Rivalries are what we breathe in sports. Being a fan of one team sometimes means you must hate another.
Rivalries are as old as competitive athletics themselves. In many rivalries, it isn't just the fans that hate each other. The players hate each other, the local newspapers hate each other, right down to the bandwagon fan who just became a fan.
Although, rivalries are not just about hate. They are about competition, teams who play each other well and hard. Teams who are constantly trading off championships and are constantly trying to catch one another's championship count.
I respect rivalries almost as much as I respect sports. Because of my fascination with rivalries, I have done some research and come up with a list of the greatest rivalries in all of sport.
Let it be known that this is in my own opinion, I know there are many other deserving rivalries...but I don't think the ones I left off can compare to these.
Tip of the hat to Oxford vs. Cambridge, The Sport of Blue
Through my long research, I learned that Oxford and Cambridge hold the honor of oldest recorded rivalry in all of sports. The sport of Blue is sort of a multi-sport competition that features many collegiate sports. Rowing, Swimming, Rugby, etc.
So let's all give them a round of applause as they have been competing with each other since before 1820.
14. Florida vs. Georgia, College Football
“The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”
This game personifies what college football is. Florida and Georgia meet every year in Jacksonville, Florida, to crown the superior state. Fans flock from all over to engage in tailgating, much less the actual game.
This rivalry transcends the fans and goes onto the field. The Georgia players publicly announce their hatred for Gator players, and the Gator players do the same.
In 2007, Georgia head coach Mark Reicht threw gasoline onto the already burning rivalry, by telling his players to “be penalized for over celebration” after scoring their first touchdown of the game.
In 2008 the Gators responded with their play. Gator players mocked the Georgia defense at the end of the game by literally walking in the middle of a play.
13. Redskins vs. Cowboys, NFL
Of all the NFL rivalries that exist, the Redskins and Cowboys is one that has truly stood the test of time. Since its first days back in 1960, to last season’s matchup, the ‘Skins and ‘Boys have had bloody fights on the field.
Between the two teams are 31 division titles, 1- NFL championships and eight Super Bowl titles.
The hate is genuine between the two teams. Great names such as Landry, Gibbs, Staubach, Riggens, and Johnson ring through the infamous halls of this rivalry.
12. Internazionale Milan vs. AC Milan, Italian Serie A Football
“Derby Della Madonnina”
This particular Italian derby is one of the biggest in the entire world. Inter and AC Milan are two of the most recognized and respected football clubs in the world. It also helps that they are two of the most successful clubs in Italy.
The rivalry really kicked up in the 60’s during the “Mazzola and Rivera” years as the two clubs seemed to be trading off the European Cup every season. The two players, by which the era is named after, Sandro Mazzola (Inter) and Gianni Rivera (AC Milan), defined the rivalry with their own personal spat that even spewed onto the national team.
The two clubs are set to meet for the 271st time this season.
11. Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens, NHL
This is without a doubt the most brutal rivalry in the National Hockey League. The real tension between the two clubs stems from the rivalry of English-speaking Canadians (Toronto) and French-speaking Canadians (Montreal).
During the years of 1944-1978 the Maple Leafs and Canadiens met in the NHL playoffs 12 times and met in the Stanley Cup Finals five times.
Cup upsets and fan hatred is what fuels this rivalry today. The differences between the two cultures will forever keep this rivalry between two of the “original six” alive.
10. Ferrari vs. McLaren, F1
These two giants in Formula One racing have been competing at the top for decades. But, it was recently that this rivalry went “next level.”
In 2007, it was alleged that McLaren had stolen confidential technical information from Ferrari. Stealing from the enemy is one way to get a rivalry going.
McLaren has earned 162 race victories, eight constructors championships and 12 drivers championships.
Ferrari has 209 race victories, 16 constructors' championships and 15 drivers' championships. Ferrari is also famous for hiring legendary driver Michael Schumacher in 1996 for an unbelievable amount of $30 million a year. Schumacher won five drivers titles for Ferrari, and seven total in his career.
9. Auburn vs. Alabama, College Football
“The Iron Bowl”
The Auburn, Alabama rivalry in college football is the very definition of hatred—pure, unadulterated hatred. From Bear Bryant’s championship winning days at Alabama, to the more recent winning streak of Auburn (recently broken in tremendous fashion), the hatred between these two fan bases is unbelievable.
Many significant games with championship implications have taken place between these two. One of the more notable games in the long history of this rivalry was in 1994, when both teams came into The Iron Bowl undefeated. The 9-0 Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the 9-0-1 Auburn Tigers.
I would only attend this game as a neutral fan. Because picking a side would be like picking a religion at this game.
8. India vs. Pakistan, International Cricket
The Indian and Pakistan cricket teams are the most bitter rivals in the sport. When these two teams play, no other sport can match the kind of atmosphere it creates. Both sides expect success, and usually cannot cope with defeat.
A commentator at the 2003 Cricket World Cup had this to say about the rivalry: “There is always great interest in India and Pakistan for they have fought three wars. There has been no war since 1999. So there is much more excitement in this match.”
He’s not far from reality.
Because there are three different forms of cricket (Test, ODI, Twenty20), it is difficult to determine a dominant party. However, in ODI competitions, Pakistan holds a comfortable all-time lead over India, 68-45.
7. North Carolina vs. Duke, College Basketball
“The Battle of Tobacco Road”
The rivalry between these two instate universities is the toast of college basketball. Both schools boast some of the best teams to ever play college basketball, as well as some of the best players.
The consistent classics these two teams produce are really makes this rivalry tick. Because these two teams are always among the top teams in college basketball, their late season meetings can often offer memorable finishes. These teams deliver a show every game.
The two universities are only eight miles apart from each other. Their funding also creates more tension between the two schools, as North Carolina is a state university, and Duke is a private university.
Their biannual match up in 2004 was the most watched game in college basketball history.
6. Michigan vs. Ohio State, College Football
Hands down the greatest rivalry in college football. These universities have met 105 times. Their rivalry started in 1897, with Michigan demolishing Ohio State 36-0. Michigan dominated the early years of the rivalry, as Ohio State did not get a win over their rivals until 1919.
The two universities boast large individual player honors as well as team honors. Between the two teams are 18 national titles, ten Heisman trophy winners, and a combined win count of 1,680.
One of the more intense times of the rivalry is known as the “Ten Year War” in which coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler assembled some of the strongest teams the rivalry had ever seen.
In 2006 the two teams came into The Game 11-0 and were ranked #1 and #2, respectively, in the nation. It was called the game of the century and it certainly lived up to the bill. Ohio State triumphed 42-39, to earn a spot in the National Championship game.
The year college football dies, is the year Michigan and Ohio State do not play.
5. Manchester United vs. Liverpool, English Premiership Football
Manchester United and Liverpool are the two most successful clubs in English football. Both clubs are tied for the most English league championships at 18.
The hatred between the two clubs sometimes defines English football. Both clubs have fans worldwide, which is what propels this rivalry above their respective local rivalries.
The two fan bases are so ruthless to one another that each often sing chants about one another’s “soft spots.” For Manchester United it is the horrible Munich air disaster of 1958, and for Liverpool it is the tragic Hillsborough disaster of 1989.
The past two years Chelsea FC have knocked out Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals and quarterfinals. Because Manchester United won their semifinal in both 2008 and 2009, I thank Chelsea for this service. Because a Manchester United vs. Liverpool European Championship would mean World War III.
The players recognize the rivalry, many claiming it “the biggest game of the season.”
When Manchester United and Liverpool meet, it is best to pick a side…because there is no such thing as a neutral to these glorious fan bases.
4. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Spanish Primera Division Football
This rivalry is between the two biggest clubs, and cities, in Spain. But, like the Maple Leafs and Canadiens rivalry, it represents something deeper than sports. Real Madrid represents “Spanish pride,” while Barcelona represents “Catalonian pride.”
Real Madrid leads the rivalry with an all-time record of 68 wins, compared to Barcelona’s 60 wins.
While the two clubs are bitter rivals, they often have players transfer from one club to the other. These transfers often cause unrest among the fans.
The greatest matches between the two clubs came in 1960 and 1961, when they met for the European Championship. Real Madrid won in ‘60, and Barcelona won in ‘61.
The two teams are guaranteed two meetings every year in La Liga, but sometimes can meet in European competition as well as domestic cup competition. As it is with most rivalries, the next game is always the biggest.
3. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, Major League Baseball
Of all the rivalries I have listed, this is probably the only one that stands despite a large gap in legacy. The Yankees boast 26 World Series titles, while the Red Sox are far behind with seven.
This rivalry is hands down the biggest in North America. The bitterness between the two fan bases is legendary. This is due to the fact that while the Yankees were winning multiple world champion titles, the Red Sox were suffering from “The Curse of the Bambino.”
Since the curse has been broken in 2004, the Red Sox have, in some people’s opinion, surpassed the Yankees in terms of ability. The rivalry has reached a boiling point.
The rivalry is so intense that even the players hate each other. Whether the dug out is cleared or because a Red Sox player “sells out” to the Yankees, there is some real animosity in the clubhouses of these teams.
You can always expect a thrilling match when the Sox and Yanks play.
2. Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, Argentine Primera Division Football
It has been dubbed the Super Derby by its fans. As the two clubs are the most successful in Argentina. They are also the most supported clubs in Argentina. According to statistics, combined, they both claim more than 70% of Argentina’s fan base.
Since its founding near La Boca docks in 1905, Boca Juniors has largely been seen as the club of the working class, while River Plate has been seen as the club of the upper class.
What sets this rivalry apart from all the others is the unmatched passion in the stands. I will sit here and say that no atmosphere at a football match can equal that of the Superclasico.
In fact, choosing a side in this derby isn’t like religion, it IS religion.
The two clubs have met an astonishing 323 times. With Boca leading River Plate in the all-time record 118 to 104, with 101 draws.
1. Celtic vs. Rangers, Scottish Premier League Football
The Old Firm is the greatest rivalry in the history of sports. Celtic and Rangers both play in Glasgow, Scotland. They both represent two very different ideals. The game is more than a football match, it pits religion, politics, and opposing social attitudes against each other.
Rangers is seen as a Protestant club with Unionist and Loyalist supporters, while Celtic is seen as a Catholic club with Republican and Nationalist supporters.
The players of the clubs also feel the rivalry as in the 120 year history of the derby, only five players have ever switched clubs.
In 1980 The Old Firm was host to the most despicable brawl known to sport, as 9,000 supporters fought on the pitch after Celtic’s 1-0 victory. Between the two clubs are 94, I repeat, 94 league titles. Rangers hold 52, Celtic hold 42.
The two rivals have met an unmatched 383 times. Rangers holds the most wins with 152, Celtic have 139.
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