Ranking the Best Rivalries from the '90s

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2014

Ranking the Best Rivalries from the '90s

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    David Longstreath/Associated Press

    There have been some great rivalries in sports over the years, but one decade that provided some of the best was the '90s.

    As a child of the decade, I remember watching some of the great stars of the era like Michael Jordan, Troy Aikman and Greg Maddux hold off some of their biggest competitors each season, preventing future Hall of Famers a chance at a title.

    That's why I wanted to go down memory lane by ranking the sports rivalries that made the '90s sports scene so great, with a few of these still going on today.

12. Reggie Miller vs. Spike Lee

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    It might be rare to see an athlete and fan go at it as former Indiana Pacers sharpshooter Reggie Miller and filmmaker/New York Knicks fan Spike Lee did during the '90s. But these guys made the Pacers-Knicks rivalry one of the best in the NBA during the decade.

    Each time Lee initiated some sort of smack talk toward Miller, Reggie would jaw back, using whatever Lee was saying as motivation to put a dagger in Lee's beloved Knicks.

    It was as if Miller was just trying to shut Spike up with each clutch shot he hit, turning or gesturing toward the director and staring him down as if to say, "You just really messed up."

    A staple in the floor seats at Madison Square Garden for decades, Lee still talks with opposing players, but he doesn't come as full force as he did when No. 31 for the Pacers was out there, with the mutual respect that both had for one another.

11. Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees

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    While the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees only met two times in the '90s during the postseason, the two teams epitomized a winning culture and a bitter rivalry in Major League Baseball.

    With the Indians winning five Central Division titles from 1995-99 and the Yanks making five straight postseasons in the same time frame, these two always seemed to be the favorites from the American League heading into October.

    And everything that New York embodied is what Cleveland wanted.

    Both teams fielded multiple All-Stars each season, scored at will, had solid pitching and have great history. But the Bronx Bombers had the payroll, and more importantly, the championships.

    Although the Tribe did defeat the Yanks once during the '90s, their rivals often got the best of them, earning three titles during the decade while the Indians sat on their couch and wondered what could have been.

10. Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi

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    Two of the greatest American tennis players ever to swing a racket, former players Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi always seemed to give the other his best shot—with Sampras typically coming out on top.

    And while many associate these two together, don't think that everything was great between them.

    While Agassi did finish his career with eight Grand Slam singles titles, Sampras finished with a then-record 14 trophies, making sure Andre was always playing in Sampras' shadow and trying to earn respect.

    For further proof of the rivalry between the two, look no further than Agassi's autobiography from a few years ago, where the player criticized Sampras. Even after that, the two made things super awkward at a charity event, proving that this feud might not have died even after they both hung it up.

9. UConn Huskies vs. Tennessee Volunteers Women's Basketball

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    When it comes to first-class programs in women's college basketball, there aren't any that even come close to the UConn Huskies and Tennessee Volunteers.

    With 17 titles combined since UConn head coach Geno Auriemma took over the program in 1985, the Huskies coach and former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt had quite the head-to-head battles. They met eight times in the '90s and split the series 4-4.

    And while one of the UConn wins came against UT in the national title game in 1995, Tennessee copped some revenge later on in the decade by beating the Huskies in both the Final Four in 1996 and the Elite Eight in 1997.

    The two schools aren't as bitter toward each other since Summitt retired in 2012, but they're still some of the top teams in women's hoops—and remain must-see TV whenever they play.

8. Arsenal vs. Manchester United

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    With historic club Manchester United capturing six Premier League titles from 1992-99, the Reds proved to be the class of European soccer during the decade.

    And no other team tried to knock the team off of its perch as much as Arsenal did, with these two clubs finishing 1-2 in four straight years, three coming from 1997-99.

    While Manchester United did take home first place in two of those years, Arsenal held its own by capturing the 1997 title, leaving its rivals in the rear-view mirror while doing so.

    Even with new players on both teams, the feud continued into the 2000s thanks to some defining moments, making the Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry one that isn't going away anytime soon.

7. Florida State Seminoles vs. Miami Hurricanes Football

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    Wide right.

    That's all anyone typically remembers when thinking about the Florida State-Miami (FL) rivalry, and with good reason, as two meetings in the '90s were determined by a field-goal attempt that sailed right.

    Constantly competing against each other both on the gridiron and on the recruiting trail, these two teams had games during the decade that were some of the most epic that college football has ever seen, with hard luck typically falling on the Seminoles.

    And while the Hurricanes got the best of their in-state rivals during the 1990s, Florida State is busy trying to defend its national title from last season—while also winning five straight against the Canes—proving that the team is ahead in the arms race in the current state between the two.

6. Atlanta Braves vs. New York Yankees

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    As big as the New York Yankees-Cleveland Indians rivalry was during the '90s, the one between the Yanks and the Atlanta Braves might have been even bigger—as world titles were on the line whenever these two got together.

    After reaching the World Series five times during the decade, the Atlanta Braves only ended up with one ring—beating the aforementioned Indians during the 1995 season.

    But, if not for New York, Atlanta may have ended up with a few more, as the two played in both the 1996 and 1999 Fall Classics, with the Bronx Bombers winning both meetings for their 23rd and 25th world championships at the time.

    Both teams can make the claim to be the team of the decade, but the Yanks can flash their three World Series rings to really state their case over the Braves—especially in head-to-head matchups.

5. Kentucky Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devils

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    As a graduate of the University of Kentucky, I can tell you firsthand that the rivalry with the Duke Blue Devils runs deep—even before the 1990s.

    And I have a drunken bar-gument from a night in college to prove it.

    More than slurred words and debate, though, these two men's basketball programs really dislike each other on the court, too, with both vying for the title as the dominant team in college hoops.

    Both can stake their claims, but in the '90s, the Dukies won two of the three meetings between the schools, including arguably the greatest tournament game ever played in 1992.

    Yeah, that was the game when Blue Devils star Christian Laettner stepped on UK's Aminu Timberlake yet earned just a technical foul.

    The rest, as they say, is history, as Laettner hit the game-winner to send Duke to the Final Four.

4. Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson

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    Although things might have cooled off a little bit between former heavyweight boxers Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield—with Tyson actually presenting the latter at the Boxing Hall of Fame earlier this year—don't think that there wasn't a lot of tension between the two 20 years ago.

    With the two stepping in the ring in back-to-back years in 1996 and 1997 to hold the title of the heavyweight champion of the world, the fighters were often trying to intimidate the other for years.

    After Holyfield won the first bout by TKO over Tyson to regain the heavyweight belt, the rematch was all the talk.

    And seeing how Tyson ended up biting Holyfield's ears twice, it's safe to say that the bout lived up to the billing—and set a new precedent for two rivals in a sport that was still in its glory days.

3. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings

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    One of the best rivalries in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings resurrected the feud in the '90s, meeting two times in the postseason and having a number of dust-ups during their regular-season meetings.

    With Detroit reaching the Stanley Cup Final three times and winning it twice during the decade, the Blackhawks coveted what the Red Wings had yet could never obtain it, as Chicago made it to the Final once but lost in the 1991-92 season to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    As both teams had all-time greats like Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman during that 10-year period, these two franchises always gave their best when up against each other.

2. Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    With these two teams combining to win five Super Bowl titles in the '90s—many of which came after beating one another in the NFC title game—it's apparent that there wasn't a more intense NFL rivalry than the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers during the decade.

    Each had future Hall of Fame quarterback-wide receiver duos—in fact, San Fran had two—with Joe Montana and Steve Young spinning it to Jerry Rice and Troy Aikman tossing it to Michael Irvin while handing it off to all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith.

    As several of the star players even traded the Dallas star on their helmet for the other team and vice versa, it just added fuel to the fire in the heated feud between the teams.

    And thanks to three straight NFC title game matchups in which the Boys went 2-1 against the Niners, this was the premier matchup in the league during the middle of the '90s.

1. Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks

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    I've mentioned a few times throughout this piece how one team almost seemed jealous of what the other had—which was, mostly, championships.

    And in the '90s, there wasn't a team that was more bitter about the success of its rival than the New York Knicks toward the Chicago Bulls, as they had the rings, the All-Stars and the head coach that won them six titles during the decade.

    Most of those titles came at the mercy of New York, as the Bulls and Knicks met five times during the decade, with Chicago winning four times—each ending with a championship—preventing Patrick Ewing and the scrappy Knicks from ever winning a title during that stretch.

    In fact, the only time New York was able to reach the NBA Finals was 1994-95, which coincided with Michael Jordan's first year away from basketball—so even that was a little bit fluky.

    From fights to hard fouls to literally head-to-head arguments, any time these two played there was no telling what might happen, but it was definitely going to require a lot of blood, sweat and bruises afterward.