com•pe•ti•tion: the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success) that someone else is also trying to get or win
ri•val•ry: a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other
fierce: having or showing a lot of strong emotion: very strong or intense
The spirit of competition, the desire to win, the goal to be better than your neighbor, friend or foe – these are some of the reasons we play sports and why we support our favorite teams. Now when you add the word “rivalry” the competition factor ramps up a notch; add the adjective “fierce” and it’s a whole new level. There are competitions and rivalries in all sports but only in a few can you elevate them to Fierce Rivalries.
In the US, sports have been around for many years and we have some great rivalries! Here are some of the best & fiercest:
- Red Sox vs. Yankees – Any rivalry that has a curse at its core has to be amazing. Their first meeting was in 1901 & has been made famous when the Red Sox traded star player Babe Ruth to the rival Yankees, resulting in 86 years of World Series frustration for Red Sox fans during which the Yankees won 26 championships. The curse was finally broken in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series, dramatically beating the Yankees along the way. Plus, the Red Sox find a way to bean more Yankees players than vice-versa; if A-Rod ever gets back on the field expect plenty more. Their first regular season meeting is April 10th in NY.
- Dodgers vs. Giants – The Los Angeles, San Francisco rivalry is a close second to the Boston, New York rivalry previously mentioned as it began in greater NY and has continued as SoCal vs NorCal. The two teams open their seasons against each other on April 4th, lets just hope beanballs are the worst thing we see.
- Duke vs. North Carolina – College hoops has some great matchups and great rivalries, but Duke vs UNC Chapel Hill is a fierce rivalry born out of proximity. These two universities are located just 10 miles apart down Hwy 15 and they have been playing each other for over 100 years. Both have had tremendous success on the basketball court but UNC has the edge in the series 132-104. But, Duke fans have the edge in the stands, creating Krzyzewski-ville and the best home atmosphere in college basketball. They play Wed Feb 12 at UNC and then Sat March 8 at Duke for the final regular season game. Plus, you don’t have to sleep outside in a tent to get tickets!
- Ohio State vs. Michigan – Rivalry weekend during college football season is awesome – FSU vs Florida, Clemson vs South Carolina, Cal vs Stanford, ASU vs Arizona, UCLA vs USC – but the biggie is Michigan vs Ohio State which started in 1897. Michigan leads the series 58-45-6 and the series is highlighted by the “Ten-Year War” from 1969-1978 in which both programs had great success & were led by legendary and fiery coaches Woody Hayes & Bo Schembechler.
- Alabama vs. Auburn – Honorable mention to the Iron Bowl with Auburn-Alabama which had one of the wildest and most spectacular finishes ever this past season. Even trees aren’t safe when these schools face off.
NFL: The NFL has some good rivalries but I’m not sure if any really stand out right now. The 49ers vs Seahawks has taken on fierce qualities but only over the last few years. Green Bay vs Chicago or anyone vs Dallas Cowboys also come to mind. The best rivalry to come here might be kickers vs the NFL…4 pts for a 50+ FG or no more PATs?! Or the fans vs Roger Goodell, that gets fierce.
- Lakers vs. Celtics – This rivalry provides the most juice with both teams having so much success over the years and then Magic vs Bird taking it and the NBA to a new level. But it’s hard to talk too much smack now as they only play 2 times per year and are not going to see each other in the Finals for quite some time. Honorable mentions over the years include Detroit vs Chicago during the Bad Boys vs Jordan years and Heat vs Knicks provided fireworks in the 90s. The fiercest rivalry over the last few years just might be the fans vs Commissioner David Stern…Seattle-area fans are not shedding a tear he’s retired.
- Bruins vs. Canadiens – The old Original 6 rivalries feature the only 6 teams that were around in the 40s-60s, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Detroit, NY Rangers & Toronto Maple Leafs but the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is often considered one of the greatest in sports. Going on on a limb to say it’s definitely not the LA Kings vs Anaheim Ducks.
- Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers – For only being in existence since 1996, Major League Soccer has embraced its rivalries and has some solid ones. NY Red Bulls vs DC United, California Clasico with LA Galaxy vs San Jose, the SuperClasico between LA Galaxy & Chivas USA & the Texas Derby between FC Dallas & Houston Dynamo to name a few; but one stands out supreme: Sounders vs Timbers. Both teams have roots dating back to the old NASL and long have had a city rivalry with Seattle seen as the big brother up the I-5 freeway. Its bitter, hotly contested and has been called as good as any rivalry seen in the English Premier League. The atmosphere at each stadium is seen as not only among the best in soccer in the USA & North America but anywhere in the world. Seattle continues to set attendance records & averaged over 38,000/game in 2013. The fans are some of the loudest and most creative anywhere with Portland fans buying Timbers billboards near Seattle’s Quest Field and amazing Tifos (an Italian word that describes the fans’ extravagant, choreographed displays) unveiled by both sets of fans. My favorite is when the Timbers fans had an image of Timber Joey cut down the Seattle Space Needle.
And with that we’ll segue into the fiercest rivalries in the world…which occur in soccer. Soccer and its rivalries are different around the world than they are here in the US for quite a few factors such as geography, religion, political views, social class, nationalism, etc. And in most countries there is only professional soccer, no basketball, football, baseball or college sports for the passionate fan to pledge their allegiances.
In England rivals are often separated by their neighborhood. London’s biggest teams occupy regions of the city: Arsenal & Tottenham in North London, Chelsea & Fulham in West London, West Ham plus Millwall in East/South London and these derby matches divide neighborhoods and families. Manchester of course has United and City with ManU enjoying many years of success on the field and in toying with their less-than stellar neighbors. But that has changed as ManCity have become a powerhouse the last few years. Liverpool vs ManU is one of the oldest and greatest rivalries but the fiercest in all of Great Britain has to be Celtic-Rangers (The Old Firm) in Glasgow, Scotland. They are the biggest and most successful teams in Scotland but it goes beyond sporting measures. At stake are religious implications (Celtic=Catholics; Rangers=Protestants), politics (Loyalists vs Republicans), national identity (British vs Scots Irish) and social ideology (Conservatism vs Socialism). Players have come and gone, books have been written, songs have been sung, and battles have been waged, on and off the field. This one is not for the faint of heart.
Across the rest of Europe there are many testy and tasty rivalries. In Spain its Barcelona vs Real Madrid (El Clasico), with Real Madrid representing Spanish nationalism and Barca representing Catalonia, a region seeking independence from Spain. The first meeting was in 1902 and to this day Barcelona will never wear white in their uniforms as Real Madrid are famous for their all white uniforms earning them the nicknames of Los Blancos or Los Meringues (All Whites). It’s great to see the players of the best national team in the world, Spain, square off in these tempestuous clashes which of course also feature the 2 best players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Leonel Messi. El Clasico is coming up March 23rd – don’t miss it!
In Italy the Milan Derby (Derby Della Madonnina) of AC Milan-Inter Milan features teams that share the same stadium and first faced each other in 1908. Also big is the Rome Derby (Derby della capitale) of Roma vs Lazio, a fierce rivalry called more than just a game by locals that started in 1929. Serbia: Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan Belgrade (The Eternal Derby or The Belgrade Derby) – attendances as high as 108,000. Turkey: Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray – (Intercontinental Derby) – over 100 years old & very intense with a history of violence as the clubs represent the European & Asian sectors of Istanbul. Greece: Olympiakos vs Panathanaikos (Eternal Enemies) – working class vs the upper class.
In South America each country has its league rivalries and most are fierce, but the first standout is in Brazil, the Fla-Flu, Flamengo vs Fluminese which occur at the 95,000+ capacity Maracana in Rio with a world-record attendance set at 194,603 in 1963. And the other just may be the fiercest in the world: River Plate vs Boca Juniors in Argentina. The Superclasico began in 1908 with River Plate representing the upper class of Buenos Aires and Boca Juniors the team for the working classes of Buenos Aires. Games are known for the passion of both sets of fans, amazing banners, passionate chants, fans dancing so hard the stadiums bounce and endless streamers, flares and fireworks. Both stadiums are epic cathedrals of the sport with River occupying El Monumental which is often the “home” of the Argentina National Team and Boca playing at the “Candy Box”, La Bombonera – arguably one of the best places to see a game – I’ve been for a non-Superclasico and its all its billed up to be…amazing.
With options comes debate; So, what is your favorite rivalry? Tell us in the comments below.
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