They're the games we circle on the calendar. They're the games that divide houses, friends, co-workers, towns, states, countries. Rivalries are what make sports even better. They actually unite us if you think about it. We all talk about them. We all hate the team we don't want to win. They give us reason to throw parties. In the end, though, we're all friends. But these are the games that test our strength. Here, I list ten of the greatest sports rivalries. They may not be your top 10, but these are the ones I think are great. I would love to hear what others favorite rivalries are so please comment and share. Remember, this is just my opinion. There are too many to put together.
My favorite part of the college hoops regular season is ESPN's Rivalry Week. As a Connecticut citizen and UConn student/lifetime fan, I always circle the UConn/Syracuse matchup. This game, however, even as a neutral, is watched more carefully than any game all season. There is absolutely no argument, the greatest college basketball rivalry is the one on Tobacco Road between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. Twice a year, and three or four if we're spoiled, these two powerhouses get together on the hardwood in their little part of North Carolina and have the spotlight all to themselves. The history in this rivalry is unbelievable. So many of the greats have played in this game: Hansborough, Jordan, Brand, Laettner, the list goes on and on. Who can forget 2009, with the 3 v. 5 and 2 v. 7 matchups? What about 2005 and Marvin Williams' bucket and foul in the final seconds and Redick and Ewing's missed chances at the buzzer.
If you watch only two basketball games a year, these are the two to watch.
Argentina gets blessed with the greatest rivalry in soccer this side of the Atlantic. Boca Juniors and River Plate, both of Buenos Aires and the two greatest and most popular clubs in Argentina. In fact, the two clubs between them make up roughly 70% of the Argentinian fan base. A British paper in 2004 ranked Derby Day in Buenos Aires as the top thing for a soccer fan to do before they die.
I love watching the Superclasico. It is definitely the best rivalry in the Atlantic and makes a case for being the greatest in the world.
Like every individual sport, golf has that one rivalry that gets people going. That rivalry is without a doubt Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson. No one ever asks "who's your favorite golfer on the PGA Tour? Sergio? Vijay? Justin Rose?" No. They just ask you "hey, Tiger or Lefty?"
Except for a time a couple years ago when Vijay Singh went on a tear and surpassed Mickelson, Lefty and Tiger are consistently ranked 1 and 2 in the world, with Woods usually on top. Nothing is better than seeing Tiger and Phil in the final group together at a major. That's bound to get conversation going around the watercooler. In fact, people actually watch golf when they play together (I'm just kidding, I watch golf sometimes, it's just much better when they're together).
Again, quite an obvious one. These two have been the kings of the tennis world for years now. Every time a Grand Slam comes around, you know you're hoping for a Federer-Nadal final. No match between them will ever compare to the five set clash at Wimbledon in 2008, a five hour affair widely regarded as the greatest tennis match ever played (no argument here). Nadal is 14-7 in their treasured rivalry, but keep in mind that one, Nadal, is the king of clay (they have played 12 clay court matches) while Federer dominates on grass. These two are far from done, stay tuned, the best keeps getting better.
Once again, you cannot possibly argue that there is a greater rivalry in the NBA then the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics, with their seventeen titles and the Lakers, with their sixteen, make up over half of the sixty four NBA champions. These are the games in the NBA that you circle as soon as you get your schedule. You put them in your iPod, set the alarm to remind you the day before and two hours before gametime, and you sit there, if you can stay still, and watch the two greatest teams and many of the greatest players in history go at each other in a fight to the death. Bird, Magic, Kareem, Baylor, McHale, Kobe, Pierce, Rondo, Ainge, Russell, Chamberlin, Shaq, KG, these are only some of the all time greats who have graced this series and made it only better over the years. No doubt, having met in the Finals 12 times, twice in the past three years, these are two of the best teams in the NBA to this day and will entertain us with historic games for years to come.
The hatred. The fights. The desire to beat the ever living out of each other. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bruins and Habs rivalry is the rivalry of all hockey rivalries. Being two of the Original 6 makes this rivalry even more passionate. The stakes are high when these two get together. They are always among the NHL's best teams, making regular season matchups big nights, but they have also played more times against each other in more playoff series than any other two teams in NHL history. Oftentimes in recent memory, these two have met like clockwork in the playoffs and while the NHL's all-time champion (Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other team) seems to have the upper hand in the series, it is a fight to the death and these two teams are guaranteed to put on a show.
How can you talk about rivalries and not include El Clasico?
History does not lie, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF are the two greatest clubs in Spanish soccer and two of the greatest clubs in the world.
What's on the line here? Well seeing as the two clubs usually dominate the La Liga campaign, the two times they meet a season are usually with first place on the line or for one to get back into striking distance. It is widely known that if you are a betting man in La Liga, you are either putting your money on Barca or Real for the title. Since 1985, the two clubs have won all but four titles (Atletico in 96, Deportiva la Coruna in 2000, Valencia in 2002 and 2004). In total, they make up 51 of the La Liga champions. Real Madrid hold the advantage 31-20.
Also on the line is nationalistic pride in a sense. Madrid is the capital of Spain. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia. Catalonia has been declared nationality in the kingdom of Spain and Catalans have a very proud sense of nationalism for their region. The club has a sense of Catalan pride as well. In fact, seven members of the club: Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Bojan, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, and Victor Sanchez, are all natives of Catalonia and in fact represent both the Spanish and Catalan national teams (Catalonia is not affiliated to FIFA). Puyol wears a captain's armband for Barcelona which is horizontal yellow and red alternating stripes, the same as the flag of Catalonia.
Madrid are the team of the people of Spain. They are the Spanish giants, La Liga's all time winners. The squad is complied mostly of Spanish (not Catalan) and foreign players. Therefore, whenever the two take the field, it is bragging rights and national pride that is unmatched. A game that means so much to one part of the world, however, affects us all as hundreds of millions crowd around the television when these two meet. It is by far one of the three greatest soccer rivalries in the world.
The Big Game.
It is the last game of the season every year for these two storied rivals. Everyone stops to watch the legendary Ohio State-Michigan game. It draws the renowned alumni of both schools and the attention of the college football world. With the epic pre-game scuffles, hard hits, thrilling drives, game winning touchdowns, and the hatred between the scarlet and the blue, the rivalry between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines is the greatest in college football.
There is no denying it, the Red Sox and the Yankees share the greatest rivalry in all of baseball, and one of the absolute greatest rivalries in rivalries in all sports worldwide. They are consistently the beasts of the east, literally, as the two sides are always at the top of the American League East, competing for first place. Wild Card is unacceptable, as that means your hated rival is the division champion.
The rivalry has always been heated, but became even better in the middle of the past decade, when the Sox went from World Series contender to World Series champion. Boston and New York have met in the ALCS several times over the past several years, but most notably in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, the two sides split the first six games and forced a Game 7. The Red Sox looked on the verge of history, getting back to the World Series for the first time since 1986 and looking to break the Curse of the Bambino.
The Curse had haunted the Sox since 1920, after winning the World Series in 1918, for a then record fifth time (1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, they were the greatest team in baseball), Harry Frazee, the Sox owner, sells superstar Babe Ruth to the Yankees to fund his wife's Broadway show, "No, No Annette." From that point, the Yankees went on to win twenty six World Series, the Red Sox none.
Until maybe 2003, when the Sox were winning in the eighth. Pedro Martinez runs into trouble, but manager Grady Little shows confidence and keeps him in.
A couple weeks later, Little's out of a job.
The Yankees tied the game and forced extra innings, where, in the 11th, Aaron Boone sends one upper deck off of Tim Wakefield to send the Yankees back to the World Series, where they lost to the Florida Marlins.
2004 was looking even worse after Game 3 for the Sox.
The Yankees had won all three games so far in the ALCS, including a 19-8 rout in Game 3 in Boston.
But the thing about curses, they're meant to be broken.
Game 4, who can forget Dave Roberts stealing second, then coming around to score the tying run to send it to extras where David Ortiz hits a bloop single to drive in the winning run.
Game 5, Big Papi shows the Yankees that he's their daddy, much like the Yanks were Pedro's, and hits a walk-off home run to send the series back to New York.
And so it was.
The Red Sox won the next two, becoming the first baseball team to ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the playoffs and win a series. They then went on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series.
The Sox won again in 2007 and the Yankees did so in 2009.
They are currently among baseball's elite. Arguably the two greatest teams over recent memory. You add in the Phillies and you have the Big 3.
There is so much more to say about this series. All the Hall of Famers, all the fights, all the hatred, the division of homes and families and friends, A-Rod vs. Varitek, Pedro vs. Zimmer, Bucky Dent's home run, all the playoff series, etc., etc., etc.
There is no doubt that when it comes to the world's greatest sports rivalries, no matter the sport, the Red Sox and Yankees take the podium as one of the absolute best.
They share a city. They share a stadium. For nine years, they were the same team. They represent two different classes. They represent class. They are Italy's finest. They are world powerhouses.
And they share the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
I may be an AC Milan fan, but this is no biased opinion, the Derby della Madonnina is without question the greatest rivalry in sports. 273 times overall these two storied clubs have met in their 102 year rivalry, 273 reasons have been given to make their claim as the ultimate rivalry.
With Inter's 18 titles and Milan's 17, the two make up a large part of the Serie A's list of champions, as only Juventus have won more than the two San Siro clubs. It is also the only derby in the soccer world played by two teams that have won both the UEFA Champions' League and the Intercontinental Cup/FIFA Club World Cup.
Ah, the San Siro, properly known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, a star who displayed his goalscoring prowess for both Milan and Inter back in the 20s, 30s, and 40s (primarily for Inter, however, where he scored 247 goals from 1927-1940 and 1946-47).
The two clubs have seen so much incredible talent and so many incredible matches. The rivalry grew to new heights when Milan had Gianni Rivera and Inter had Sandro Mazzola, at the same time of the Rocco vs. Herrera managerial rivalry.
How about the late 80s and early 90s, when the two Italian sides each got a taste of some northern European stars. Milan had the Big 3 of Dutchmen: van Basten, Rijkaard, and Gullit, while Inter had the Big 3 of Germans: Klinsmann, Matthaus, and Brehme.
Ronaldo, Seedorf, Meazza, Pirlo, Crespo, Simic, Brocchi, and many, many more have in fact worn both shirts.
Inter striker Mario Balotelli came under fire recently when he wore a Milan shirt on TV. He grew up a Milan fan, but has been with Inter since the youth system.
There is no doubt, whenever these teams take the field together, the world is watching and ready to see a thriller. There is no doubt that it is as close to a holy day as you can get in soccer. Twice guaranteed a year, 180 minutes a year, the world is privileged with the greatest rivalry in all of sports, the Milan Derby.