Best Fictional Sports Rivalries
Yankees vs. Red Sox
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
Michigan vs. Ohio State
Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes vs. the Monstars?
Rivalries add a new kind of life and energy to sports. They add meaning and purpose to games and bring a level of excitement that could never otherwise be achieved. This is due in large part to the fact that rivalries make sports about more than just a game, but rather about the story. It's about good guys and bad guys. Heartbreak and redemption. History and tradition.
It makes sense, then, that some of the greatest sports rivalries are the ones that were written as stories to begin with.
The following list compiles some of the fictional sports rivalries that have made their mark as the most memorable. Some of these rivalries are unforgettable because they made us laugh or were too ridiculous not to remember, while others were just downright inspirational.
Fictional as they may be, these rivalries—these stories—will live forever in our hearts.
Sandlot Kids vs. Tigers (The Sandlot)
It's the ultimate sports rivalry.
Matching baseball pants vs. unwashed jeans.
Jerseys vs. t-shirts.
Fancy diamond vs. sandlot.
Cool and clean vs. rough and dirty.
In a classic matchup of the well-to-do city slickers against passionate misfits, the lovable Sandlot kids and the detestable Tigers make the Red Sox and Yankees look like two happy peas in a pod. After all, how often do you hear those MLB foes go at it with as much pointed animosity as the brutal verbal faceoff shown in the video above?
These kids took the cinema world by storm with a vulgar showdown that included insults no movie had previously dared using on screen (children under the age of 17 should not read on without adult supervision).
Eventually, by the time the duel reaches its climax, our hero even dares utter the insult heard 'round the world: "You play ball like a girl."
You know, now that I think of it, I would pay great money to hear Derek Jeter call David Ortiz a butt-sniffer.
Ducks vs. Hawks (The Mighty Ducks)
In another "scrappy kids vs. snooty antagonists" story, The Mighty Ducks tells the tale of Gordon Bombay, who is sentenced to coach a peewee hockey team as part of his community service assignment.
As coach of the team, Bombay will have the chance to avenge his own childhood failures as a peewee hockey player—he once missed a potential game-winning penalty shot, ruining his career—against the team he played for, the Hawks. It's a story of redemption and an inspiring tale of a few kids who came from nothing to beat the odds.
That being said, The Mighty Ducks as a whole is much closer to "colossal disaster" than "great sports film." According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 12 percent of its reviews are positive.
There are, however, a few amusing things that make this movie—and this rivalry—particularly entertaining:
1. The whole concept of the movie is based on a criminal being sentenced to be in charge of the lives of America's promising youth. Remember when positions like teaching and coaching were noble pursuits? I can picture exactly how this must have gone down in court: "Look, Mr. Bombay, it's going to be prison for 25 years or a few months of working with kids. 25 years isn't that long, is it?"
2. Watch the video above and just try not to get goosebumps as you witness the awesomely melodramatic conflict between the rival coaches. Pay special note to 1:18, when the villainous Jack Reilly takes a carefully calculated dramatic pause between "You and that...bunch of losers." It's what happens when you cross peewee sports with General Hospital, and the result is electrifying.
3. The Ducks were apparently such an awesome bunch that they inspired the founding of a real-live NHL team the following year, thus creating the lamest franchise-origin story in the history of professional sports.
Toros vs. Clovers (Bring It On)
No sport features more vicious rivalries than high school varsity cheerleading. Dangerously peppy and bubbling with spirit, all rivalries are pushed to particularly dramatic extremes.
The rivalry between the Rancho Carne Toros of San Diego and the East Compton Clovers is fairly complex: The Toros are perennial powerhouses and winners of multiple national titles. Turns out, though, that all their routines are stolen from the Clovers. For the first time this year, the Clovers will actually be competing in the national tournament.
Basically, the Toros end up choreographing a completely new routine, take it to the competition to compete against the Clovers and lose anyway. Compton reigns supreme in its first year of eligibility.
Whether you tend to sway toward Team Clover or Team Toro, by the end of this film, everyone should, at the very least, have hopped on the bandwagon for Team Cheerleading.
Ricky Bobby vs. Jean Girard
The last great NASCAR rivals, Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard in Talladega Nights, find a way to make auto racing seem fun and entertaining for almost two consecutive hours, a nearly impossible feat that speaks wonders to the charisma of the two men.
Bobby is your typical Southern car-driving, America-loving driver, while Girard is an eccentric French Formula One driver who bursts on to the scene and ends Bobby's reign at the top.
In a true tale of heartbreak, dedication and the will to win, Bobby hits rock bottom and climbs all the way back to the top before a thrilling conclusion to the movie that I dare not spoil here.
A tear-jerking redemption tale, Talladega Nights will serve as an inspiration to aspiring drivers for years to come.
Giants vs. Cowboys (Little Giants)
Everyone loves an underdog story, and Little Giants presents the best one of all.
Indeed, the Little Giants are never supposed to win anything. Their players are a bunch of castoffs; even their coach, Danny O'Shea, is a castoff. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are anything but. They are bigger, meaner and coached by Danny's Heisman Trophy-winning brother.
The Cowboys are the face of peewee football in the bustling town of Urbana, Ohio, and it's up to the Little Giants to prove that they, too, can play with the big boys. Fueled by the heated animosity between the brother-coaches, the general obnoxious behavior of all the brats on the Cowboys team and the impossibly adorable dorky little faces of the Giants, this rivalry develops into one of the best the sports world has ever seen.
In the video above, Danny gets his chance in the spotlight as he delivers a motivational speech so rousing that it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. With comments like "you play football to have fun" and "you play football to go out there and pretend you're Joe Montana," it's tough to imagine O'Shea coaching anything other than a really awful peewee team with a cast of misfits—but the guy's just so darn sweet.
The motivational scene concludes with O'Shea reminding his team, "Even if those Cowboys are better than you guys, even if they beat you 99 times out of 100, that still leaves..."
Slowly, one by one, the players all realize that the answer is not zero, but one, providing sufficient inspiration to propel the little buggers to one of the greatest upsets of the past century.
Dillon High vs. East Dillon High (Friday Night Lights)
The rivalry between the Dillon Panthers and the East Dillon Lions from the acclaimed television series Friday Night Lights left viewers conflicted and torn during the show's fourth season.
Coach Eric Taylor, head coach of the Panthers for the first three seasons, is our noble hero. In Season 4, however, the school grows frustrated with him and abruptly revokes his position. Taylor leaves to start a football program from scratch across town at East Dillon High.
After rooting for the Panthers for three years on the show, viewers are suddenly asked to view them as the bad guys, adding an incredible layer to the rivalry, unmatched in complexity and depth by any other from film or television.
Taylor finally gets a chance to face off against his former team in the final game of the season, at which time East Dillon has earned only a single victory. It's Taylor's chance at redemption, his opportunity to prove his doubters wrong and reclaim the glory that was his after winning a state championship with Dillon only two years earlier.
The spotlight is on. The world is watching. The redemption story is all but written.
The rest is left up to what will happen on the field.
Rather than give away the ending, I'm just going to beg you to please lock yourself in your room and watch all five seasons of this show. You'll cry hourly and never look at high school football the same way again.
Rudy vs. the World (Rudy)
OK, here's where this gets tricky.
Technically, the story from Rudy is true and shouldn't count as a fictional sports rivalry. However, the movie was highly fictionalized, and Joe Montana claimed that most of it was blown way out of proportion. We're gonna go with old Joe on this one and agree that Rudy is fictional enough to make our list.
The real rivalry in Rudy is our tiny hero against literally every other force in the world, all of which seem to be teaming up against him and kicking him down over and over and over and over and over again. I mean, talk about a kid who is down on his luck:
- Can't get into his dream school because he's not smart enough, rich enough or good enough at football
- Best friend dies in a mill accident
- Finds out he has dyslexia
- Loses his fiancee to his brother
Yikes! And I thought my life was hard when I got stuck in traffic for 11 minutes on my way to work this morning!
Just like Ducks had to take down the Hawks to complete their redemption story and the Sandlot kids had to take down the Tigers for neighborhood supremacy, Rudy would need to take on the mighty force of Planet Earth to achieve his dream.
Spoiler alert: Rudy gets in to Notre Dame and plays for about five seconds at the end of the final game of the season, with Notre Dame up 27-3, and records a sack. The players carry him off the field as dramatic orchestra music plays in the background, the most excited any team has ever been about a play that meant literally nothing to the game.
Peter LaFleur vs. White Goodman (Dodgeball)
The mustache. The haircut. The workout suits. The weird speaking voice.
White Goodman is evil and must be defeated.
Such is the premise of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, in which the central conflict revolves around a dodgeball tournament with an all-important cash prize. Goodman is the hated favorite, the leader of a terrifying team of the most dynamic dodgeball players the world has ever seen.
A ragtag group of misfits (seeing a trend here?) led by Peter La Fleur, a charmingly normal guy played by Vince Vaughn (a big acting stretch for Vaughn, who usually plays charmingly normal guys who aren't on dodgeball teams). They desperately need the prize money to save the little gym that they run, with Goodman's threat of demolition breathing down their necks.
And so, as with all the other great movie rivalries, we see the same conflicts play out all over again: misfits vs. superstars, weak vs. powerful, passionate and resourceful vs. arrogant and wealthy.
This movie rivalry succeeds thanks to the allure of dodgeball as a high-stakes game, the eccentricities of Goodman's bizarre character (played by Ben Stiller) and the fact that when White does finally goes down in the end, his life falls apart and he ends up fat, lazy and miserable.
Why can't all sports flicks end this way? Boy, would I love to see those annoying Tigers from The Sandlot show up in fat suits at the end of the movie.
Oh, well. A guy can dream.
Tune Squad vs. Monstars (Space Jam)
In a decorated career that included no less than six NBA championship rings, no game was more important to Michael Jordan's legacy than the ultimate matchup between his Tune Squad and the opposing Monstars in the epic film Space Jam.
The rivalry to end all rivalries and a true faceoff between good and evil, pundits far and wide consider this the greatest game of basketball ever played.
Aggressive to the point of violence from the very start, both teams seemed to be on a mission to prove that basketball in Tune Land is no playground sport. According to a box score compiled by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, the game featured one total missed shot and nearly 100 percent of the points scored by dunk.
Then, of course, there was the epic conclusion that saw Michael Jordan extend his arm the length of the court to place the ball in the hoop as time expired, arguably the most stunning and exciting conclusion to a basketball game in the history of the sport.
While the animosity between the Looney Tunes and Monstars may live on, the rivalry on the court has been forever settled.
Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed (Rocky I and II)
This is, without a doubt, the greatest rivalry ever conceived in the greatest sports film ever made. Rocky tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck, relatively unknown boxer named Rocky Balboa who, due to an unlikely series of events, is given a chance to fight the undefeated heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.
Creed doesn't take the fight seriously. Balboa just wants to last the whole fight without getting knocked out. And so begins the greatest sports story ever told.
Rocky trains like no man has ever trained before leading up to the climactic fight, practicing on meat carcasses and working relentlessly to develop the stamina needed to survive against the greatest in the world.
When the two powers finally collide, it is an epic battle of skill versus will, an unstoppable force up against an immovable object—or, at least, an object that simply refuses to move.
When Creed is controversially awarded the victory at the end of the match, the world is stunned—not because it thought Rocky had won it, but because it never thought that he'd still be fighting by the end.
The best part? When the rivalry is rekindled in Rocky II, it gets even better.
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