America's Top Sports Rivalries: The Best in Baseball, Football and Basketball

Derek HartCorrespondent IMay 18, 2011

Perhaps the most fun and exciting part of being a sports fan is the rivalry one's team has with another team.

Though it can go too far, it fuels passion and pride with everyone involved, and I don't think anyone can picture sports without them.

I recently gave some thought to what I'd consider the top rivalries in the U.S. Here's what I came up with...




Number of games played (going into 2011): 2,098

First game: April 26, 1901

All-Time Series: 1,125-940-14, Yankees

Postseason Series: 11-8, Yankees

If I had to pick one rivalry in American sports that is the most intense, it would be this one.

Located 200 miles apart, these are two teams that have pretty much hated each other for 110 years, and always will.

As for the fans, let's put it like this: 

During a post-Super Bowl parade and rally for the New England Patriots, even though it was the wrong sport and they were celebrating a football championship, fans were still chanting loudly "Yankees suck!", still obsessed with hating the navy blue pinstripes. 

The animosity famously started in 1920 when the Red Sox, in one of the most shortsighted moves in history, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

New York went on to their first dynasty and several more after that, winning the World Series 27 times while igniting a "Curse of the Bambino" that wasn't broken until 2004.

Other memorable moments in this hatred include:

The Joe DiMaggio-led Yankees beating the Red Sox the last two days of the 1949 season to win the American League pennant.

Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee and Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles brawling at home plate in 1976, and...

Bucky Dent hitting a game-winning home run in a one-game playoff to decide the American League East Division in 1978 at Fenway Park, after Boston had a 14.5 game lead in August, shocking all of Red Sox Nation.

Even MTV got involved, featuring a True Life segment involving a couple in which the girlfriend of a Red Sox fan was a diehard Yankee supporter and their dealings with that, including arguing over how their apartment would be decorated and taking each other to their fan base's get-togethers.

If that doesn't illustrate how heated this rivalry is, nothing will.



Number of games played: 75

First game: February 22, 1893

All-Time Series: 40-34-1, Alabama

Longest Streaks: Alabama—9 (1973-1981), Auburn—6 (2001-2007)

"Roll Tide!" vs. "War Eagle!"

This was a very tough decision to make, as I know full well the importance and passion of other rivalries such as Michigan vs. Ohio State and Army vs. Navy.

However, I went with the "Iron Bowl" because of the intensity level that goes on 365 days a year, not just the week or the day of the game.

The fact that college football's last two national champions are involved doesn't hurt, either.

That these schools didn't play each other for a 40-year period because they couldn't agree over per diem and where the referees should be from was another deciding factor here; imagine two schools hating each other so much that they went four decades without meeting.

Not to mention that for nearly fifty years, Alabama and Auburn faced each other on a neutral site, Legion Field in Birmingham.

Three moments stand out in this rivalry:

"Punt Bama Punt" in 1972, when Auburn, down 16-3 in the fourth quarter, blocked two Alabama punts for touchdowns to beat the Crimson Tide 17-16 and end their national title hopes in a devastating fashion.

Auburn, being undefeated, top ranked, and playing in their enemy's stadium in Tuscaloosa, coming back from 24 points down in 2010 to beat Alabama 28-27 in the biggest comeback in the Tigers' history, propelling them to the national championship a month later, and...

In a perfect illustration of how a rivalry can go too far, earlier this year a Crimson Tide fan was arrested for poisoning a sacred Auburn landmark, the huge tree on Toomer's Corner where students and fans roll toilet paper after every Tiger win.

You know a rivalry is hateful when even a tree is a casualty.




Number of games played: 182

First game: November 27, 1921

All-Time Series: 92-84-6, Bears

Longest Streaks: Packers—10 (1994-1998), Bears—8 (1985-1988)

When the casual sports fan thinks about football rivalries, college are what usually come to mind.

But as this is the National Football League's oldest rivalry, I'd put the Bears vs. Packers up there with Alabama vs. Auburn, Army vs. Navy or any other collegiate hatred out there.

The series reached a peak this past season, when the two teams met in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in Chicago in only their second postseason meeting, the first one being held the week after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 14, 1941.

Chicago won that day 33-14, and the Packers, being a low seed who had to play all of their playoff games on the road, returned the favor 70 years later, beating the Bears 21-14 on their way to eventually claiming their fourth Super Bowl title.

This series has had some intense moments, including...

The first ejection in NFL history for fighting, which happened on November 23, 1924.

Charles Martin, a Green Bay defensive tackle that had a bounty on key Chicago players, illustrated by printing their numbers on his towel, made good on his threat on Bear quarterback Jim McMahon when he separated his shoulder on purpose after an interception on November 23, 1986, and...

If one can believe this, a fervent Green Bay fan was fired from his job at a car dealership in Chicago the day after his Packers beat the Bears for the NFC title this past season.

The crime? Wearing a Green Bay Packer tie to work. Apparently his bosses felt that he was rubbing it in and putting salt in the wounds, but firing him was going a bit too far; they could have simply ordered him to take the tie off, but were probably too upset.

That incident proved to me how intense this rivalry is.




Number of games played: 232

First game: January 24, 1920

All-Time Series: 131-101, North Carolina

Let's face it: when it comes to rivalries on the college hardwood, nothing comes close to this one.

This is where the royal blue of Duke clashes with the light "Carolina" blue twice a year, oftentimes three times if they meet during their conference tournament.

An ancient hatred is inevitable when the two schools are a mere eight miles apart, which Duke and North Carolina are.

As well as the fact that they have won 47 Atlantic Coast Conference titles (North Carolina leads with 28), 36 ACC Tournament titles (Duke leads with 19), and nine national championships between them; the Tar Heels have claimed five of those banners, while the Blue Devils have four.

HBO thought enough of this rivalry to produce a documentary of it, Battle For Tobacco Road, in 2009.

That should say something, as well as Sports Illustrated On Campus naming Carolina vs. Duke the second biggest overall rivalry in college sports in the November 18, 2003 issue, and ESPN naming it the third greatest sports rivalry in North America in 2000.

These illustrations of this animosity sum it up, I believe...

In the early 1960's the Blue Devils' Art Heyman, the National Player of the Year, brawled with the Tar Heels' Larry Brown, who would go on to be a well-known college and NBA coach, on the court during a game.

The day before the first game between the schools, The Chronicle, Duke's student newspaper, prints a spoof of their UNC counterparts called "the Daily Tar Hole". Whoever wins that first game gets to paint the other school's newspaper masthead in their colors.

Not to mention the infamous Cameron Crazies at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, who are undoubtedly in top form whenever the Tar Heels come; it's impossible to mention North Carolina and Duke without mentioning that bunch.

It's safe to say that college basketball would not be college basketball without these two institutions.



Number of games played, regular season: 274

Number of games played, postseason: 74

First game: November 9, 1948

All-Time Series, regular season: 153-121, Celtics

All-Time Series, postseason: 43-31, Celtics

All-Time Series, overall: 196-152, Celtics


For the same reason that nothing comes close to the North Carolina vs. Duke rivalry in college, noting comes close to the Lakers and the Celtics in the National Basketball Association.

The only real difference is that the teams are 3,000 miles apart instead of eight miles apart.

With Boston winning 17 titles and their Laker counterparts winning 16 in Minneapolis and L.A., these two franchises have combined to win more than half of the NBA championships offered.

Many factors contribute to this rivalry being the best in the pros, including the dimensions...

There's an East Coast grit and tradition clashing with a West Coast glamour and luxury involved, plus it had a bit of a racial tint to it in the 1980s due to the fact that many of the Celtic stars in that decade were white, while the Lakers were overwhelmingly African American.

Those things would have been enough to fuel this animosity, but then one must consider that these two iconic teams have met for the NBA title 12 times, the Celtics winning nine, including in 2008, while the Lakers won in 1985, 1987, and 2010 in an epic seven game Finals.

And speaking of the 80s, it was during that decade when the rivalry reached its peak in my view, with Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Lakers meeting the Larry Bird-led Celtics three times in the NBA Finals, with Magic's Lakers taking two championships in '85 and '87.

It was also during that time when the animosity reared its head by hard fouls, taunts and near-fights, such as Boston's Kevin McHale slamming down Kurt Rambis to the floor in the 1984 Finals, which also featured Cedric Maxwell making a choke sign at James Worthy and a Laker fan throwing a cup of beer at M.L. Carr after Game 6.

For these reasons, just as college hoops wouldn't be college hoops without the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels, the NBA wouldn't be the NBA without the Lakers and the Celtics.

I know that many people will not agree with me on my choices here, particularly with regard to college football, but that's OK.

In the meantime, I hope that what I've complied in this article will provide some enjoyment to fans.