Sports rivalries can be fun—can being the operative word.
But if you really think about it, more often than not…they're not.
They're frustrating. They're annoying. The players care far less than either the media or the fans; in fact, they don't really care at all. Rivalries are an excuse to turn what would otherwise be an ordinary game into a circus.
And if you're not part of the 1 percent of the population that is a fan of that circus, all it is is annoying.
I feel like it's important for me to say, as a disclaimer, that I am one of those people who takes sports rivalries far too seriously. If I can overcome, anyone can.
So the next time you're looking at your team's calendar and you see a rivalry game, sit back and think about all these reasons why it might be a better idea for you to treat it like just a regular old game.
Because that's all it is.
So let's say I'm a Red Sox fan and I'm talking to a non-sports fan about Derek Jeter. Most non-sports fans know who he is even if they've never watched a Yankees game, right?
"I hate him," I say.
"Why?" my friend asks.
I think for a moment. "Probably because he's really good and has given me absolutely no reason to hate him."
I don't need to see my friend's blank stare to understand how dumb I sound.
It's the same reason why Jets fans hate Tom Brady, or why Yankees fans (used to) hate Manny Ramirez, or why Flyers fans hate Sidney Crosby. They're really good and we're jealous they're not on our teams.
It makes no sense. It's dumb. It makes us sound dumb. Nobody ever said fandom was rational.
Most players don't actually care about rivalries (we'll get to that). Sometimes, they're pressured into pretending they care about rivalries, and all that does is provoke them into saying dumb things during news conferences.
Let's call to mind a classic example: Wes Welker vs. Rex Ryan's Wife's Alleged Foot-Fetish Video.
In 2011, before the Patriots played the division rival Jets in the playoffs, Welker made a whopping 11 references to feet during a news conference. Why? Because the month prior, Jets head coach Rex Ryan was embroiled in a weird controversy surrounding his wife's alleged foot-fetish video.
Welker said 11 dumb things during this news conference, including, "You can't just stick your toe in the water," "Put your best foot forward" and "He has great feet" three times. And in case you need reminding, Welker was benched for the beginning of the ensuing game by Bill Belichick and the Patriots ended up losing.
If not for the Patriots-Jets rivalry and Welker's feeble mind, who knows how history would have been altered?
What happens when you give LeBron James a little extra motivation during an alleged rivalry game?
He becomes a beast and kills you.
The Celtics—or rather, their fans and the media—turned the Miami Heat into their de facto "rivals" last year because they were the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and because they wanted to believe the Green were as good as the Heat (ha!).
And what happened? All that talk motivated LeBron into performing the absolute best he has ever performed in his career at the absolute best time: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Heat facing elimination.
LeBron scored 45 points that night, 30 of which came in the first half, and he helped the Heat take a 14-point lead in the first quarter.
Next time, everyone just shut up and let LeBron perform like a normal human being.
If you live in the East, have you already blocked off next Nov. 9 for an entire day of tailgating and beer-drinking and yelling at your TV?
Probably not. Because you don't care about the day USC plays Cal in football. Or about the day that LSU plays Alabama (which, incidentally, is also Nov. 9).
Let's all just accept that next Nov. 9 is going to suck because everyone in California, Alabama and Louisiana will be behaving as though it's Inauguration Day and will be expecting everyone on the planet to be acting accordingly.
Same goes for the day Oklahoma plays Texas, the day Notre Dame plays Michigan and the list goes on.
Nobody cares about local rivalries except the local people. But it's not even worth pointing out because those fans will never stop believing that the whole world stops just because theirs does.
This is especially pervasive in the college world. Fans and the media don't care how spectacular a coach is if he can't lead his team to victory against its biggest rival, and conversely, fans and the media don't care about how horrifically bad a coach is if he can beat his team's biggest rival.
And all this does is heap unnecessary pressure on a coach who probably should be treating a rivalry game just like any other game (because it is!).
What happens if North Carolina loses to Duke in basketball? All hell breaks loose and Roy Williams is to blame, despite the fact that he's one of the best coaches ever. Or what happens during the week leading up to the Red River Rivalry? Mack Brown and Bob Stoops are forced to behave as though Saturday will bring their personal Super Bowl.
And it's just a regular old game.
Some people refuse to believe this actually happens, but seriously, it does. Rivalries end the friendships between players and fans alike.
I have had former friends who are Jets fans and former friends who are Yankees fans. I say "former" because the relationships have taken on a chillier tone because of something as stupid as a taunt or a text message after a bad loss.
I'm just as bad as some of them are: I blocked a Giants fan friend of mine on Facebook and Twitter for about six months because approximately one minute after Super Bowl XLVI, he posted a :) face on my wall.
There's also the fact that Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen—once fast friends who won a championship together—haven't spoken since last summer because Allen defected to the "rival" Miami Heat.
I'm not usually one to tell KG to chill, but seriously. Chill.
So…this is an understatement.
There are many facets of this one, some of which deserve their own spot on the countdown. But is there a (good) reason why most Duke fans won't date UNC girls? Or why UCLA girls won't date USC guys?
Aside from the fact that if they're still in college, they'll be ridiculed…no. And even that's a ridiculous reason.
Sports rivalries aren't real. There is nothing behind them aside from wins and losses, and those wins and losses don't matter any more than any other win or loss.
Here is a universal truth: Players don't care about sports rivalries, and if they do, they should probably retire and exile themselves.
If they did care, that would mean that when they hit free agency, or when they declared for the draft, they would have to make themselves unavailable to the teams they didn't like because of petty feelings. And that makes no sense.
When Austin Rivers declared last year, what would have happened if he told his agent he would never play for the Lakers because his daddy was the coach of the Celtics?
It would have been hilarious, but it also would have been incredibly embarrassing—like, more embarrassing than Ryan Lochte getting dumped over the phone while his reality show was taping.
And if, let's say, a former Packer turned down millions of dollars from the Vikings because he was super invested in the rivalry between the two…that player would just be an idiot.
If you play for the Red Sox and defect to the Yankees, Red Sox fans will hate you forever. If you play for the Giants and then leave for the Cowboys, the fans will hate you forever.
No matter what, fans refuse to accept that players just don't care and will follow the money. Or they will follow the stellar coach. Or they will follow the other player they have wanted to play with for their entire careers.
When a player hits free agency, the last thing on his mind is a rivalry.
But no matter what, fans won't let it go--and rivalries have ruined the legacies of great players and coaches in cities they helped to transform. It happened to Ray Allen (guilty of perpetuating this). It happened to Brett Favre. It happened to Urban Meyer when he went to Ohio State.
Why don't we just let these guys enjoy their new jobs and move on with our lives?
Being a non-sports fan on the day Michigan plays Michigan State sounds like a form of cruel and unusual torture. Being a non-sports fan when the Cubs play the White Sox or the Mets play the Yankees sounds even worse.
When rivals face one another, the whole city—sometimes even the whole nation—is expected to shut down, care about nothing else and simply watch. So what do you do if you don't care? What do you do if you've never watched a single inning or quarter in your entire life?
You have two options: You pretend to care or you don't. Both of those options are 100 percent torturous, and most likely, both of those options will end with you curling into a ball and crying softly until it's all over.
Anyone who watched this year's Notre Dame-USC game discovered one thing: It was boring to watch.
The Irish were having one of their best seasons ever. They owned the No. 1 national ranking and nobody could beat them. Meanwhile, by early November, the Trojans had proven one thing: They were not good.
They may have been a preseason Top 25 team, but to put it mildly, they weren't living up to it. They dropped two in a row in November and had lost three of their last four when it came time for their annual "rivalry" game against Notre Dame.
And still, despite the fact that it was clear that one of these teams was going absolutely nowhere, we were expected to care. The game still monopolized a prime-time time slot.
The Trojans couldn't do anything against ND's defense, and fans and the media still had to find a way to make it seem like an exciting display of football, all because these two teams were supposed to be rivals.
Whenever you find out that two players who are members of rival teams are actually friends, it blows your mind.
You simply can't make sense of why two guys who share the same profession, who have friends in common, who have the same schedules and go on vacation at the same time, would ever want to be friends.
When players are members of rival teams, fans—and often the media—expect those players to hate each other. But they don't. They don't care about rivalries, and they don't care if they're "supposed" to be mortal enemies.
Does Peyton Manning hate Tom Brady? No. They're buds. Does Ben Roethlisberger hate Ray Lewis? Maybe, but he probably shouldn't.
These guys have no reason to be enemies aside from the fact that their fans want them to be, and yet still, being part of a rivalry creates unnecessary, fabricated, fake animosity.
Fans always take rivalries about 45 steps too far. It has always happened, and it will continue to happen until we all lobotomize ourselves.
And it makes no sense.
When you combine intense, unsubstantiated hatred with alcohol, bad things happen. That's why you will run into serious problems if you show up to a Cubs game wearing a White Sox jersey. Or if you wear a Ray Lewis jersey at Heinz Field. Or if you wear Trojan red and yellow in South Bend, Ind.
It's not just that you will be taunted if you openly support the other team at your rival's home stadium. You will get beer poured on you. You will probably get punched. You may be ejected from the arena.
All because of what you're wearing.
Let's say a general manager hears that his rival franchise is pursuing a player who's getting a lot of hype.
As soon as he hears about it, he, too, will be going after that player. It doesn't matter what the projections say. It doesn't matter if the scouts insist he's going to break down within a year. It doesn't matter if it's going to cost millions more than it should to bring him in.
That GM will do everything in his power to prevent his rival from laying claim to that player. He has to.
This is ridiculous for much more than the fact that even front-office officials are motivated by rivalries. It's ridiculous because it means a team is going to end up overpaying substantially for a player who isn't worth it, thus planting itself firmly in the path of financial ruin.
The Red Sox did it when they heard the Yankees were pursing Daisuke Matsuzaka. Without ever having pitched a single inning of Major League ball, Dice-K got the Red Sox to cough up $103.11 million ($51.1 million for the right to even talk to him (!), and another $52 million for a six-year deal).
And in 2009, while Dice-K was going 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA, the Yankees were winning a title.
Thanks, petty rivalries! Love, Theo Epstein.
The alleged rivalry between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics took on a whole new tone in 2012-13—a "rivalry" that exists despite the fact that the Knicks haven't won a championship since 1973 and, until about a month ago, hadn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2000.
But let's continue. Let's pretend there actually is a rivalry here.
Part of the reason this year's "rivalry" intensified was that the Knicks started the season incredibly strong, and the Celtics quickly became hampered by injuries to key players. In other words, the Knicks actually had a chance at taking the Atlantic Division.
Another part of the reason was the weird tension that intensified between Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony over something that may or may not have been said involving KG, Carmelo's wife and Honey Nut Cheerios. This is the part that's ridiculous and hard to explain to people who aren't putting these two teams under a microscope.
To put it simply, rivalries just aren't fun unless both teams in the "rivalry" are good. They aren't fun if one team is excellent and the other team is horrifically bad.
But that message is lost on pretty much everyone watching and playing. If you've been told your whole life that a certain team is your rival, how could you possibly believe anything different?
This happens every time the Red Sox are having a terrible season but they still think the Yankees are their rival. Last season, for example, the Red Sox finished 69-93. They were terrible. The players didn't care, half the fans didn't care and they weren't fun to watch.
But still, when it came time to play the Yankees—the Yankees who finished 95-67—everyone treated it like it was a huge rivalry game. Everyone acted like there was actually something at stake.
In reality, though, it's never fun to watch a good team decimate a terrible team—no matter how intense the "rivalry" is.
If players treated every rivalry game like every other game, the world would be a much better place.
If every rivalry game was treated like a regular game, there would be no weird tension between players who actually don't mind one another. There would be no mindless questions to answer during news conferences.
In essence, there would be no distractions—and that would leave everyone with more time to focus on winning, plain and simple.
Let's think back to what happened to Sergio Garcia a couple of weeks ago, when the pressure of destroying rival Tiger Woods finally got to him: It turned him into a bona fide crazy person.
And most importantly, when it really sunk in, he sent a couple of all-important shots straight into the water.
Sergio got distracted, and it killed him. It's happened time and time again to many a player, and it will continue to happen as long as we blow up these rivalries by epic proportions.
Who cares about rivalries more than anyone else? The media. Why? Because rivalry games drive ratings and provide media outlets with an abundance of storylines that will never run dry.
This isn't to demonize the media; it's in their best interest to promote and promote and promote rivalry games until there's nothing left to say (and there is never nothing left to say).
Rivalry games tend to draw a larger national audience than a regular old game, and that's always good news for the networks, newspapers and websites covering them. Nobody is ever going to shortchange themselves several million eyeballs.
Instead, the media will do everything it can to lead you to believe a rivalry game is a matter of life and death because financially, it makes sense for them.
And sometime far, far down the road, we'll all realize that it doesn't matter that much and we've all been swindled.
Trust me, I know: It can be hard to admit when the best player in the world doesn't play on your team, or worse, plays on your rival team.
Whether its jealousy or stubbornness, most fans will do anything before they admit that a player on the team they loath most is talented—never mind the most talented ever. Celtics fans loved claiming that LeBron James was a choke artist—until he won a championship last year.
Even now, they're always looking for excuses as to why he's not as good as Jordan, and they're having trouble coming up with any.
It would be a whole lot easier if they just got over it and admitted that he's a once-in-a-lifetime caliber talent. It would be a whole lot easier if they disregarded the petty "rivalry" and decided they were going to give credit where credit's due.
But that will never happen.
Any time people are dying or nearly dying over an athletic event, there is something wrong.
In recent memory, there have been far too many incidents of fans hurting each other or nearly hurting each other over the outcome of a game. After nearly every championship, the losing team's fans embark on a rampage that includes burning cars and rioting in the streets—not OK.
Furthermore, fan violence has been the major storyline far too much of late. There was the time a couple of summers ago that a man wearing a "F- the 49ers" shirt sustained life-threatening injuries in a fight against a Raiders fan.
There was the time a San Francisco Giants fan had to be put into a medically induced coma after being beaten in the Dodgers' stadium parking lot.
Nothing should be taken that seriously. Especially a stupid Giants-Dodgers game.