Top 100 Rivalries In Sports History Span All Sports And Legends
Top 100 Rivalries In Sports History have been declared!
Most of these showdowns are between two teams with a long, rich history of hatred. But the individual sports (golf, tennis, boxing) have their share of incredible, repeat battles.
Longevity was a major factor in this list: Does the rivalry span a few years, a few decades, or an entire century?
Another factor was the stakes for which the two teams or athletes have battled. How often did their showdown determine a championship?
And finally, how thrilling or significant was their greatest head-to-head battle?
Greatest Showdown: 2000 ALCS
There are many different types of rivalries. Some are school vs. school, team vs. team, even country vs. country. But as you’ll see by reading this list from 100-1, teammates can certainly qualify.
Today, there is a pretty passive-aggressive rivalry between the Yankee captain and "A-Fraud," as he’s sometimes been called by his teammates. And since Rodriguez gave up his position at shortstop, that has been another factor that has contributed to their rivalry.
But because Jeter is regarded as a good player who is thoroughly clutch and a great leader, while A-Rod is known as a regular-season demon and “loner” who has disappeared in the playoffs, there is a great juxtaposition there.
However, long before they were teammates, they had a nice back-and-forth in the 2000 ALCS, when the Yankee shortstop hit .318 with two home runs, while the then-Mariner shortstop hit .409 with two homers of his own—but ultimately lost the series.
Greatest Showdown: 1994 Winter Olympics
They were rivals prior to January 1994—at least in Harding's mind. Otherwise, why would she, her ex-husband and bodyguard conspire to bash Kerrigan’s knee prior to the Olympics?
And since they ended up squaring off on the ice in Lillehammer, it did turn into a rivalry.
Of course, Kerrigan took home the silver while Harding further embarrassed herself by crying over a judge's decision.
Greatest Showdown: Super Bowl XIII
There have only been 45 Super Bowls and with more than two dozen teams competing for the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, it’s understandable why there are so few repeat showdowns.
The 49ers and Bengals squared off twice in the span of eight years and the Cowboys and Bills actually squared off in back-to-back Super Bowls.
But only the Steelers and Cowboys have met three times.
Each of those three Super Bowls were all-time classics. The Steelers' wins in Super Bowl X and XIII literally came down to the last minute and featured a handful of the greatest players in the game’s history.
And nearly two decades later, they met again, with the Cowboys looking to clinch dynastic status. Although the final score was decided by double digits, it was still one of the greatest contests in Super Bowl history.
With less than four minutes to play, the Steelers trailed by three points and had the ball near midfield before Neil O’Donnell’s crippling interception to Larry Brown.
Greatest Showdown: Padres 10, Giants 7, June 25, 2002
The A-Rod-Jeter rivalry has never gotten physical—as far as we know.
But that superstar-superstar showdown has nothing on the MVP-MVP showdown that took place in the dugout of Qualcomm Stadium.
2001 NL MVP Barry Bonds argued with and shoved his teammate, 2000 NL MVP Jeff Kent, with cameras catching the action.
Greatest Showdown: Cavaliers 16, No. 16 Tar Heels 13 (OT), 2008
Having a classic name for rivalry week is a big part of what makes the game special. A name like “The South’s Oldest Rivalry” certainly qualifies.
The two teams also come from outstanding academic universities, so that helps make the rivalry even more intense—there is probably a lot of “we’re smarter, no we’re smarter” sentiment filtering through the crowd.
That’s been going on since 1892 and the series has been eerily competitive—57-54-4.
The most recent fantastic showdown came three years ago when the 5-1, 16th-ranked Tar Heels traveled to Charlottesville and held the lead for virtually the entire game.
But in the final two minutes, quarterback Marc Verica drove the Cavs 82 yards for a game-tying touchdown. In overtime, Virginia completed the upset with a touchdown to trump the Tar Heels' field goal.
Greatest Showdown: 1992 AFC Championship Game
Snowy, cold, low-profile Buffalo against warm, celebrity-studded Miami. That makes for a nice rivalry. So does the fact that they play twice a season and have been doing so every year since 1967.
The late 1980s and early 1990s matchups of Jim Kelly vs. Dan Marino, Marv Levy vs. Don Shula and great defense vs. great defense, led to a series that was arguably the best of its era.
Now, there were better games with more excitement, but since the Bills and Dolphins squared off in January 1993 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, that’s the most important edition among all 90 of their battles.
Greatest Showdown: No. 17 Cougars 41, Huskies 35 (1997)
The Apple Cup may have a less-than-ferocious label, but the rivalry itself is pretty heated.
UW owns a substantial edge in the overall standings, winning 66 of the 103 showdowns. But in the last few years, the games have been extremely close—aside from 2009, of course.
Back before Ryan Leaf was a punchline, he led the Cougars to a 9-1 record heading into the Apple Cup showdown at Husky Stadium. The only thing standing in the way of the Cougars' first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years—their archrival, Washington.
Leaf’s 358 yards and two touchdowns led the Cougars to a narrow win and solidified himself as a top first-round pick.
Greatest Showdown: 2004 brawl
It’s just too hard to leave off these two teams. Even without the most infamous brawl in NBA history, the Pacers and Pistons have a pretty strong history of tough play.
Not only did they have two great series in the postseason in between the "Malice at the Palace," but since they play in the same division, they still play four times a year.
But the biggest reason that the Pacers-Pistons will always have some juice? The brawl took Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal away from the team for a lengthy period.
Greatest Showdown: Kansas City Chiefs 24, San Francisco 49ers 17, Week 2
The two greatest quarterbacks in 49ers history only faced one another once during their long careers. And in that game, Montana, who had been let go by the 49ers two years earlier, gained a small piece of revenge when he threw two touchdowns in a narrow win over the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion 49ers.
But what makes this an all-time great rivalry was Young running from Montana’s shadow.
Perhaps that makes it a one-sided rivalry, but because it was THE NFL story of the early 1990s, it earns a spot on this list.
Greatest Showdown: Cardinals 8, Cubs 6, Aug. 19, 1998
Today we know that it was all pretty hollow—thanks a lot, Winstrol and Stanozolol.
But back then, there was no more exciting matchup in sports than when Mark McGwire’s Cardinals played Sammy Sosa’s Cubs. And since they both played in the NL Central, there were tons of opportunities for historic home runs.
The most thrilling showdown came in mid-August of that year. In the bottom of the fifth at Wrigley, Sosa knocked his 48th homer of the season to take the NL lead.
But McGwire soon re-tied Sosa with one in the top of the eighth, followed by the game-winner in the top of the 10th.
They may have been friends (exemplified by that terribly awkward high-five thing), but they were also the two greatest single-season home run rivals of all time.
Greatest Showdown: 2000 NLCS
The Braves and Mets have had a pair of great playoff showdowns. Fittingly, the first NLCS ever was between the Miracle Mets of 1969 and the Braves.
Three decades later, they met in a great series that featured four one-run games and a two-run game.
But there was definitely some gasoline thrown on the fire by John Rocker and his comments about the Big Apple, so when the Braves traveled to Shea, it made for an interesting scene.
And since the two teams still play 18 games a year, it’s one of the NL’s best rivalries.
Greatest Showdown: Schmeling defeats Louis in 12 (1936)
They only met twice, but because of the major cultural and international implications, both fights were an important part of sports history.
Although the rematch was billed as “The Battle of the Century,” it was the first fight that was the greatest.
Schmeling, the 31-year-old German, knocked the 23-0 Louis down in the fourth and 12th rounds and won to become a national hero.
Two years later, in the rematch, Louis knocked Schmeling down three times in the first round to retain the heavyweight title.
Greatest Showdown: 1999 WGC-NEC Invitational
Thanks to the sports media, you’d think that more than a handful of major championships have come down to the 72nd hole with Tiger and Phil, paired together and tied.
That has never happened—not even close. But they have had some good showdowns, including their 1999 1-2 finish at Firestone. The 2002 US Open was another Tiger-Phil billed event and although Phil was the sole runner-up, it wasn’t that close.
Nevertheless, because they are, without question, the game’s top stars and have both won a handful of titles, the rivalry is pretty fierce.
And Phil’s family-centric victory last year at the Masters, just a few months after the meltdown of Tiger’s personal life, only intensified the rivalry.
Greatest Showdown: 1989 playoffs
They share a state and both have extremely rabid (and occasionally rowdy) fans, so that naturally creates a rivalry.
But they’ve met in the playoffs five times in the last 22 seasons, meaning that several of their battles have had much more at stake.
And since together they’ve won the last three Eastern Conference titles, their rivalry has major significance every time they meet.
Greatest Showdown: Arkansas 50, No. 1 LSU 48 (3 OT), 2007
The battle for the Golden Boot didn’t start until the 1990s, but these two neighboring states had a long history before the SEC adopted Arkansas in 1992.
But once their games became intra-conference showdowns, the rivalry seems to have only gotten more intense—11 wins for the Razorbacks, eight for the Tigers. Of course, LSU has two national championships to hang over the Arkansas fans during that stretch.
It’s not the best rivalry in the SEC, but since the last six contests have been decided by a touchdown or less, it’s getting there.
Greatest Showdown: 2002 Western Conference Finals
Obviously it all started in the 1996 Western Conference Finals, with that Claude Lemieux-Kris Draper mishap in Joe Louis Arena.
But over the next seven years, they would face each other in the playoffs five times and three of those meetings would be for the Western Conference title.
Only the 2002 edition went the full seven games, but that No. 1 seed vs. No. 2 seed series was one of the greatest in recent history, with three games going to overtime.
Greatest Showdown: 1990 Pac-10 Championship Game
The only West Coast team to become a national figure after John Wooden’s dynasty of the 1960s and 1970s has been Lute Olsen’s Wildcats.
On his watch, Arizona has won a national title and reached the Final Four four times, not to mention claiming four Pac-10 tourney championships and 11 regular season titles.
Olson’s mini-dynasty isn’t nearly as impressive as what Wooden achieved, but it’s worth mentioning as one of the best runs in recent years.
That has to irritate the Bruins program and its fans every time they face each other. And fittingly, the Bruins and Wildcats are atop the conference at this very moment.
Greatest Showdown: No. 4 Ducks 17, Beavers 14, 2001
Maybe these two teams aren’t perennial powerhouses—neither has won a national championship and, for the most part, have been overshadowed by USC.
But how could we not include a rivalry known as “The Civil War”?
They played 114 games, with a pretty narrow margin separating them: The Ducks lead 58-46 with 10 more games resulting in ties.
There have been plenty of narrow games in this rivalry, but we chose the 2001 edition. It was a nail-biter and because the Ducks hung on, they were able to finish 11-1—their best season in over a century of football.
Greatest Showdown: 1954 Masters
When Byron Nelson retired in 1946, he left Snead and Hogan to duke it out for the honor of being the world’s greatest golfer.
And fittingly over the next eight years, Snead and Hogan won 13 majors and literally dozens of regular tour stops. So there was a natural rivalry there.
But because their personalities were complete opposites (Snead an affable, folksy, likable big man and Hogan the grouchy, silent “Wee Ice Mon”) they were a great yin and yang.
A year after Snead gave away the 1953 US Open in the final round at Oakmont, the two finished 72 holes even at Augusta National.
Snead got the better of Hogan in the 18-hole playoff (by just a stroke) to claim his third green jacket.
Greatest Showdown: Los Angeles Raiders 30, Denver Broncos 27 (OT), Week 4, 1988
It’s just to hard to declare which of the AFC West rivalries is “the best” because just about every permutation has a rich history steeped in hatred. That’s what happens when they have been playing each other twice a year for 50 years.
The Chargers and Raiders share California, so they hate each other.
The Broncos and Chargers have been at each other’s throats in recent seasons.
The Chiefs and Broncos is almost always a great game.
No AFC West showdown was more thrilling than the time the Raiders, with recently acquired quarterback Jay Schroeder at the helm, overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to best Denver in overtime and send the Mile High crowd home with a third divisional loss in four weeks.
Greatest Showdown: Tigers 16, Gamecocks 14, 2000
In today’s college football landscape, there are very few out-of-conference rivalry games.
The battle for the Palmetto State is the best, however, largely because neither one has a true rival inside their respective conferences.
They’ve battled 108 times since 1896 and had some classic showdowns along the way, including Clemson’s last-minute win in 1977 and Steve Spurrier’s upset of the 15th-ranked Tigers.
But Woody Dantzler’s last-second comeback win at home was arguably the tops.
Greatest Showdown: Panthers 13, Mountaineers 9, 2007
The Backyard Brawl is one of the most overlooked rivalries in all of college sports. Pitt and West Virginia have been back-and-forth for decades, with the Mountaineers dominating throughout the late 1950s and 1960s before the Panthers owned the 1970s.
The last 16 have been a virtual split, with both teams routinely contending for the Big East title.
Quite appropriately, the 100th edition in December 2007 was a fantastic showdown.
The 3-7 Panthers, playing for absolutely nothing other than the rivalry, traveled to Morgantown and upset the undefeated and top-ranked Mountaineers, ruining Rich Rodriguez's hopes for a shot at the national championship.
Greatest Showdown: 2002 NLCS
Both men, neither of whom is a huge fan of the other, have been successful managers at three different stops.
Although the four seasons when Baker was with the Cubs and La Russa with the Cardinals saw the most frequent showdowns and they also shared the spotlight in the Bay area from 1993-95, it was actually Baker’s stay in San Francisco that saw their most important head-to-head battle.
Baker earned his first trip to the World Series (as a manager) by besting La Russa’s Cardinals four games to one in the NLCS.
Greatest Showdown: 1989 US Open
By the mid-1980's, Martina Navratilova was already one of the greatest players in tennis history. With 11 Grand Slam singles titles, the 40-something didn’t need to prove anything else.
But she did every time she squared-off with the sport’s next young superstar, Germany’s Steffi Graf.
Beginning with the 1987 French Open, Graf and Navratilova faced each other in the finals of six of the next 11 Grand Slam championships.
Graf defeated Navratilova that week in Paris to win her first Grand Slam, but promptly lost the finals to her at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Graf quickly redeemed herself with three more triumphs over Navratilova—in the finals at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1989 and again in the finals of the 1989 US Open.
Greatest Showdown: 1992 French Open
As great as the Graf-Navratilova rivalry was during the late 1980's, Graf’s rivalry with a woman more her contemporary, Monica Seles, was even better.
From 1992-1995 every Grand Slam event was decided in the finals by a Seles-Graf matchup.
They had already faced one another in the finals at the 1990 French Open (Seles won her first Grand Slam by defeating Graf) when they met for a rematch two years later. Seles again triumphed.
Over in London a few months later, Graf returned the favor with a win in the finals of Wimbledon.
The 1993 Grand Slam season started off with Seles again besting Graf, this time in the finals of the Australian Open.
After a two-year break, Graf and Seles renewed their rivalry with back-to-back finals matchups of the 1995 and 1996 US Open. Graf won both, to claim a third title at the expense of Seles.
Greatest Showdown: 1986 French Open
Some traditionalists probably think the Graf-Seles and Navratilova-Graf pairings pale in comparison to the first truly great rivalry in women’s tennis.
And they would be right.
While Graf was in kindergarten and Seles in diapers, Navratilova and Chris Evert met in the finals of the French Open.
Evert won in Paris for the second consecutive time, but that would not be the last time she and Navratilova met with everything on the line.
Over the next two decades, 13 more Grand Slam finals would come down to an Evert-Navratilova showdown.
For the most part, Navratilova got the best of Evert, winning 10 their 14 finals matchups. But in their final one, with both women now over 40, Evert overcame a 6-2 loss in the opening set to win the next two and earn an 18th and final Grand Slam title.
Greatest Showdown: Browns 20, Patriots 13, 1994 AFC Wild Card
Many great rivalries stem from the mentor-protégé relationship—especially when the protégé tops the mentor.
Parcells and Belichick spent nearly a decade together with the Giants and had a somewhat tempestuous, yet extremely successful relationship.
So when Belichick got his first head coaching job, with Cleveland and faced his old boss, now the head coach in New England, the media loved it.
They only squared off as head coaches four times—three times when Belichick was with the Browns and Parcells with the Patriots and once when Belichick was leading the Pats and Parcells was in Dallas.
But each of those four games, including their Wild Card affair, was a defense-oriented, one-score contest.
And since Parcells has two Super Bowl rings, while Belichick has three, there is always a nice debate over who was better—or who created the other's greatness.
Greatest Showdown: 2009 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Just a year after Ovechkin was the first overall pick in the NHL Draft, Crosby stole a significant portion of his thunder as the 2005 top pick and “The Next Great One.”
Since then, they’ve each won a scoring title and a goals title and have become the two premier players in the league.
Ovechkin seemed to have the upper hand on Sid The Kid when they had their first postseason faceoff. Ovechkin’s Caps took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, but Crosby’s Pens then won three in a row.
By the end of the series, the two had nabbed eight goals apiece.
Greatest Showdown: 1999 Daytona 500
Earnhardt Sr. owned the NASCAR scene throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, winning dozens of races and an incredible seven Winston Cup titles.
But in 1995, 24-year-old Jeff Gordon started to hack away at Earnhardt’s dominance, winning the 1995 Winston Cup by just 34 points over No. 3.
In 1997, Gordon claimed a second Cup and did something Earnhardt hadn’t—he won at Daytona.
A year later, Earnhardt surged past Gordon in the middle of Daytona to claim the title for the first time in his long career.
But by season’s end, Gordon still won the Cup for the third time in four seasons and took Daytona again in 1999, narrowly besting Earnhardt again.
Greatest Showdown: 2006 Orange Bowl
Bowden’s Seminoles defeated Paterno’s Nittany Lions in the less-than-exotic 1990 Blockbuster Bowl, but a decade-and-a-half later, Paterno returned the favor by defeating Bowden in a thrilling triple-overtime Orange Bowl.
But those two bowl games aren’t what link Bowden and Paterno together as great rivals.
Together, they won over 700 games and four national championships and were the patriarchs of college football for nearly three decades.
And for several years, they were repeatedly stepping over one another on the way to the top of the NCAA record books for all-time wins.
Oh, and they probably fought over the same prized recruits time and time again.
Greatest Showdown: Dodgers 1, Cardinals 0, June 18, 1962
Some people love to disparage the 1960s as a time when the pitcher ruled and batters struggled mightily—the expanded strike zone and a raised mound were to blame.
So there is an argument to be made that the pitchers from other eras were better. But there is no debate about who the two best hurlers of the 1960s were: The Dodgers understated dominant lefty and the Cardinals imposing righty, winners of a combined five Cy Young Awards.
Because they were both in the NL and divisional play had not yet started, Gibson and Koufax never had a chance to meet in the postseason.
But in June 1962, before either had become a true legend, they each entered the ninth inning with the game still scoreless until Tommy Davis homered off Gibson to give Koufax another shutout win, on the way to winning his first of five consecutive ERA titles.
Greatest Showdown: The 2005 NFL offseason
The greatest single season Donovan McNabb ever had came during T.O.'s extremely short stay in Philadelphia.
And the only time T.O. ever came close to reaching a Super Bowl came with McNabb as his quarterback. Neither of those facts are a coincidence.
They were a great pair, combining for 14 touchdowns in 14 games.
But beginning with the “breaking news” of McNabb’s infamous Super Bowl huddle vomiting, the relationship quickly fell apart.
After T.O. left Philly for NFC East rival Dallas, McNabb and Owens both played well when they were on the same field.
But nothing was quite as heated or ugly as that offseason, highlighted by Owens essentially declaring the Eagles would be a better team with Brett Favre, not McNabb, under center.
Greatest Showdown: No. 6 Volunteers 20, No. 2 Gators 17 (OT), 1998
A decade ago, before the SEC was dominated by a slew of great teams (LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, etc.), there were really only two perennial powerhouses in the conference—Fulmer’s Vols and Spurrier’s Gators.
And for the most part, Spurrier owned Fulmer, winning seven of their nine head-to-head matchups and delivering an all-time burn in “you can’t spell citrus without UT.”
But Fulmer did finally get over the hump in 1998 when, on their way to an undefeated, national championship-winning season, UT (without Peyton Manning) upset the second-ranked Gators in a defense-dominated double-overtime affair.
Greatest Showdown: 1986 AFC Championship Game
In the grand scheme of more than 80 years of NFL history, the Browns and Broncos aren’t a great rivalry. Although it should be a bit juicier now that Cleveland completely fleeced Denver on the Peyton Hills-for-Brady Quinn trade.
Still, during a four-year period in the late 1980's, there wasn’t a more important rivalry in the NFL.
A year after losing the AFC title game at home via “The Drive,” the Browns traveled to Denver, where they blew a second straight opportunity to reach the Super Bowl via “The Fumble.”
The Browns gained a small measure of revenge two years later, defeating John Elway’s Broncos 16-13 in Week 4 of the regular season. But by playoff time, they would again be disappointed in the AFC Championship Game, losing at Mile High Stadium, 37-21.
Greatest Showdown: Super Bowl XXXIII
Well, not long after the Broncos frustrated the Browns for the third time in four seasons, the Broncos' two most important men found themselves terribly frustrated with each other.
Reeves actually drafted Tommy Maddox in the first round of the 1992 draft, as a replacement for Elway. But the Broncos soon fired Reeves instead. That turned out to be the smart move as Elway ultimately led Denver to the Super Bowl title in January 1998.
Fittingly, when the Broncos returned to the Super Bowl a year later, Elway faced the Atlanta Falcons, coached by Dan Reeves.
In his final NFL game, Elway trounced Reeves' Falcons 34-19 to win a second title and give Reeves his fourth Super Bowl loss as a head coach.
Greatest Showdown: 1992 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
The Bulls and Knicks play only three times a year, but their playoff history is as rich as any in recent memory.
Beginning with the 1990-91 season, the Bulls and Knicks met in the postseason five of the next six seasons.
Now the Knicks won only one of those series and it came without Michael Jordan on the floor, but it earned them a trip to the Finals.
Considering that the Bulls and Knicks represented the two biggest markets in the Eastern Conference, it made the showdowns great.
So did the legendary personalities on the floor—Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Patrick Ewing and Pat Riley.
Greatest Showdown: Packers 28, Vikings 24, Week 7, 2010
Although they didn’t actually square-off against one another until Week 4 of the 2009 NFL season, the rivalry between Favre and Rodgers really started on Draft Day 2005.
Selecting Rodgers with the team’s first pick that day signified an eventual end to Favre’s long, historic run in Green Bay.
And ever since Favre un-retired during the 2008 preseason, the Favre-Rodgers rivalry has hit full stride.
They split their four head-to-head showdowns and both now have a Super Bowl title on their resume, but if Rodgers continues to play the way he did in 2010, he will slowly creep towards Favre in terms of Packer lore.
Greatest Showdown: 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
Besides dealing with Michael Jordan’s Bulls, the 1990's New York Knicks had another Midwest roadblock to hurdle every NBA postseason—Reggie Miller’s Pacers.
Miller famously torched the Knicks in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter of a comeback win at Madison Square Garden.
A year later, he scored a ridiculous eight points in 8.9 seconds as the Pacers again shocked the Knicks on their home court.
But as great as he was and as much as he showed up Spike Lee with that "choke" hand gesture, the Knicks usually had the last laugh.
New York knocked Indiana out of the playoffs each year from 1993-1995 and again in 1999.
But Miller and Co. finally found a way to get past Patrick Ewing and the Knicks, knocking them out of the playoffs in 1998 and 2000.
Greatest Showdown: 2011 Sugar Bowl
No other NCAA head coach in history ever had a first decade at the helm quite like Jim Tressel. In his second season at Ohio State, he won a national championship.
By the end of his 10th regular season, Tressel had won seven Big Ten titles and a total of 105 out of 127 games and earned a spot in an incredible sixth straight BCS bowl game.
But because he had lost each of the three games he had played against the SEC (including consecutive national championship games), there was a gaping hole on his resume according to some.
In this year’s Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, he had a fourth chance at defeating a team from the nation’s premier conference and got over the hump with a thrilling 31-26 triumph.
Greatest Showdown: Badgers 38, Golden Gophers 34, 2005
The battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe is now the most oft-played rivalry in all of college football. And fittingly, the record for those 120 showdowns is very close: 59 wins for the Golden Gophers, 53 wins for the Badgers and eight ties.
And although Wisconsin has owned the rivalry for the past two decades, losing just twice since 1994, plenty of the games have been tight.
Take the 2005 edition, for example. The 5-1 Gophers, hosting the 5-1 Badgers, grabbed a commanding 34-24 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Then, a John Stocco touchdown and a blocked punt returned for a score gave the Badgers 14 points in the final two minutes for a thrilling 38-34 victory.
Greatest Showdown: 1932 World Series
With completely contrasting physical features, lifestyles and personalities, The Bambino and The Iron Horse had essentially nothing in common—except the fact that they were two of the greatest hitters in history.
Now they didn’t quarrel with each other quite like Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent (although legend has it that Ruth and Gehrig didn’t speak for a long time because Ruth’s wife and Gehrig’s mother didn’t get along).
But the two greatest baseball players in the world did have a tremendous on-the-field rivalry, mostly revolving around who could hit more home runs.
That was probably best exemplified in the 1932 World Series. In Game 3, Ruth hit his famous “called shot” home run. That moment forever upstaged Gehrig’s incredible World Series performance of nine hits, three home runs and eight RBI in 17 at-bats.
Greatest Showdown: New York Jets 34, New England Patriots 31 (OT), Week 11, 2008
The "Man-Genius" certainly earned his nickname at the outset of his head coaching career. He left New England, and his mentor Bill Belichick, in the spring of 2006 to join the Jets, Belichick’s most bitter rival.
Under Mangini, the Jets earned a playoff berth, but fell to Belichick’s Pats in a 2006 AFC Wild Card game.
A year later, Mangini blew the whistle on the SpyGate scandal and the hatred between the two coaches burned to the point where their postgame handshakes became an ESPN headliner.
Belichick’s successes as an NFL head coach far outweigh Mangini’s (although both failed in Cleveland), but Mangini still managed to crush his old team and his old boss in Week 9 of this season.
Greatest Showdown: 1922 US Open
Ultimately, no major championship ever came down to Sir Walter and The Great Bobby Jones—at neither the US or British Opens did they ever finish in successive order. But they were the original Tiger and Phil.
Throughout the decade ,they were the world’s two premier players.
And since Jones remained an amateur and was a “true gentleman,” while Hagen was always chasing dollars in exhibitions and loved the nightlife, they made for a tremendous contrast.
It’s just too bad that their paths didn’t cross more often on the golf course:
Greatest Showdown: The Ice Bowl
Starting with a 45-21 regular season victory in 1964, Vince Lombardi’s Packers absolutely owned Tom Landry’s Cowboys.
On their way to a third NFL title in five years, the Packers edged the Cowboys 13-3 at Milwaukee County Stadium in Week 6 of the regular season.
A year later, Landry and the Cowboys had a shot at redemption when they hosted Green Bay at the Cotton Bowl in the NFL Championship Game. But Dallas again fell short, 34-27, and the Packers—not the Cowboys—went to Super Bowl I.
The rivalry resumed a year later, but this time at Lambeau Field. In the infamous Ice Bowl, Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to send Green Bay back to the Super Bowl and deliver Tom Landry’s Cowboys another heartbreaking championship defeat.
Greatest Showdown: Game 2, 2000 World Series
Everyone remembers that scene at Yankee Stadium in October 2000 when Clemens chucked the barrel-end of a bat at the feet of All-Star Mets catcher Mike Piazza.
But that was merely the bizarre highlight of a pretty brief, yet intense rivalry.
Piazza had hit three home runs off Clemens in three interleague games during the 1999 and 2000 regular seasons. For that, Piazza was beaned in the head by Clemens late in the season, giving him a concussion.
And while Clemens was immediately painted as the bad guy following his beaning and bat-chucking, he ultimately got the last laugh, retiring Piazza in three at-bats and winning his only start on the way to a second straight World Series ring.
Greatest Showdown: Gators 14, Bulldogs 10, 2005
“The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has one of the best names for a rivalry game. And since it features two annual SEC powerhouses on a neutral field, it’s also one of the best contests of the college football season.
Both teams have rivals elsewhere—Georgia has Alabama and Georgia Tech, while the Gators have Miami, Florida State and now Alabama. But this rivalry has the most tradition and the most at stake each year.
And since records never seem to matter (take this year’s overtime thriller that featured two mediocre teams), it’s usually a thriller.
There are plenty of classic games to choose from, but Urban Meyer’s first taste of the rivalry is our pick.
After darting out to a 14-0 lead, the 5-2 Gators hung on to best the undefeated Bulldogs and ultimately helped ruin their shot at a national title appearance.
Greatest Showdown: 1983 NCAA Elite Eight
Despite being so close, the two premier programs in the Bluegrass State didn’t play one another from 1959 to 1983. But after a thriller in Knoxville in the Elite Eight, the rivalry resumed with an annual game.
The series has been fairly close since then—19 wins for the Wildcats and 10 for the Cardinals.
But when Louisville locked up Rick Pitino in 2001, just four years after he left Lexington with his rebuilding project completed, it added a new twist to the rivalry and made their annual battle a major event.
Greatest Showdown: 1982 Anti-Trust Court Hearings
To include an entry of owner vs. league commissioner would take a unique, absurd and unprecedented situation.
That is probably the best way to describe the feud between Raiders owner Al Davis and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
There was always tension between Davis, one of the AFL’s patriarchs, and the NFL, so he and Rozelle were destined to not get along.
But when Davis tried to move his club to Los Angeles, it ratcheted up the animosity. As did the time that Davis sided with the USFL in their anti-trust suit against the NFL.
And if there wasn’t enough tension in the air, three different Super Bowls from 1977-1984 ended with Rozelle having to swallow his pride and hand Davis the championship trophy.
Greatest Showdown: 2008 Wimbledon
Federer established himself as the world’s greatest (and arguably the greatest of all-time) throughout the previous decade, claiming 16 Grand Slam titles in the span of eight years.
But for most of that stretch, he has had a great rival to occasionally knock him down a peg or two.
Nadal bested the world No. 1 in the finals of three consecutive French Opens from 2006-08, Wimbledon in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2009.
For Superman to have kryptonite like that was great for men's tennis.
Greatest Showdown: 2006 AFC Championship Game
Without question the two best quarterbacks of their generation, Brady and Manning have combined to win four Super Bowls, seven of the last 10 AFC championships and six MVP awards.
And although the other 52 players on each sideline have something to do with their success, whenever the Colts face the Pats, it’s always about Brady vs. Manning.
Whether it was Brady snapping Manning’s single-season touchdown record, or Manning defeating Brady in the 2006 AFC title game, or the infamous fourth-down attempt that Brady failed to convert which allowed Manning to complete a 17-point comeback, Brady and Manning have always been at the forefront of one of the NFL’s best current rivalries.
Greatest Showdown: Holyfield defeats Tyson by KO in the 11th Round
Boxing has had a handful of better in-the-ring boxing showdowns—some make this list and some don’t.
But the sideshow that came along with the Holyfield-Tyson circus pushed those two fights out of the realm of boxing and into the realm of entertainment.
When a boxer twice bites another boxer’s ear off in the middle of the fight, that is absurd.
So although a better rivalry might be “Mike Tyson vs. Sanity,” we’ll settle for Tyson vs. Holyfield, because their first fight was an 11-round thriller with the world heavyweight title on the line.
Greatest Showdown: 2002 US Open
It’s more of a natural rivalry than any other on this list because they are blood. That wouldn’t be enough to make this list, but their head-to-head history is.
Four Grand Slam finals have come down to a Williams-Williams matchup. Venus won the first two, the 1998 Australian Open and the 2001 US Open. But Serena tied her big sister with a pair of Grand Slam finals wins over Venus in 2002.
All in all, they’ve faced each other 23 times in WTA events, with Venus owning a 13-10 edge.
Greatest Showdown: 1971 Eastern Conference Finals
The Knicks of the late 1960s and early 1970s occupy a special place in NBA history. They won a pair of NBA Finals and dropped a third to the historically great LA Lakers in 1972.
Fans of the old Baltimore Bullets have to look at that run with a tremendous feeling of “what if?”
While the Knicks had Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley and Willis Reed, the Bullets of that era had a handful of great players, including Wes Unseld, Fred Carter and Elvin Hayes.
Fittingly the two franchises met every year in the playoffs from 1969-1974.
And just to add some extra spice to the rivalry, the Bullets star guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who averaged over 23 points per game in his first four NBA seasons, was dealt to the Knicks midway through the 1971-72 season.
That year, the Bullets fell to New York for the third time in the previous four seasons (they had bested the Knicks in a great seven-game series in 1971).
And after the Knicks again topped Baltimore in the 1973 playoffs, the Bullets, who had just moved to Washington, blew a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals as the Knicks bested the Bullets for a fifth time in six seasons.
Greatest Showdown: August 1989
Rose ultimately admitted to betting on baseball, but for nearly two decades he stood toe-to-toe with Major League Baseball, proclaiming his innocence.
Three different MLB commissioners—Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent and Bud Selig—have denied Rose a place in the Hall of Fame or any return to the game.
And since the all-time hits leader still hasn’t been able to get his name on the ballot, the rivalry still continues with no end in sight.
Greatest Showdown: 1951 World Series
This is a list of the greatest rivalries of all-time.
During the first 50 years of the World Series era, the two New York City teams were by far the most accomplished franchises. Together, they combined to win 33 pennants and 19 World Series titles.
They shared the Polo Grounds until Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, vied for the headlines in New York City and featured several of the greatest figures in the history of the sport.
The two franchises met in the World Series six times from 1921-1951, spanning three generations of Yankees and Giants legends.
John McGraw’s Giants topped Babe Ruth’s Yankees in back-to-back World Series, before the Yankees finally defeated their rival in the first World Series ever played at Yankee Stadium.
In the late 1930's, with Ruth gone and the Yanks led by Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig, they took two more titles from a Giants team featuring Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell.
And a few years before the New York Giants baseball team would cease to exist, Bobby Thomson propelled them into another Series, which would be the first for rookies named Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and the last for Joe DiMaggio.
Greatest Showdown: Bengals 21, Browns 14, Week 3, 1989
The Browns-Bengals rivalry was a heated one long before a single game was played between the two. Paul Brown, the man who turned Cleveland into a dynasty, had been pushed out of town by owner Art Modell in 1963 and finally returned to the NFL five years later as owner and head coach of the expansion Bengals
Sharing the same state and separated by just a few hundred miles, these teams’ two annual showdowns are a “Battle for Ohio.” Now neither team has won an NFL title since the Bengals were formed, but that hardly matters.
In the mid- to late-1980s, Boomer Esiason’s Bengals and Bernie Kosar’s Browns were two of the premier teams in the AFC and one of the two appeared in the conference title game each season from 1986-1989.
And when Bengals head coach Sam Wyche delivered his famous “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati” blast it stirred the rivalry pot even more.
Greatest Showdown: New England Patriots 27, New York Jets 24 (OT), Week 3, 1997
The Jets-Pats rivalry has been a huge story for the past few seasons with Spygate, the Mangini-Belichick feud, Rex Ryan, Antonio Cromartie, Wes Welker, among other things. Not to mention three terribly overhyped games in the 2010 season.
But the bad blood really started to boil in the mid-1990's when Bill Parcells left the Patriots to take over the Jets—followed by Bill Belichick doing the same switcheroo (in reverse) four years later.
It made perfect sense that the first time Parcells' Jets faced the Pats, in Foxboro, overtime was needed in one of the most thrilling games of the 1997 season.
Greatest Showdown: 1972 NLCS
Only two National League franchises won the World Series during the 1970's—the Pirates and the Reds.
And since they often had to go through one another to get there, they were one of the greatest rivalries in modern history.
The Western Division-winning Reds swept the Eastern Division-winning Pirates to win the pennant in 1970 and 1975 and also knocked them out of the NLCS in 1972.
Not to be outdone, Willie Stargell and the “We Are Fam-a-lee” Pirates swept the Reds in October 1979 on their way to a second World Series win in nine years.
Greatest Showdown: Jaguars 44, Tigers 41, 2003
SWAC schools don’t often get to play at the Superdome or have a game broadcast on network television.
But the annual showdown between Southern and Grambling gets special treatment, partly because it’s been so tight—19 wins for Grambling and 18 for Southern.
College football legend Eddie Robinson and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams also helped infuse extra-special intrigue in the Bayou Classic.
Williams' final game as the Tigers head coach was the best in this rivalry that dates back to 1974. Thanks to five touchdowns and 552 yards passing from Jaguars quarterback Quincy Richard, Southern held on to a narrow lead and an 11-1 season and ultimately the Black College National Championship.
And the annual halftime show, the Battle of the Bands, renders this game one of the most special rivalries in college football.
Greatest Showdown: 1992 NFC Championship Game
Dallas and San Francisco played several classics in the 1970's and 1980's—consecutive NFC Championship meetings in 1970 and 1971, the Cowboys playoff comeback win in 1972 and “The Catch” a decade later come to mind.
But it wasn’t until the early 1990's that the rivalry became truly historic.
Three consecutive NFC title games from 1992-1994 pitted Dallas against San Francisco.
Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Jimmy Johnson topped NFL MVP Steve Young’s 49ers 30-20 in one of the most brutal and thrilling contests of the decade.
A year later, the Cowboys earned a repeat trip to the Super Bowl, again by besting the 49ers, 38-21.
Young finally got by Dallas in 1994, first in the regular season (21-14 at Candlestick), then again in the NFC title game, 38-28.
Greatest Showdown: 1976 ALCS
The Yankees returned to glory in the mid-to-late 1970's largely at the expense of the Kansas City Royals.
A solo home run by Chris Chambliss in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1976 ALCS sent the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time in over a decade.
The Yankees took the next two pennants as well, defeating the Royals in the 1977 and 1978 ALCS.
Kansas City fans finally saw their club get over the hump two years later. Thanks to two home runs from AL MVP George Brett, the Royals swept the Yankees in the 1980 ALCS to reach their first-ever World Series.
Greatest Showdown: 1994 NBA Finals
Few great rivalries span across both college and the pros, but the Olajuwon-Ewing rivalry did.
When Ewing was a junior in college, his Georgetown Hoyas defeated Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in the NCAA title game.
They would each be first overall picks in the next two NBA drafts and with Olajuwon playing for the Rockets and Ewing for the Knicks, they played each other twice a year throughout the 1980's and early 1990's.
But they didn’t face off again on the big stage until a decade after they left college.
Olajuwon’s Rockets met Ewing’s Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals, a seven-game thriller.
Five games into the series, Ewing (20 points, 12 rebounds per game) again seemed to have the upper hand on The Dream. New York led 3-2 with the series headed back to Houston.
But Olajuwon tossed in 30 points and 10 boards to force a Game 7, which the Rockets won 90-84 to claim their first NBA title.
Greatest Showdown: Miami Heat 104, Los Angeles Lakes 102, Christmas Day, 2004
The rivalry between the two was more of a feud when they were on the same team, winning three consecutive NBA rings.
And although Shaq was on the downside of his career when the Lakers shipped him to Miami, he still had plenty left in the tank, helping the Heat claim the 2005-06 title.
Since then, Kobe has one-upped Shaq, winning two rings. But it’s been the head-to-head matchups that draw the most attention.
Now Kobe’s Lakers have battled Shaq’s Heat, Suns, Cavs and Celtics more than a dozen times since the dynasty was broken up in 2004.
But the first, in December 2004, was the best—Kobe dropped 42 points before the hometown crowd, but Shaq left the Staples Center with 24 points, 11 rebounds and an overtime victory.
Greatest Showdown: 1969 NBA Finals
Throughout the 1960s, Chamberlain dominated the NBA like no player in history, but for years he didn’t have a championship to his name.
Meanwhile, the only man who could defend him, the Celtics' Bill Russell, racked up nine rings before Wilt the Stilt had even one.
The rivalry took on new life in 1969 when Chamberlain, dealt to the Lakers a season earlier, met Russell’s Celtics in the Finals.
Despite missing the end of Game 7, Chamberlain played a key role in the Lakers critical Game 5 win, grabbing 31 rebounds over Russell.
Greatest Showdown: 2002 US Open
The top players of their era, Sampras and Agassi, highlighted tennis during the 1990's.
Sampras won his first of 18 Grand Slam titles by defeating Agassi in the finals of the 1990 US Open, but the flamboyant Agassi made up for that defeat five years later, topping Sampras in the 1995 Australian Open.
Later that summer, Sampras earned his third US Open title by edging out Agassi and would do the same in 1999 in London at Wimbledon.
Agassi and Sampras took their rivalry to the 21st century by squaring-off in the finals of the 2002 US Open.
In four extremely tight sets, Sampras defeated Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to tie Jimmy Connors' modern record of five US Open championships.
Greatest Showdown: UCONN Huskies 73, Tennessee Vols 61, 2004 NCAA National Championship
Summit and Auriemma once had a well-publicized feud, highlighted by the Huskies head coach calling the Vols program “the Evil Empire.”
The on-the-court rivalry is rich though, regardless of any war of words.
Summitt’s Vols dominated the women's game in the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning three NCAA titles in five years.
The UCONN Huskies, led by Auriemma, knocked off the champions in the 1995 NCAA title game to claim their first-ever national championship.
Over the next decade, the two programs would constantly vie for more national titles and the top spot in the rankings.
Summit’s Vols won three in a row after falling to Auriemma, then two more in 2007 and 2008, while Auriemma took five more from 2000-2010. Three of those championship game wins came in the finals against UT.
In all, UCONN and UT have battled head-to-head 22 times—13 wins for Auriemma and nine for Summitt.
Greatest Showdown: 1955 MLB season
Throughout the 1950's the greatest debate in American sports was “which New York center fielder is the best?”
Dodger fans chose Duke Snider, the left-handed hero who still holds the club record for career home runs.
Giants fans naturally chose the Say Hey Kid, the lovable five-tool player who became arguably the greatest player in history.
And Yankee fans chose The Mick, the country boy who hit gargantuan home runs from both sides of the plate.
Each man had epic seasons in 1955 and only further clouded the argument. That year, Mantle won his first AL home run crown as the Yankees won a sixth pennant in seven seasons.
Mays, the reigning NL MVP, also won his first home run crown that season. And The Duke, who led the NL with 136 RBI, hit four home runs to help deliver Brooklyn their first and only World Series title.
Greatest Showdown: No. 2 Trojans 21, No. 1 Bruins 20, 1967
The 1967 edition of this battle for LA was the most famous: Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban came up one point short against the next season’s Heisman winner, USC’s O.J. Simpson.
But because more than a dozen Rose Bowl berths have been decided by the annual USC-UCLA showdown, it remains one of the most storied rivalries in football history.
And since every year there are a handful of first-round picks in the NFL draft on both sides of the field, few rivalry games showcase as much talent.
Greatest Showdown: Crimson 30, Bulldogs 24 (3 OT), 2005
When a rivalry is known simply as “The Game,” it has to be special.
They may be two of the most prestigious universities in the world, but they play great football as well.
The series, which dates back to 1875, is extremely tight: 65 wins for Yale and 54 for Harvard, with eight games ending in a tie.
The last such tie came in 1968, the famous “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29” game. For years that was the greatest game in the rivalry's history. But the 2005 edition supplanted it.
Yale owned a 21-3 lead midway through the third quarter before the Harvard defense and quarterback Liam O’Hagan scored three touchdowns and a two-point conversion to force overtime.
Yale overcame a pair of turnovers to force a third extra period, but the Crimson finally ended the game thanks to a touchdown run by Clifton Dawson that gave Harvard a series-record fifth straight victory.
Greatest Showdown: The 1941 MLB Season
From 1939-1949 no position players were on the same level as The Yankee Clipper and The Splendid Splinter.
Both men won two MVP awards during the 1940s and, in the same season, turned out two of the greatest feats in league history.
The debate over which achievement was better—DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Williams' .406 average—only further intensifies the rivalry between two men who will always be inextricably linked.
Greatest Showdown: 1991 Eastern Conference Finals
Before Michael Jordan could cement his legacy as the NBA’s greatest player, he needed to get to the NBA Finals.
And for three straight years, Chuck Daly’s Bad Boy Pistons kept that from happening, knocking Jordan and the Bulls out of the playoffs in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
To be the best, Jordan and the Bulls had to beat the best. And in 1991 that was the Pistons, recent winners of a pair of NBA titles and the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.
With Jordan averaging nearly 30 points per game, the Bulls swept through the Pistons on the way to their first of three consecutive NBA titles.
That series helped Jordan and the Bulls make up for a bitter defeat a year earlier. In the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls came back from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 7, but were crushed by the Pistons, 93-74.
Greatest Showdown: 1980 Wimbledon
Because Borg retired so young (age 26), his rivalry with McEnroe was fairly short-lived.
Still, for those few brief years, they had a tremendous back-and-forth.
Including an incredible match in London in 1980 at Wimbledon, four out of six consecutive Grand Slam finals ended with a Borg-McEnroe showdown.
Borg won that epic event in London, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6, but McEnroe more than made up for it by besting Borg in the Wimbledon finals in 1981 and consecutive US Open finals in 1980 and 1981.
Greatest Showdown: 1976 US Open
Connors had a few more years of matchups against Borg, so his rivalry was slightly better than the Borg-McEnroe rivalry.
Their first great match came in 1975, when Connors defeated a 19-year-old Borg 7-5, 7-5, 7-5 in the semi-finals of the US Open.
They would meet in the semi-finals of Grand Slam events three more times (twice at Wimbledon and once more at the US Open), but their fiercest matches came in the finals of those events.
Connors topped Borg in a pair of US Open finals (1976 and 1978), but Borg evened the score by claiming consecutive Wimbledon titles with finals victories over Connors in 1977 and 1978.
Greatest Showdown: 1982 Wimbledon
The two biggest personalities in the sport met for the first time in the finals of a Grand Slam event in 1982 at Wimbledon. Connors won that showdown to help make up for a loss to McEnroe in the semi-finals two years earlier.
Across the pond in America, Connors also trumped McEnroe at the semi-finals of the US Open in 1978, but McEnroe redeemed himself in 1980, defeating Connors in that year’s semi-finals, overcoming a 2-1 deficit to win the match, 6-4, 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6.
The rivalry become one of the all-time bests in 1984.
At Roland Garros, McEnroe beat Connors in the semi-finals to reach the French Open finals for the first and only time in his career. A few months later, McEnroe and Connors had another winner-take-all match in the finals of Wimbledon, which McEnroe won handily.
And in the semi-finals of the US Open, on his way to a fourth and final US Open crown, McEnroe beat Connors again, in a thrilling five-set match, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Greatest Showdown: 1943 NFL Championship Game
From 1937-1946, the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears were the class of the NFL—they combined to win six league titles during that stretch.
The best players on each of those clubs were (not surprisingly) the team’s signal callers—Hall of Famers Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh.
Baugh, an All-Pro as a rookie, threw three touchdowns to defeat George Halas’ Bears in the 1937 title game. Two years later, Halas spent the second overall pick in the draft on his own franchise quarterback, Columbia’s Sid Luckman.
In his second year, Luckman’s Bears crushed Baugh’s Redskins in the NFL title game, 73-0.
Two years later, Baugh gained a piece of revenge, defeating Luckman and the Bears 14-6 to win the championship.
The Bears and Redskins met once more for the NFL title in 1943. Baugh was enjoying one of the finest seasons in history. He had finished the regular season with an unprecedented triple crown—best completion percentage, best punting average and most interceptions on defense.
But five touchdown passes from Luckman, who knocked Baugh out of the game on a punt return, gave the Bears a 41-21 win in the NFL title game and gave Luckman the league’s MVP.
Greatest Showdown: No. 7 Hurricanes 27, No. 1 Seminoles 24, October 2000
It’s not as old as many of the other great rivalries in college football, but in the last quarter-century, the Seminoles and Hurricanes have fielded some of the greatest teams in the game’s history.
And since both programs are now in the ACC and one of these days could meet in the conference title game, it has a great future.
The 1980s and 1990s showdowns were great, with all of the nail-biting finishes and Heisman Trophy winners.
But the 2000 edition should be considered the greatest: Not only did it come down to the last play (another missed field goal attempt, this time by FSU), but both teams would finish that season with 11 wins and trips to BCS bowl games.
Greatest Showdown: 1971 US Open
Nicklaus would have many rivals during his incredible three decades of dominance—Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf, etc.
But when his career was over, Nicklaus would later declare Trevino his greatest competition. There was a good reason for that—Nicklaus’ record 18 majors very well could have been 22, had it not been for the “Merry Mex.”
Trevino survived a Sunday charge from Nicklaus (who finished second) to win his first US Open in 1968 at Oak Hill, then won another US Open with a playoff win at Merion in 1971.
Trevino would later win his first PGA title by a single stroke over Nicklaus in 1974, but it was Trevino’s win at Muifield in the 1972 British Open that was the most significant.
Defeating Nicklaus by a stroke not only gave Trevino a repeat Open Championship victory, it ended Nicklaus' bid for the Grand Slam.
As if that wasn’t enough to frustrate the Golden Bear, Trevino won two more Senior major championships in 1990 and 1992 with Nicklaus finishing second.
Greatest Showdown: No. 1 Trojans 34, No. 9 Irish 31, 2005
The battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh has featured a handful of absolute thrillers, whether they were in South Bend or Southern California.
The 1968 tie that featured Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson and Irish legend Terry Hanratty was a great one, as was the 1978 edition in which the Trojans came back to beat Joe Montana in his last game against USC.
But the infamous “Bush push” in 2005 was the best.
A back-and-forth affair that hinged on a string of big plays (a punt return by Tom Zbikowski, a long touchdown pass from Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija and two long touchdown runs by Reggie Bush), the game ultimately came down to reigning Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart capping off a 75-yard drive with a one-yard run that was aided by a quasi-legal push from eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bush.
Greatest Showdown: 1984 NBA Finals
Like the Ewing-Olajuwon rivalry, the fabled Bird-Magic rivalry started in the NCAA Finals.
In April 1979, Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans topped Bird’s underdog Indiana State Sycamores, 75-64.
The next year, they would take their rivalry to the NBA.
From 1984-1990, Bird and Magic each claimed three league MVP awards and were generally considered the game’s greatest superstars.
But it was their postseason showdowns, in three NBA Finals over a four-year stretch, which makes it the greatest player-player rivalry in basketball history.
Magic’s Lakers fell to the Celtics in the 1984 Finals, a thrilling seven game series that came down to the wire. During the next three seasons, Magic led the Lakers to a pair of titles over Bird’s team.
Greatest Showdown: Bears 25, Cardinal 20, 1982
Harvard vs. Yale may be “The Game” but Stanford vs. Cal is “The Big Game.”
No national championships have been decided by the outcome of this one and only once have Rose Bowl implications hinged on the outcome.
But because the game is so intense, both on the field and in the stands, it is one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports.
The Stanford Band mishap in 1982 was clearly the most memorable and thrilling game in the series’ history (Don’t forget John Elway leading the Cardinal to a go-ahead field goal in the final minutes).
But there have been a handful of other classics, including the 1990 game, which also came down to a wacky finish—only this time Stanford earned the win.
Greatest Showdown: No. 6 Purdue 75, No. 3 Indiana 64, February 1987
In the 1980s and 1990s, the state of Indiana had two of the nation’s best basketball programs—no wonder the movie Hoosiers was released in 1986.
In Bloomington, Bobby Knight was the king and would win two national championships and seven Big Ten titles during those two decades.
A hundred miles north, in West Lafayette, Gene Keady put together a great program of his own, winning six regular season Big Ten championships during the 80's and 90's.
In the winter of 1987, the two met twice in the span of a month, with both teams ranked in the top 10. Fittingly, Indiana successfully defended their home court in the first showdown, while Purdue did the same a month later.
Although Purdue would finish with a great 25-5 record and took a share of the Big Ten title, they lost in the second round of the NCAA tourney, while Knight’s Hoosiers earned their third NCAA championship in 12 years.
Greatest Showdown: 2008 AFC Championship Game
Only in an extremely rare case would a rivalry less than 15 years old make it this high.
But the Steelers-Ravens are an exception.
They play in the same division, so they meet twice a year, but because they often have two of the best defenses in the NFL (five of the last 11 Defensive Player of the Year Awards have went to Steelers or Ravens), it’s a special, extremely hard-hitting affair.
Now, they’ve met in the playoffs three times in the past decade and the past two episodes (2008 AFC Championship, 2010 AFC Divisional) have been gems.
But look at how competitive their last seven regular season games are: The average margin of victory in all seven games has been 3.1 points.
Greatest Showdown: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7, Sept. 3, 2003
Obviously, the Cubs-Cardinals is one of the most important rivalries in all of sports—no one is saying otherwise.
But because there hasn’t been a single postseason contest between the two and they only have a few one-two finishes in their 100-plus years of battling, we can’t declare it one of the top three baseball rivalries of all time.
How often has the pennant hinged on a late-season Cubs-Cardinals showdown? Not very often.
But in early September 2003, St. Louis held a one-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central race, when the Cardinals went to Wrigley for an incredible five-game set.
Chicago took four of five to leap over the Cardinals and eventually claim their first division title in nearly two decades.
Greatest Showdown: Dallas Cowboys 16, New York Giants 13 (OT), Week 17, 1993
Much like the AFC West, it's too difficult to select one rivalry in this decades-old round robin.
Together these franchises have 11 Super Bowl titles and 19 NFC Championships.
But it’s not just about championships with these four clubs. Almost every one of the eight intra-divisional NFC East battles is a thriller. Whether it’s the Giants-Eagles, Redskins-Cowboys, Cowboys-Eagles, Redskins-Giants, and so on.
There are endless games to choose from when picking the greatest NFC East battle ever, including several postseason showdowns.
But the 1993 regular season final, pitting the Super Bowl champion Cowboys against the Giants is the best.
Not only did the winner that day at the Meadowlands earn the division title and the top seed in the NFC playoffs, but because Emmitt Smith (32 carries, 10 catches, 229 yards, all on a bum shoulder) gave one of the most memorable efforts in recent history, it earns special recognition.
Greatest Showdown: No. 1 Cornhuskers 35, No. 2 Sooners 31, 1971
The Big Eight turning into the Big XII in 1996 slowly watered down one of college’s best rivalries. And Nebraska heading to the Big Ten in 2011 was effectively the death knell.
Still, for decades, the annual Sooners-Huskers game was often an audition for the national championship.
The Sooners owned Nebraska throughout the 1950s, just like they owned virtually every other team in the nation. But Nebraska began to catch up in the late 1960s.
The famous “Game of the Century” in 1972 pushed the annual battle to the forefront, but with Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne becoming legends during the 1970s and 1980s, the rivalry became one of the most anticipated showdowns on the college football schedule.
Incredibly, the Sooners and Huskers have played one another nine times with both teams ranked in the Top Five or better.
Greatest Showdown: No. 2 Sooners 15, No. 1 Longhorns 15, 1984
As great as the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry was for many decades, the Red River Shootout is better—barely. And not just because there will be another edition next year.
Almost every year, both teams are ranked and lately both programs are also national championship contenders when they meet in early October.
The Sooners and Longhorns have played one another nine times with both teams ranked in the Top Five or better, matching the OU-Nebraska rivalry’s mark.
But because this game is at a neutral site each year, it’s a slightly better rivalry.
Greatest Showdown: 1952 World Series
The cross-country rivalry between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers has had plenty of great moments. They battled in 1963, 1977, 1978 and 1981. But that rivalry paled in comparison to the Dodgers-Yankees, version 1.0.
They shared the same city for decades so that helped make their first World Series in 1941 exciting. But the great games that followed is why they are ranked so high on this list.
From 1947-1956 they met an incredible six times, with the ’47, ’52, ’55 and ’56 series each needing the full seven games.
Given that ultra-competitive, long-standing history and names like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese, there has never been a better World Series rivalry in sports history.
Greatest Showdown: 1980 Winter Olympic Hockey
The Cold War brought a level of excitement and patriotism to this rivalry unlike any other in sports history.
The games themselves were important, but the victory was what mattered more—there was a “we are a superior country now” feeling when either team defeated the other in hockey, weightlifting, basketball and all the other important games.
Certainly, the 1980 Winter Olympics with the “Do you believe in miracles?” moment is the most exciting and important, but the 1972 gold medal basketball game was just as thrilling and had incredible controversy that only intensified the hatred between the two countries.
Greatest Showdown: 1999 Ryder Cup
Golf may be an individual sport, but for whatever reason, the Ryder Cup has a level of intensity that defies convention.
The bi-annual event was usually an easy win for the United States in the early years, but beginning in the early 1980s, the event became exceedingly competitive, thanks to the expansion of the British team to include all Europeans.
Since then, Europe is two wins ahead of the Americans and have embarrassed the U.S. several times.
There are a few to pick from in terms of “the greatest” Ryder Cup showdown, including Jack Nicklaus' controversial moment at the end of the 1969 edition that produced the only tie in the event’s history.
But the incredible final day comeback at Brookline remains the best and one of the most electrifying finishes in golf history.
Greatest Showdown: Midshipmen 23, Black Knights 15, 1946
Certainly, this is the most poignant rivalry in all of sports. Presidents routinely attend and the patriotism on display is unequaled.
But the game has lost some of its importance in the college football world since the 1960s—neither team is a national championship contender.
Still, the series is extremely close, with Navy holding a slight edge, 55-49-7. One of those Navy victories came in 1963, when Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach led the 8-2 Midshipmen to a 21-15 victory over the 8-2 Black Knights, two weeks after former Navy Lt. President John F. Kennedy—who was supposed to be in attendance—was assassinated.
Greatest Showdown: 1964 Stanley Cup Semifinals
The Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry is the oldest and most storied in the NHL.
Before the advent of separate conferences, they played in the Stanley Cup Finals five times, with the Maple Leafs taking three Cups at the Canadiens' expense.
They also claimed a third straight Cup in 1964, thanks in part to a thrilling win over Montreal in the semifinals in seven games.
For a stretch, from 1956-1969, the cup was housed in either Toronto or Montreal every year but one. The debate about who was the more dominant franchise added to the rivalry as well.
Since the late 1970s, the two clubs have not met in the playoffs, but because they play six times a year during the regular season, it’s still hockey’s best rivalry.
Greatest Showdown: Ali defeats Frazier in 14, October 1975
Two completely different styles inside and outside the ring made Ali-Frazier, without question, boxing’s greatest rivalry.
So did their incredible three title fights in four years.
Frazier’s upset of Ali in Madison Square Garden in 1971 lived up to its “Fight of the Century” billing, and the rematch that followed was an unbelievable contest in which Ali earned a 12-round knockout.
But the third episode of this drama, “The Thrilla In Manilla,” was the best edition. Both men had defeated the other once and it was an incredible back-and-forth through 14 rounds until the fight was stopped before the final round.
Greatest Showdown: 1962 US Open
Nicklaus' greatest on-the-course rival was Lee Trevino. And the runner-up would probably be Tom Watson, not Arnold Palmer.
But factoring in image, popularity and importance to the game as well, Nicklaus' only peer was Arnie.
Palmer won less than half (seven) as many majors as Nicklaus, had far fewer trophies and was really only “great” for a span of about 10 years.
Still, Palmer is the most beloved and important figure in the game’s history—his charm, personality and dramatic style of play won over fans that Nicklaus would never take back, no matter how many tournaments he won.
Nicklaus may have been the greatest player of the 20th century, but golf became a mainstream sport because of Palmer, so their rivalry will continue on long after their retirement.
Don’t forget, however, that the two men had a handful of epic showdowns in final round of major championships.
The 1962 Father's Day US Open playoff at Oakmont is the most memorable. But Palmer’s win at Cherry Hills in 1960 came with Nicklaus nipping at his heels.
Seven years later in the US Open at Baltusrol, both men were tied at the top heading into the final Sunday and were paired together in the final round.
Only an incredible 65 that day allowed Nicklaus to best King Arnie for his second US Open in five years.
Greatest Showdown: No. 9 Tar Heels 75, No. 1 Blue Devils 73, February 1992
College basketball’s greatest rivalry.
Being seven miles apart helps, but so does the image of Dean Smith or Roy Williams on one sideline and Mike Krzyzewski on the other.
Throughout the last quarter-century, the ACC championship and a Final Four berth has so often been awarded to one of these teams.
That gives their annual home-and-home battles an electricity that is unmatched at any other time in the college basketball regular season.
There are any number of games to choose from for the “greatest showdown,” but one of the earliest Dean Smith-Coach K matchups was the best.
With Eric Montross and Christian Laettner battling in the paint for 40 minutes, the Tar Heels upset the No. 1 Blue Devils, who would win their first-ever national championship two months later.
Greatest Showdown: No. 2 Tigers 28, No. 9 Crimson Tide 27, 2010
The Iron Bowl is not the best rivalry in college football—but it’s a terribly close race.
There was a long gap, from 1908-1947 where they did not meet, so only 75 games have been played: Alabama leads the series 40-34-1.
Nevertheless, the Tigers and Tide have played some of the most memorable college football games of all time.
But what makes this SEC showdown so special is the fact that whenever one of the two teams is in contention for a national title, their Iron Bowl opponent raises their game to a new level.
Last year, it was the Tide jumping out to a 24-0 lead (only to see Cam Newton dominate in the second half) when Auburn was undefeated and ranked second.
A year earlier, the roles were reversed, with 7-4 Auburn holding a lead over undefeated and second-ranked Alabama until the final 90 seconds.
In 1983 the Bear Bryant-less Tide came within three points of ruining the Tigers' bid for a Sugar Bowl berth. A decade earlier, in the “Punt Bama, Punt” moment, Auburn spoiled the Tide’s undefeated season.
No matter what their team’s record is, both Alabama and Auburn seem to always play their best football in that post-Thanksgiving Day game at Legion Field or Bryant-Denny Stadium, or Jordan-Hare Field Stadium.
Greatest Showdown: 2010 NFC Championship
The oldest and longest-running rivalry in the NFL is also one of the most even. The Bears lead the series 92-84-6.
For decades, the Bears and Packers have fought some of the hardest, most physical games in the NFL.
But the individual matchups also help separate this rivalry from all the others.
Who was the better middle linebacker: Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke?
Who was the better head coach: George Halas or Vince Lombardi?
Which team was better: The 1985 Bears or the 1960s Packers?
Yet for all their history and success, they had never met in the playoffs until this season.
So when they squared-off in Soldier Field with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it was their most important and exciting matchup ever—even if the game itself wasn’t as thrilling as some of their earlier clashes.
Greatest Showdown: 2010 NBA Finals
It doesn’t matter that the Celtics and Lakers don’t play in the same conference or even on the same coast. Their rivalry is by far the most memorable and important rivalry in NBA history.
The two have played an incredible 11 times in the NBA Finals. Not only that, their showdowns span three different generations.
From 1962-1969, Bill Russell’s Celtics defeated Jerry West’s Lakers in the Finals six times.
That trend continued into the 1980's, when Larry Bird’s Celtics bested Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. But the Lakers finally toppled the Celtics a year later and would do so again in 1987.
The rivalry stayed pretty dormant until 2008, when Kevin Garnett, Paul Peirce and Ray Allen brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Boston, only to see the Lakers take it right back from them two years later, in an incredibly close seven-game series that Los Angeles took in the final minutes.
Greatest Showdown: 1951 three-game National League playoff
In terms of greatest head-to-head matchups, the East Coast edition of the Dodgers-Giants has the edge, slightly, over its West Coast counterpart.
When the Giants overcame a 13.5-game deficit to tie the Dodgers in 1951, it was one of the most incredible feats in baseball history. And Bobby Thomson’s home run was a perfect end to that comeback, the greatest in the 20th century.
But with the seamless transition to California and the NorCal vs. SoCal rivalry contributing to the animosity, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry took on even more juice. Just ask Jonny Roseboro and Juan Marichal.
And because the Dodgers and Giants, either in California or New York, have battled so often for pennants and division titles (1951, 1959, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1971, 1997, 2004), their rivalry has been much more significant in terms of deciding championships than their fellow NL teams, the Cubs and Cardinals.
Greatest Showdown: 2004 ALCS
Is Red Sox-Yankees the best rivalry in baseball history? Yes. Is it the best rivalry in sports today? Yes.
But because the rivalry was so one-sided from the 1920s to the late 1970s (aside from a few seasons of Ted Williams late-1940s teams), it’s got to be knocked down to the silver medal position on this list.
Of course the Red Sox sin of selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees adds an element that no other rivalry can contend with.
But on the diamond, the Yankees and Red Sox have also provided some of the most dramatic and thrilling moments in baseball history.
The 1949 AL pennant came down to a one-game Sox-Yanks showdown. The same was true three decades later when Bucky Dent made a name for himself.
Still, it wasn’t until the last 15 years that BOTH teams were consistently elite for an extended period of time. Beginning in the late 1990s, every regular season game took on a playoff feel, which multiplied exponentially in the 1999, 2003 and 2004 ALCS.
The whole “Evil Empire” quote added some more fire, but the back-and-forth jockeying for free agents (or free-agents-to-be at the trade deadline) is what keeps the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry a 365-day-a-year spectacle.
Greatest Showdown: No. 1 Buckeyes 42, No. 2 Wolverines 39, 2006
Yes, Ohio State has owned the Wolverines the last seven years. And some of those showdowns have been horrible, like last year’s and the 2008 edition.
Still, for decades the Wolverines and Buckeyes have been at the top of the college football world and their annual game often determines the Big Ten’s representative for the Rose Bowl, the ultimate prize in college football, prior to the BCS.
Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler put the game and their respective programs on top of the sports world in the late 1960s and 1970s. But even without those two icons, the game has remained the biggest on the regular season college schedule.
Nine Heisman Trophies have been awarded thanks to dominant or memorable performances in this regular season finale, like Desmond Howard’s punt return touchdown/Heisman pose, Charles Woodson completely shutting down Buckeyes star David Boston and Troy Smith’s four-touchdown performance when the top-ranked, undefeated Buckeyes survived a second-half comeback by the second-ranked undefeated Wolverines at The Horseshoe.