Rivalries: ESPN Countdown Got It Wrong
This afternoon, ESPN had a countdown of the ten greatest rivalries in sports, a list that included Bruins/Habs, UConn/Tennessee, Harvard/Yale, Barça/Madrid, Ohio State/Michigan, Packers/Bears, Lakers/Celtics, Army/Navy, Duke/UNC, and Yanks/Sox.
Whereas many of the rivalries picked deserve to be on there, there are a few glaring omissions. I also disagree with their ranking of them (Duke-UNC at #2? Are you ranking rivalries or selling Dicky V's cable package?). So here are a few rivalries, in no particular order, that I think deserve to be in the conversation.
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The original rivalry. The boat race has been contested since 1829 and annually since 1856. Their cricket game has a similar longevity, predating Yanks-Sox by a good three generations. The two are also rivals in many other sports, such as rugby, hockey and track. In each case, the head-to-head game is "the game" in England and arguably the entire Commonwealth. To say nothing of the fact that the amateur tradition was largely a product of athletes from their schools.
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My apologies to ESPN, but the biggest rivalry in baseball isn't Yanks-Sox. It's Dodgers-Giants. The rivalry has been renewed more often than any other in sports, almost 2,200 times. And yet the advantage for the Giants is only a few games, making it one of the most evenhanded sports rivalries.
The Shot Heard Round the World and many other stellar plays are a result of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, as is, unfortunately, the beating of a Giant fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. This rivalry is even more amazing when you consider that halfway through its history, both teams picked up and moved across the country.
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Mike Wilbon must not be happy that his employers left off one of his favorite rivalries. Like Dodgers-Giants and Packers-Bears, this rivalry relies on geographical proximity and divisional animosity. This rivalry has also been renewed over 2,000 times, and surprisingly, Chicago has the edge. Where else could you have a rivalry that fights for the rights to Springfield and Champaign?
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It's a pity that when ESPN was picking rivalries, they didn't pick any of the great international rivalries. And when you talk international rivalries, you have to mention these two. A victory against their rival often means more to them than a Copa America win. And even-handedness is a part of this rivalry...as of this year, each side had scored 150 goals against the other, and nearly a quarter of the matches have ended in draws.
Australia-New Zealand, Any Sport
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Looking internationally, these two Oceanic countries (the only competitive countries in the Pacific) don't have much love for each other either. And this rivalry extends to many sports. Perhaps its fiercest rivalry is in rugby, a rivalry that has been renewed for over a century.
UCLA-USC, Any Sport
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No love is lost in the only local derby between two Div I-A powerhouses. The only rivalry where you can drive down your street and see both pennants waving. Their annual football game is arguably one of the biggest LA sporting events aside of the Rose Bowl Game. And it's not just in football...USC played spoiler to one of UCLA's long basketball streaks, and the two have strong rivalries in "non-revenue" sports. The two schools have combined for 200 NCAA national championships, first and third all-time among major college programs
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If you're mentioning college sports rivalries (and between this and ESPN's list, this will be the eighth), you have to have a Historically Black College rivalry in there, as well as a Division I-AA rivalry. Grambling-Southern is arguably the best in both respects. The game in the Superdome is the only nationally televised I-AA rivalry game, and is also noteworthy for the Battle of the Bands that occurs at the football game's halftime.
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People say everything's bigger in Texas. When they say that, they're probably referring to football. And in Texas, one of the biggest football games is its rivalry with Oklahoma (which, to be fair, is in another state, but still has a lot of Texans on its football team).
The rivalry began before Oklahoma was a state and has been renewed over 100 times, with many of those times having Cotton, Orange or BCS Bowl implications. The rivalry is also one of a handful to be renewed at a neutral site...the Cotton Bowl with the fans split at the 50-yard line, and the Texas State Fair going on in the background.
Your Hometown Rivalry
Yes, your hometown rivalry. The one few outside of your region have heard of, but still means more to you than any of the rivalries on this list. The D-III college rivalry that's been renewed for 100 years. The intercity basketball game between the Franciscan and Jesuit schools. The smalltown Texas Friday night showdown. Here's to rivalries.