What makes for a great rivalry? (sports, mostly)

I’m not a sports fan, so I don’t understand people who obsess over the wins and losses of their favorite teams anyway. But, I was wondering what is it that makes people put bumper stickers on their cars saying “My two favorite teams are X and whoever’s playing Y” where X and Y are known rivals.

What makes teams rivals? Geographic proximity? Similar records? Frequent competition? Knowing people who root for the other team?

Discussion welcome regardless of sport and regardless of level(er, I don’t care if the teams are pro or college or something else). And if you can think of non-sports related rivalries, feel free to toss them in as well.

Each side needs to have kicked the other side’s ass. Can’t have a rivalry if one side is doing all of the winning.

A great rivalry involves geographic proximity, so there are fans of the other team to mock about town. But more than anything else, it needs a great team from a wonderful area that is unlucky (Dodgers) vs a crap, over-rated, whiny-assed team from a lousy area that has the Devil’s own luck sometimes (Giants).


Well, the geographic proximity is probably your best bet. In Chicago, the two greatest are the Cubs v Cardinals (pretty close, I think the Milwaukee Bewers might be closer, but they suck so much that it’s a nonissue) and the Bears v Packers (the closest team).

I know in the NE, it’s the Red Sox v. Yankees, two of the oldest teams and while the Yankees seem to win a disproportionate numbers of World Seires, the Red Sox are probably the most famous losers (seeming to come in second the most often).

Well, the first thing that’s important is history. A good sustained rivalry has to have some history to it. Some key moments that come in important situations - a championship game, a pennant race, etc.

Second is frequency of play. If two teams don’t play each other for a long time, then the rivalry loses it. That’s why the Celts and Lakes aren’t really rivals too much now, and it’s why there aren’t a lot of cross league rivalries in baseball.

Third is geographic location. The closer, the better.

Fourth, natural rivalries in other areas - other sports, economic rivalries, whatever.

Four keys to a good rivalry.

With the obvious exception of the Yankees vs. the Red Sox. With that one, sheer history seems to outweigh the Yankees’ overwhelming number of wins. That, and Red Sox fans are scrappers and will never give up.

Another issue is era and/or playoffs - Neurotik touched on this with the Lakers vs. Celtics. For a stretch of time, two teams often meet in the playoffs where they wouldn’t meet during the regular season. Those matchups become the stuff of legend - for me, it includes the SF Forty-Niners vs. the Dallas Cowboys…

Sometimes it can be personalities such as Bird vs. Johnson or Williams vs. Dimaggio. Traditions of excellence and importance of games comes into play such as Michigan vs. Ohio State and UCLA vs. Southern Cal. But I’d say the most important factor is geographic proximity.

College football rivalries are often born of having only two large universities in a state, so that most of the people you know are naturally loyal to one or the other. That’s an aspect of geographic proximity, but more of a social issue. And a college football rivalry will always have its one game a year, which keeps it fresh.

Plus, it helps if your local newspapers take sides. Ideally, when the paper’s team loses, the headline should be “Team X Cruelly Cheated of Victory by Team Y and a Vengeful God”, and when their team wins there’s a whole section about it. Then everybody can either gloat or sneer about it. (“The State” my ass.)

I have to say, as a student at the University of Tennessee and fan of our sports, the biggest factors in our rivalries are those of either 1) longest standing or 2) really important games.

In football, there probably isn’t a team in the SEC we don’t have a rivalry with. Alabama, Florida and Kentucky are our most storied rivalries. Then there’s Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina…the list goes on. They go back to the early 1900’s. Vanderbilt is our in-state rival in spite of the fact that we haven’t lost to the Commodores since 1981 (knock on wood). The papers really feed the feud with Vandy. Tennessee/Kentucky had a really neat tradition for a lot of years of passing back and forth a beer barrel that was half orange, half blue for our respective colors. The winner of the game took the barrel home and their colors were on top until the next year. Unfortunately several years ago a few Kentucky players were killed in a drunk driving accident. In light of that, the beer barrel became pretty distasteful and the tradition was discontinued. We still sting a little from a couple of sound beatings by Nebraska. We have a long-standing if little played rivalry with Maryland Terps. They have the upper-hand in the series dating back to the 1951. UT went undefeated, won the national title and the next week lost to Maryland. Good thing the title came first.

Lady Vols basketball’s main rival is UConn. We’ve met in the NCAA championship several years in a row now and lost every time. It’s heartbreaking. Otherwise we have a great competition with Texas and Louisiana Tech. To a lesser extent, there is Old Dominion. Of course, we love to play Vandy. That is usually a hell of a game to watch.

So yeah, big games and old times. Proximity helps a lot. Probably more here than anyone cared to read.

Of course Turkey Curse failed to mention that Tennessee bought out of its obligation to play Memphis at the Liberty Bowl this year. Why? Because the Tigers have a football team this year that just might put a whoop’in on the Orangies – And you can’t have that, it might hurt in-state recruiting. :wink:

A nice rivalry was reinforced in the AFC North when it was organized. All of the teams there hate each other, and it all goes back to the original Steelers-Browns rivalry.

The Steelers and Browns have been rivals in the NFL for eons. In 1968, the Cincinatti Bengals were organized as an AFC team by Paul Brown, who had won championships with the Browns in the 1950’s. He went so far as to make the uniforms look the same as the Cleveland uniforms. Steeler fans loved this - we now had, essentially, two sets of Cleveland Browns to hate.

Several years back, Art Model up and moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, renaming them the Ravens. Cleveland was granted an expansion team a couple of years later. And, when the AFC North was reorganized, all of these teams were put in the same division.

This was great, in my opinion. The teams all hate each other, and the fans all hate each other worse. Driving from one city to the other to see a division game isn’t out of the question. It makes for really fun football.

I think the main element is equally matched teams or individuals.

You forgot to mention the Pack have made the Bears their bitch for a decade.

The main rival of the Packers have been the Bears. It’s been, what, over 70 years now? The history of the 2 teams has been the Packers or Bears being dominant at any given time. I shudder to remember games the Pack played against the Bears in the late 70’s and through the 80’s. But for about 13 years (can you Flatlanders say Favre?) we’ve owned them. And it will change, it’s inevitable.

But for the last 40 years we (Packers) have had a rivalry that has surfaced in the last decade. The Vikings.

In 43 years the Pack and Queens are tied at 42-42-1 each. Hardly anything dominating for either side. The Pack dominated in the 60’s, the Vikes dominated in the 70’s, and we both kinda sucked in the 80’s. The 90’s came and it was hit and miss. The Packers wanted to return to glory and the Vikes wanted to erase the 4 Super Bowl losses.

Suddenly, the Packers had Ron Wolf making personell decisions that ultimately led to Favre donning the Green and Gold and winning 1 of 2 SB appearances. Then the Vikes got pissed and decided that GB was the team to beat. Fuck all else. Randy Moss came along and killed us. For a year. (Remember Atlanta?) Culpepper gave us nervousness, then found the Arizona DB. We keep splitting and battling for the division.

That’s a great rivalry.

Detroit, however, may prove a challenge to all of us this year.

Black and Blue division, baby. This is football!

Yeah, and I was at the game years ago when Memphis came out of nowhere and beat us 21-17. I still see license plates about it when I go to Memphis to this day.

Remember the driving blizzard that struck that night? My brother in law said it all: “Well, that was because Hell had just frozen over.” :smiley:

Please! If not from me, take it from Knoxville’s very own paper and her very own sports reporter.


She don’t lie –


Many columnists have used similar lines, and in regards to the Yankees/Red Sox “rivalry”, it bears repeating: There is as much rivalry in this series as there is in a rivalry between a hammer and a nail.

Here in St. Louis, we have the legendary Kirkwood-Webster Groves annual football game. Over something like 95 years, this has gradually changed from an event where rival fans of the two high schools used to beat each other up in the stands to one where the two schools hold a “friendship dance” the night before the game.

Here are the essential elements:

It’s been going on forever. Almost non-stop since the early 1900s. There are literally families of 3 or 4 generations who grew up with the game. This rivalry actually predates the Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals or pretty much anything other than Army/Navy and Harvard/Yale.

The two towns are linked with histories that don’t depend on being suburbs of St. Louis.

The rivalry is more intense because to any outsider, Kirkwood and Webster Groves are pretty much the same suburb with different names.

This is the “big” game. The two schools play in different athletic conferences, so they both have to make room on their schedules for this game. They may not win their conferences, they may not go on to the state championships, but BY GOD they will play each other.

There is a sentimental, meaningless trophy (a bell from the days when railroad service linked the two towns.) that confers bragging rights on the winner.

An elaborate culture surrounds the event. It’s played on Thanksgiving Day, no matter what else is going on. Both schools have events leading up to game day, including huge alumni events. Buses haul hundreds of fans between the two schools. The winning team always hauls the trophy through both downtown areas.