The 25 Greatest Individual Feuds in Sports History

Michael AkelsonCorrespondent INovember 17, 2010

The 25 Greatest Individual Feuds in Sports History

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    People love to talk about feuds between teams in sports.

    They love to talk about the Yankees and Red Sox, or Michigan and Ohio State.

    But what's often lost in the shuffle of sports are the feuds that go on between individuals.

    And I'm not talking about Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura, or Ron Artest and Ben Wallace, I'm talking about the lengthy, heated, hateful sports feuds that don't involve fists.

    I'm talking about when two guys just flat out don't like each other.

    So let's take a look at the 25 greatest individual sports feuds of all time. Enjoy!

25. Omar Vizquel Vs. Jose Mesa

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    We begin our list with a feud that started all the way back in 1997.

    We take our scene in Game Seven of the 1997 World Series where the Indians are leading 2-1 and are just three outs away from winning their first World Series in almost half a century.

    However, the game was tied when Indians' closer Jose Mesa allowed the Marlins to push a run across.

    Six years later, former Indians' shortstop and future Hall of Famer Omar Vizquel didn't have kind words for Mesa in his autobiography Omar! My Life On and Off the Field. In the book he criticized Mesa and questioned his passion.

    Mesa didn't take to this too kindly, responding by saying, "Even my little boy told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."

    The next three times Mesa faced Vizquel, he beaned him.

    Even to this day, the bad blood oozes between these guys.

24. Tom Brady Vs. Peyton Manning

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    Brady or Manning? The great debate of the 21st century.

    For the last eight years (and probably the next three at least), Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been the two best quarterbacks in football, they have directed the two most successful teams in football, and they have been the talk of football.

    These are two guys who both have a legitimate case for being labeled the greatest quarterback of all time.

    They are also the two super-humans who have led their teams to 86-27 (Brady) and 99-29 (Manning) regular-season records since 2002.

    Both of these guys are just unreal, and they're always trying to top each other.

    In 2004, Manning threw a then-record 49 TD passes, three years later, Brady threw an unfathomable 50.

    In 2005, Manning led his Colts to a remarkable 13-0 start, two years later, Tom Brady led his Patriots to an undefeated season.

    Just when you think you know who's better, the other one amazes you.

    Whether you're for Team Peyton or Team Brady one thing's for sure: the NFL has never and will never again see a quarterback vs. quarterback rivalry like Manning vs. Brady.

23. Mark McGwire Vs. Sammy Sosa

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    Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa never really hated each other, they were never wanted to make each other look bad, they never wanted to involve themselves in a feud.

    But it wasn't up to them.

    You see, back in 1998 baseball desperately needed to be rejuvenated after a four-year depression that followed a strike, and in Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, they got it.

    That season, regardless of how they did it, both of these guys topped the single-season home run record by a large margin, and throughout the season they competed to see who would make home run history.

    McGwire hit 70 bombs, Sosa hit 66. But Slammin' Sammy came away with the MVP hardware.

    The feud between Sammy and Big Mac in the year 1998 alone is one of the greatest in sports history.

22. Ted Williams Vs. Joe DiMaggio

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    If the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry were to be summed up with two players, those two players would be Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

    These were perhaps the two greatest hitters to ever pick up the wood.

    The rivalry between the two reached it's apex in 1941 when Ted Williams hit .406, but DiMaggio won the MVP award on the strength of his record-breaking 56-game hitting streak.

    There was also some heat between the two considering DiMaggio was a nine-time champion while Ted Williams never found out how it felt to wear that ring on his finger.

21. Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, and Reggie Miller Vs. Michael Jordan

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    That's right, Michael Jordan had equally heated feuds with three different NBA superstars during his tenure, and I was generous to keep the list at three.

    During the Golden Age of basketball (the late '80s and '90s) there were multiple great teams that never won a title.

    And there are only two words that can justify why: Michael Jordan.

    Everybody was gunning for this guy's head in the NBA, and he loved it.

    He traded trash talk and buckets with Reggie Miller annually, knocked Patrick Ewing out of the Eastern Conference Finals yearly, and twice robbed Karl Malone of titles in the NBA Finals (he literally robbed him in '98.)

    Every other player hated this guy, but these three stand out.

20. Pete Sampras Vs. Andre Agassi

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    You know it's an intense rivalry when two guys are taking shots at each other at a charity event for Haiti.

19. Al Davis Vs. Pete Rozelle

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    In April 1966, Al Davis was named commissioner of the AFL.

    Three months later, the AFL and NFL merged, and not Davis, but NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was given the commissioner job.

    As you might have guessed, this did not go over well with Davis, who seemed out to get both Pete Rozelle and the NFL from the day he became Raiders owner.

    Davis took shots at Rozelle every chance he got, and even to this day, these two have yet to bury the hatchet.

18. Chris Evert Vs. Martina Navratilova

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    This was the Federer-Nadal of women's tennis.

    These two met an astounding 80 times in their careers, and their rivalry lasted a full 15 years.

    They are both tied for fourth with 18 Grand Slam singles titles each.

17. Joey Chestnut Vs. Takeru Kobayashi

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    Go ahead, laugh at me, but I stand by this selection.

    The Chestnut-Kobayashi rivalry is similar to that of the McGwire-Sosa one in that these two guys are putting up unfathomable records.

    However, it's different in one way: These guys don't like each other one bit.

    If you've been listening (I forgive you if you haven't been) Chestnut has been badmouthing Kobayashi to anybody who will listen.

    He's called him a liar, a sissy and said that he takes every advantage he can get.

    Judging by Kobayashi's arrest last year at the Hot Dog Eating Competition after storming the stage following Chestnut's victory, I'd say he's not too fond of him, either.

    Say whatever you want, but these two guys have been the top dogs in Hot Dog eating for quite some time now, and they are head and shoulders better than everyone else. They do everything in their power to degrade the other and defeat them.

    If that's not a feud, then I don't know what is.

16. Wayne Gretzky Vs. Mario Lemieux

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    Imagine if Michael Jordan played in the same era as Kobe Bryant. Or if Jim Brown played in the same era as Walter Payton.

    That would be one hell of a showdown, the two greatest of all-time playing in the same era, wouldn't it?

    Well in the NHL, that fantasy was a reality, the two players widely considered the greatest in the history of hockey, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, both played their best puck in the '80s and '90s.

    And it was a thrill.

    From 1980-1997, either Gretzky or Lemieux led the league in points every year excluding the strike shortened season. In that same time frame, one of them led the league in assists every season, and from 1982-1989, one of the two led the league in goals every season.

    They dominated the game and you couldn't look at an ice rink without mentioning Lemieux vs. Gretzky at one time.

15. John Rocker Vs. The State Of New York

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    Never has one interview killed a single player's career quite like the one between John Rocker and Sports Illustrated in 2000.

    The once-promising closer unleashed one of the craziest rants in the history of sports that year, here's his answer to the question of whether he'd ever play in New York:

    "I'd retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing... The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

    I don't think there's any further explanation needed at this point.

14. Reggie Miller Vs. Spike Lee

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    Spike Lee, the ultimate Knick fan.

    Reggie Miller, the ultimate Knick killer.

    You better believe they don't get along.

    These two guys always went at it. I've never seen a fan influence a player as much as Lee influenced Miller.

    Eight points in nigh seconds, 25 points in the fourth quarter, the infamous choke gesture.

    It was Spike Lee who lit the fuse to all these Knick fires. And it was Reggie Miller who exploded.

    This was back in the Golden Age of the NBA, the league will never see anything like this again.

13. Serena Williams Vs. Venus Williams

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    They may be sisters, they may often play as partners, but when Venus and Serena Williams play head-to-head, women's tennis suddenly becomes a popular sport.

    Everybody wants to see the sibling phenoms go head-to-head, and although they may love each other to death, when the match starts, the Williams sisters flat-out don't like each other.

    They have met in eight Grand Slam Finals, with Venus holding the 6-2 edge.

12. Tonya Harding Vs. Nancy Kerrigan

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    Back in 1994 when U.S Figure Skating Championship practice was going on, competitor Tonya Harding feared that she would be defeated by Nancy Kerrigan.

    So instead of practicing to get better like any other decent athlete would have done, Harding decided to hire somebody to break Kerrigan's right leg.

    You can't make this stuff up, folks.

    To this day, Kerrigan still holds a grudge against Harding, and who can blame her?

11. Ted Thompson Vs. Brett Favre

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    I could have made this Aaron Rodgers vs. Brett Favre, or even just Brett Favre vs. The Packers, but I didn't.

    In my mind this thing is between Ted Thompson and Brett Favre.

    The story goes that Favre retired after leading the Packers within one overtime period of the Super Bowl in 2007. While depressed, Packer fans finally began to move on with Aaron Rodgers, and as soon as the wounds were healing guess who was back? Brett Favre!

    This led to a conflict that literally split America in half: Team Brett Favre vs. Team Ted Thompson.

    Team Favre believed that the guy had given so much to the Packers, and he deserved the respect. They also felt he gave the Packers their best shot at winning.

    Team Thompson believed that Favre had made his decision and it was time to move on without him.

    The debate occupied literally an entire summer on ESPN and is still talked about to this day.

    Every time the Packers play the Vikings we hear the same thing: Who was right, Brett Favre or Ted Thompson?

    But nobody will ever know for sure.

10. Bill Russell Vs. Wilt Chamberlain

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    Back in the day, this was the one match-up that everyone had to see.

    The greatest defender in NBA history vs. the greatest scorer in NBA history.

    These two guys were always competing.

    However, this feud goes beyond just Russell and Chamberlain, this feud brings to light the greatest debate in all of sports: Stats vs. Rings.

    Russell, of course, represented the rings with his 11 rings in 13 years.

    And Chamberlain represented the stats with his absolutely mind-boggling stats, and if you don't believe me just check the numbers.

9. Richard Petty Vs. David Pearson

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    From 1963 to 1977, these guys finished 1-2 in an amazing 63 races. Next!

8. Shaquille O'Neal Vs. Kobe Bryant

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    Shaq vs. Kobe, the ultimate tale of jealousy.

    It all started when the Lakers failed to win their fourth consecutive championship due to an upset by the Detroit Pistons.

    Then Kobe pretty much told the Lakers "It's either me or Shaq," and they chose him.

    O'Neal was sent to Miami, but the grudge was not over yet.

    After the trade the two constantly engaged in slander of each other, Kobe even went as far as accusing Shaq of "paying for love."

    As the years passed, the feud simmered down, but no matter what they said, we knew it wasn't over.

    This was proven when Shaq roasted Kobe with a rap at a nightclub titled "Kobe tell me how my ass tastes."

    Then after Kobe won his fifth championship last year, he couldn't help but let everyone know that it was one more than Shaq.

7. Art Modell Vs. Cleveland

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    Imagine that your local team, the team you cheered for, the team you attended games for, the team you defended in debated just left.

    Just packed up one day and left without warning.

    After the owner, Art Modell, had promised to never re-locate the team multiple times.

    Would you want to rip that owner's head off?

    Because Cleveland would have sure loved to do that to Art Modell.

6. Billy Martin Vs. George Steinbrenner

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    It's not often that you see an owner feud with his own manager, then again, it's not often you see an owner like George Steinbrenner.

    Billy Martin was hired five times as manager of the Yankees. Which means he was also fired five times as manager of the Yankees.

    Once again, you don't see owners like George Steinbrenner every day.

5. Mike Piazza Vs. Roger Clemens

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    The always fiery Roger Clemens didn't like people to upstage him, and being that Mike Piazza was the biggest star on New York's other team, Clemens took it upon himself to terminate Piazza.

    In an interleague game in 2000, Clemens beaned Piazza in the head with the high cheese. This led to a Piazza concussion and forced him to miss the All-Star game.

    The two met again later that year in the World Series, where this thing got out of hand.

    After Piazza broke his bat on a foul ball and half of it rolled straight to Clemens he picked it up and fired it straight at Piazza.

    He would back this up by saying, "I thought it was the ball," or in other words, "F**K YOU MIKE!"

4. Jack Nicklaus Vs. Arnold Palmer

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    Where would golf be without these two right now?

    They turned the sports from something men liked to play in their free time to one of the most televised sports in America.

    During their rivalry they finished 1-2 in Grand Slams four times, and just owned the sport as a whole.

    This rivalry is Tiger Woods vs. a capable opponent.

3. Roger Federer Vs. Rafael Nadal

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    Two people have never dominated a sport at the same time the way Federer and Nadal have. Since Federer captured his first singles title at Wimbledon in 2003, the two have combined to win 24 of the last 29 Grand Slams.

    Roger Federer is widely considered the greatest tennis player ever to live, and many believe the 24-year-old Nadal will one day pass him.

    However, until that day comes and Federer is no longer capable of playing at a high level, we will continue to watch what is already the greatest rivalry in the history of tennis.

    Rafa and Fed met in what many consider the greatest tennis match of all-time during the Wimbledon Final in 2008.

    And knowing these guys, the matches should only get better.

2. Muhammad Ali Vs. Joe Frazier

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    Ali and Frazier.

    The two words that any boxing fan would salivate at the mention of.

    What these guys did in the ring was nothing short of amazing.

    They faced each other three times, and two of their fights (The Fight of the Century and The Thrilla In Manila) are considered the two greatest of all-time.

    This trilogy was better than Lethal Weapon and Back To The Future.

    They don't make boxers like these guys any more.

    Their trash talk was more intriguing than most boxing matches in general.

1. Magic Johnson Vs. Larry Bird

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    Were you expecting anyone else?

    From the day these two met in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, we knew they were special.

    And oh boy were they; in my book, they're tied for the title of second greatest player of all time right behind Michael Jordan.

    There rivalry saved basketball. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    Coming out of the post-Bill Walton era which was dominated by the Lakers and Celtics, basketball was declining in popularity in America.

    They so desperately needed a kick, and the feud between Magic and Larry, who played for, wouldn't you know it, the Lakers and Celtics, gave them a boot.

    They won three MVP trophies each and met in the Finals on what seemed like a yearly basis.

    These guys were rivals and were saving the NBA, and they knew it.

    They knew that they needed to sell their rivalry and all the commercials and shoe deals they did were the perfect way to do it.

    It also helped that they very well might have been the two most competitive players in NBA history.

    These guys wanted to show each other up, and that's what made them great.

    Earvin Magic and Larry Legend are basketball immortals, and if it were up to me I would rename the National Basketball Hall of Fame, "The House that Magic and Larry Built."