with Pete Rose since the '80s? When the revelations that Rose had been gambling on baseball arose, he received a lifetime suspension from baseball after refusing to admit any wrong doing.
In 1997, Rose petitioned Selig for reinstatement to the game and the commish put his request on the back-burner for for five full years. Selig got the confession he had long desired, and Rose was not reinstated.
24. Jim Harbaugh & Jim Schwartz
You know who also wants to know what Jim Harbaugh's deal is? Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who objected to the level of Harbaugh's enthusiasm following a win for his 49ers in October, 2011.
The whole incident was actually quite strange, stemming from Schwartz's problem with the strength of Harbaugh's handshake and the ferocity of his backslap following the game.
Most of the media called his childish nonsense. I called it Harbaugh at his very best.
23. Kyle Busch & Kevin Harvick
NASCAR drivers are surprisingly catty. Some beefs are pretty legit, but there are plenty of others that seem more like junior-high drama with drivers licenses. The feud between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick had been lingeringfor years before fists were thrown during a post race altercation at the Darlington Raceway.
Apparently Harvick had been unhappy with Busch's racing style for years, so he decided to settle it like a grown-up: By entering races with the specific goal of taunting Busch and just generally menacing him. During one race, Harvick messed with Busch for the first 20 minutes.
Nobody likes Kyle Busch though, so that actually sounds quite hilarious. I wish I had seen it live.
22. Peyton Manning & Mike Vanderjagt
Disgraced kicker Mike Vanderjagt probably wishes he wouldn't have opened his idiot kicker mouth following a Colts playoff loss in 2002. Vanderjagt had the stones to call out future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning for his "lack of emotion" as the leader of the team.
Vanderjagt made the comments live on a Sunday news show in Canada, but later he claimed he was "liquored up." Did I mention it was a morning show?
Manning, clearly annoyed, dealt with it like the pro he is. He explained "The sad thing is, he's a good kicker. He's a good kicker. But he's an idiot."
It was all downhill for the idiot kicker from there. The Colts didn't want him, and he was signed to a big-time deal with the Cowboys before being cut midseason of the first year.
And most recently he's being investigated for assaulting a student who taunted him about the missed field goal.
21. Lane Kiffin & Al Davis
The late, great former owner of the Raiders Al Davis never met a person, a situation or even an inanimate object that he wasn't ready, willing and able to start a feud with. One of the nastier, and more recent incidents, was the the very ugly departure of Lane Kiffin as head coach of the Raiders.
In his later years, Davis found it difficult to find a coach for the Raiders that suited him. In 2008, he decided that Lane Kiffin was no longer to his liking, but instead of firing Kiffin outright, he demanded his resignation. Obviously Davis didn't want to be on the hook for yet another fired coaches salary.
Kiffin basically told Davis to suck it because he wasn't going anywhere. Davis was forced to fire Kiffin, eat his salary and then go on to spending every waking minute trying to destroy Kifffin. Which he didn't even have to do, we all know Kiffin is a douche.
20. Reggie Jackson & Billy Martin
Feuds between teammates or a player and coach are usually the worst because they're inescapable. It's not like dealing with some dude you want to punch in the face every three months; that punchable face is always in your face, and your punchable face is always in his.
In the late 70's, Yankees great Reggie Miller and manager Billy Martin straight up hated each other. They were known for public screaming matches, often during the course of a game. They just didn't get along.
Not that it impacted that Yanks or anything; they went on to win the World Series in 1977.
19. Jay Cutler & Philip Rivers
The feud between quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers was one of the best feuds in the NFL for years. Unfortunately, Cutler's trade to the Bears limited their time to make faces at each other and scream 'yo momma' jokes, but that kind of hostility doesn't just go away.
Their feud first grabbed headlines during a Monday Night Football game in 2007. The two spent the whole game trash talking each other and had some not-so-nice things to say after the game. Cutler called Rivers "kind of an ass" and Rivers really fired back, insisting he wasn't "a big fan of that guy."
18. Tiger Woods & Phil Mickelson
I can't image there are two bigger egos on the PGA tour than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. So it's really no surprise that rumors of resentment and tension between the two have been the buzz of the golf world for over a decade.
Every time the two are paired together for a Major, the media is beside itself with glee. And Woods former caddie Stevie Williams has frequently upped the ante by voicing his opinion on Mickelson.
17. Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza
Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens and Mets catcher Mike Piazza had a past before going head to head in the famed "Subway Series," the 2000 World Series. In July, Clemens pitched his finest fastball straight to the dome of Piazza which resulted in a concussion that kept Piazza out of the All-Star Game.
Apparently all was not forgotten by Game 2 of the World Series, and some truly strange stuff went down. A second inning pitch by Clemens broke Piazza's bat, and PIazza proceeded to charge at Clemens and chuck part of the bat at him.
The result was nearly an all out brawl, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and a baseball game broke out. Too bad for Piazza, it was the Yanks that won big in that game and ultimately took the series.
16. Pete Carroll & Jim Harbaugh
After years of being the whipping boys of Pete Carroll's USC Trojans, Stanford coach, and certified badass, Jim Harbaugh decided he had just about enough of taking crap from that hokey old man.
In 2010, Harbaugh's Cardinal had the juice to take down the Trojans in a big way, and he didn't mind running up the score a little, just to make it hurt that much more. Obviously, he took a page out of the Steve Spurrier school of coaching.
Carroll, obviously annoyed, famously asked Harbaugh "What's your deal?" in the aftermath.
15. Arnold Palmer & Jack Nicklaus
You may not realize this, but golf did exist before Tiger Woods. And while Woods is still creating his legacy, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have long since solidified theirs. The two began their careers as adversaries in what Golf.com described as " working class vs. privilege, draw vs. fade, matinee idol vs. heavy, crew-cut kid"
It had all the makings of a truly great sports feud. Their rivalry lasted their entire careers, but the two developed a friendship after their respective retirements.
14. Jeff Kent vs. Barry Bonds
I'm not sure that San Francisco Giants legend Barry Bonds made many friends over his career in the MLB. I know for certain he made plenty of enemies, including former teammate Jeff Kent. The two had problems from the moment Kent arrived in San Francisco in 1997.
Kent had a reputation that preceded him, and Barry Bonds had no interest in dealing with his attitude. Their feud remained relatively quiet, but a pubic blowout between the two in 2002 shined a light on the whole ugly situation.
After the feud hit the press, Kent demanded off the team and the Giants gladly obliged.
13. Martin Brodeur & Sean Avery
During the 2008 NHL playoffs, Rangers agitator did something that nobody in the history of hockey had ever done—and it wasn't a good thing. In a stunt that only Avery could come up with, he parked himself in front of Devils goalie Martin Broduer and continually waved his hands and stick in his face in an effort to distract him.
For those of us who witnessed this live, it was truly a moment we'll never forget. Since it had never been done before, it wasn't technically illegal, but eventually the "Sean Avery Rule" was born to prevent future shenanigans.
The Rangers went on to oust the Devils in the series, and Broduer refused to shake Avery's hand in the customary lineup. Avery responded by calling Brodeur a "fatso."
12. Steve Spurrier & Bobby Bowden
South Carolina Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier takes no greater joy than in tormenting his adversaries. And his adversaries include pretty much everyone in the world, minus the team he's coaching at the moment. Spurrier has had a beef with most of college football over the years.
One of his most memorable feuds was with (then) Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden. Apparently their feud has softened over the years, but it had raged on ever since Spurrier referred to Florida State as "Free Shoes University," referring to the Seminoles' troubles with NCAA violations.
After Bowden's retirement, Spurrier had no problem finding new targets to taunt, purely for his own amusement.
11. Stan Van Gundy & Dwight Howard
If you ask Magic superstar Dwight Howard about his "feud" with former head coach Stan Van Gundy, he'd probably say you're crazy. "What feud?!?!"
Oh, I don't know Dwight, how about the feud that resulted in your demanding he be fired. Which, in turn, resulted in one of the most awkward press conferences in sports history. And which, finally, resulted in Stan Van's termination.
But don't ask Howard if he had anything to do with it, unless you enjoy listening to people lie through their teeth.
10. Shaquille O'Neal & Stan Van Gundy
The feud between (then) Heat superstar Shaquille O'Neal and head coach Stan Van Gundy is actually one that I can get my head around. The difference is that Shaq had absolutely no concern about playing the "good guy," which is what what made Howard look so bad in the end.
Shaq and Van Gundy were like oil and water and Miami simply wasn't big enough for the both of them. In the NBA, superstar talent rules all, and Van Gundy eventually got his walking papers, courtesy of the big man.
9. Eric Mangini & Bill Belichick
When legendary coach Bill Belichick first met Eric Mangini, he was a 23-year-old ball-boy with the Cleveland Browns. Belichick took Mangini under his wing and under his tutelage; he went from ball-boy to NFL head coach in just over a decade.
Belichick probably never expected Mangini to stay with him forever, but it seemed to have caught him a bit off surprise in 1996 when Mangini accepted the head coaching position of the Patriots heated rival: the Jets.
And then, to add insult to injury, Mangini handed over all the "Spygate" evidence that has forever tainted the Patriots near-dynasty of the early 2000's.
8. Reggie Miller & Spike Lee
The "feud" between Pacers' legend Reggie Miller and Knicks' super fan Spike Lee seemingly erupted out of nowhere. It was Game 1 of the Pacers/Knicks series in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and with seconds left, the Knicks had a seemingly insurmountable 6 point lead with 18 seconds to go.
And for some reason, Reggie Miller set his sights on director Spike Lee who was siting courtside. Miller went on to score 8 points in 11 seconds, staring down Lee after each basket. The incident was so epic that it because the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary.
There was no love lost back then, but it seems the two have squashed their beef.
7. Joe Montana & Steve Young
When your replacement is hired, or drafted as is the case in the NFL, and you have a few good years left, it takes a pretty big person to become buddies with the newbie. Their relationship was doomed from day one because an aging Joe Montana knew the 49ers hadn't brought Steve Young in as a long term project.
Young was there to complete for the starting job, maybe not from day one, but in the very near future. Montana was no mentor to Young; he was an adversary. Ultimately, the feud became too big for Candlestick field, and it was the legendary Joe Montana that was sent out of town on a rail.
6. Terrell Owens & Donovan McNabb
Things were almost always ugly between famously toxic wide receiver Terrell Owens and whoever the poor bastard trying to throw him the ball was. Maybe if they would get it through their thick skulls that T.O. was ALWAYS open, things would have been easier.
There's no getting around it, T.O. was a quarterback killer, and no one suffered more at his hand than his Eagles teammate Donovan McNabb. The two became increasingly combative during their tenure together, and things really came to a head when Owens accused McNabb of not being physically prepared for Super Bowl XXXIX and that the Eagles would have won with Brett Favre at the helm.
That was pretty much the last straw for T.O. in Philly.
5. Terrell Owens & Everyone Else
And then, of course, there is Terrell Owens and everyone else. He made Jeff Garcia's life a living hell with the 49ers and famously "outed" him as gay, despite him being…well…not gay.
Then there was his stint in Dallas. It actually looked promising for T.O. in Big D for awhile—remember when he cried those tears of despair for his quarterback, man. But then he went on to accuse Tony Romo and Jason Witten of conspiring against him to deprive him of the ball.
Then there was his stint in Buffalo. Thankfully they didn't really have a quarterback there at the time, so no lives were ruined. And then he signed with the Bengals! His one-season pairing with Chad Ochocinco was enough to convince Carson Palmer that he'd rather retire than play another game in Cincinnati.
4. Michael Jordan & Isiah Thomas
The biggest superstars in sports aren't always the easiest to get along with, and more than anyone, that holds true for NBA legend Michael Jordan. His Airness had plenty of feuds in his day, but chief among them has to be former adversary Isiah Thomas.
And their bad blood really cost Thomas. A 2012 documentary revealed that neither Jordan nor his teammate Scottie Pippen wanted Thomas on the Olympic "Dream Team" at the Barcelona Olympics.
Feuds are one thing, and Thomas is one of the most unlikable people on the planet. But jeez that was harsh.
3. Brett Favre & Aaron Rogers
Frankly, I've come to believe that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has cockiness beyond his years. However, because of the ice cold years he spent standing next to an indignant and and ice cold "mentor" in Brett Favre, I pretty much give this dude a career-long past.
Rodgers had a tough start in the NFL, dropping well below his predicted draft spot and ultimately getting picked up by the Packers. He wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms, as Brett Favre, ever the jag, proceeded to pretend Rogers didn't exist over the next few seasons.
Even after retirement, Favre, ever the attention whore, decided to continue the feud when he revealed in an interview that he wasn't surprised Rogers had won a Super Bowl so young—he was shocked he hadn't won a few with the talent he had around him.
How about we wait till Rodgers' career is over to count the rings, eh Brett? Also, check out this photo of Rodgers smirking at Favre after beating them in 2010.
2. Shaquille O'Neal & Kobe Bryant
This story has been told so many times at this point that every sports fan in American knows it. The Lakers drafted hotshot Kobe Bryant right out of high school, and the young gun's cooler-than-ice demeanor didn't sit with his teammate Shaquille O'Neal, one of the NBA's top dogs at the time.
The two squabbled frequently over the years, with a few pretty serious accusations lobbed back and forth. Eventually, a line was drawn in the sand. Shaq found himself on the wrong side of that line, but at least he walked away with a few rings.
1. Mike Ditka & Buddy Ryan
The feud between former NFL coaches Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan was so epic that there are literally volumes of content documenting their combative, contemptuous relationship.
The feud came about after the retirement of then Bears coach Neill Armonstrong. Ryan was expected to be next in line for the job, but instead the Bears brought in an outsider in Ditka. They fought like cats and dogs for the next couple of years before Ryan bolted for the Eagles.
They were the original Letterman v. Leno feud!