Editors Note: I’m happy to introduce a new writer to theSportsGeeks.com. This is Will’s first, but hopefully not last article here, and its very impressive if I do say so myself. -Alex
As a Boston Red Sox fan, I was very excited about this week’s series between my beloved Sawx and the hated Yankees. NESN, the network that carries Sox games in New England, knew that the clash between the titans of the AL East was something that fans like me would get really amped up about, so they started showing commercials for the games about a week in advance. The one that really struck me was one that featured Jason Bay. It showed him sitting in the locker room, talking about how exciting the prospect of a Sox-Yanks series was. He mentioned how “[Red Sox-Yankees] is the biggest rivalry in sports.” Jason was very, very incorrect.
Before I point out 10 rivalries that are bigger/more ferocious/more important than the Sox and Yankees, it would be unfair to completely discount the intensity of their feud. The Boston and New York clubs have a humongous, all-consuming rivalry that is probably the biggest in American professional sports. Sure, someone could make an argument for Cowboys-Redskins, Mets-Phillies, Celtics-Lakers, or Maple Leafs-Canadiens, (I know that last one isn’t exactly “American” sports, but they play in the NHL, so whatever.) However, oftentimes these rivalries go stale for extended periods, because, unlike baseball, other American sports have salary caps, which makes it difficult for teams to amass the same kind of talent that the Sox and Yankees attract every off-season by virtue of their greater resources, keeping each team competitive and relevant every single season, something that teams in the NFL, NBA, and NHL just can’t do. For example, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacremento Kings had the biggest rivalry in the NBA for a short period in the early 2000’s. Shaq called them the Queens, Phil Jackson called Sacremento a “Cow Town,” and the two played in one of the most entertaining and controversial NBA playoff series of all time, the 2002 Western Conference Finals, which included a Robert Horry buzzer beater in Game 4, and a Game 6 that disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy has insisted was fixed by the referees in the Lakers’ favor. This series was followed by a 2003 preseason dust-up between Rick Fox and Doug Christie. Then, Shaq got traded and the Kings faded away, and the rivalry was dead. The Sox and Yanks will never fade away, until a salary cap comes in, or they are purchased by a more frugal ownership group, neither of which looks like happening anytime soon. Also, very few, if any rivalries in American sports have the history, mythology, and twists and turns that are intrinsic in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. However, The Sox and Yanks fans don’t share the same devotion, investment, and antipathy towards the opposition that some rivalries on this list suggest, nor does the rivalry have the same extreme outlandishness of others. Sox-Yankees is a great rivalry, but not as great as the ten that I will present to you (in no particular order).
New Zealand vs. South Africa – Rugby
The New Zealand All Blacks and the South Africa Springboks are widely considered to be the greatest powers in International Rugby, also known as Rugby Union, with South Africa being the current World Cup Champions. The rivalry isn’t just a feud between the two best rugby nations in the world, it’s an ideological battle between the attacking flair and verve of New Zealand against the hulking raw strength of South Africa. This rivalry’s importance is in part due to the Springboks recent arrival as a rugby superpower, beginning with their epic victory over New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, an event that is the inspiration to the upcoming movie, Human Factor, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. However, save for a few losses, the All Blacks have been the biggest power Rugby Union since its inception, and mix their domination during the game with intimidation before the game, performing a traditional Maori dance and chant, the “Haka” Of course, when they decided to break out a new Haka, the especially menacing “Kapo O Pango”, they did it against South Africa.
You don’t see the Red Sox lining up in front of the Yankees dugout and doing the throat-slashing motion, as JD Drew convulses as if he was possessed by Kali, the Hindu demon god, now do you?
Duke vs. North Carolina – College Basketball
These colleges are only 7 miles apart, and as every old married couple knows, familiarity breeds contempt. While Sox And Yankee fans throw a lot of abuse at each other and the opposing team, it’s nothing compared to the Cameron Crazies, who camp out, sometimes for months, just to get a chance to paint themselves blue and scream at whichever Tar Heel has been bugging them lately. They also only play each other once a year in each building, so they have to funnel all the hate they have for the opposition into a three hour period, whereas Sox and Yanks fans get nine home games a season. Also, Duke gets a
new gangly, awkward white guy with a ridiculous three point stroke every year (I’m looking at you, Jon Scheyer).
India vs. Pakistan – Cricket
If you thought there was bad blood between Germany and Poland… this is a lot bigger than that. Hands down, the most fierce cricket rivalry in the world, where the slightest slip up results in national embarrassment, and the tensions between two nations locked forever in a struggle for power and land are expressed through wickets and sixes. The intensity of this rivalry can be summed up in one quote from an Australian commentator: “There is always great interest in India and Pakistan for they have fought three wars. There has been no war since 1999. So there is so much more excitement in this match”
Glasgow Celtic vs. Glasgow Rangers – Soccer
One of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in sports, played between the two best clubs in Scotland, is unique because it is not only fueled by proximity and competition for the championship, but also religion and sectarianism. Rangers fans are mostly Protestant, and support British Unionism, as opposed to Celtic supporters, who are overwhelmingly Catholic, and support Irish Republicanism. This makes it a whole lot more volatile and violent than other rivalries, and this game often ends in gigantic pitch invasions and riots, as can be seen in the video below.
At first it looks like it’s an isolated incident, but at 0:04, the shot widens and you realize that the whole field is filled with people fighting.
Roma vs. Lazio – Soccer
Many people point to the more glamorous AC Milan-Internazionale Milan rivalry to be the best in Italy, but the rivalry between Rome’s two soccer clubs, Roma and Lazio, who are pinned so close together that they play in the same stadium, gets the edge in my opinion. Milan and Inter are both good enough that they challenge for the title each year. While both Roma and Lazio are usually very good, neither are perennial title contenders, which only increases the importance of the one game they have at home against their chief rivals. Also, Roma fans are known to be very stabby. These clubs truly hate each other, and they do a hell of a lot more about it than merely chanting “Yankees Suck” repeatedly. Also, have a look at the highlights of a recent Rome derby… the pitch is a freakin’ war zone.
Ferrari vs. McLaren – F1
No, I’m not joking. Since Ferrari and McLaren rose to prominence in the 70’s they have been the two greatest forces in F1 racing, each with an intense, worldwide following (imagine Dale Earnhart Jr.’s fans, extrapolated across every continent except for North America.) McLaren and Ferrari are associated the two most famous racers in the world, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Shumacher, respectively. They also took part in possibly the biggest scandal in sports history, which involved McLaren stealing blueprints for Ferrari’s cars. The sale of Babe Ruth’s got nothing on this.
Michigan vs. Ohio State – College Football
The winner of this game, always held at the end of both teams’ seasons, almost invariably wins the Big Ten Conference. This offers them the opportunity to get stuffed against USC in the Rose Bowl, or an SEC team in the National Championship Game. In addition to the championship consequences, There is deep-rooted animosity between the two fanbases, reaching back to a border dispute between Michigan and Ohio dating back to 1835. This one is probably closest to Sox-Yanks in terms of ferocity and importance, but the fact that they only meet once a year puts it over the top.
Lance Armstrong vs. France – Sanctity of Tour De France
God, the French hate Lance. Just because a Yank won their precious little race seven times in a row, they have to get all testy about the possibility of him taking PEDs, hounding him about it, even in his (brief) retirement. Lance isn’t exactly a fan of them either, lashing out at the ridiculousness of his testing on Twitter. The fact that one man is the center of an entire nation’s anger and suspicion is what makes this one huge. Lance is like A-Rod or Pedro x1000 to the Frenchies.
Germany vs. Poland – International Soccer
How can this be a great rivalry when one side (Poland) has never beaten the other? Well, for one, there’s still a lot of tension left over from that whole World War II thing. Secondly, Germany’s world class starting forwards, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, are both Polish-born, and were wooed to Germany by the promise of greater success than if they stayed in their native country. Understandably, the Poles are not very happy about this. And in a country where the prime minister said he wanted to kill a ref who made a bad decision, you know that it’s not a good idea to get the soccer hooligans upset.
Panathinaikos vs. Olympiakos – Basketball and Soccer
In Europe, many soccer clubs are part of a greater multisport organization that has many athletic wings, including basketball, boxing, and even chess. Panathinaikos and Olympiakos contest matches in many sports, but not many are as important as their basketball and soccer matchups. Both clubs are based in Athens, and absolutely despise each other. The rivalry is referred to in Greek as the “derby of eternal enemies” and “mother of all battles” The soccer portions of the clubs are the best in Greece, and the basketball teams are two of the premier teams in Europe, meeting several times in the Euroleague. The fans go CRAZY for this game. Olympiakos fans recently threw flares and bottles at the Panathinaikos bench during game 1 of the Greek League finals. Here’s another video of the Olympiakos fans in action.
I mean… look at that! The only place you might find something even close to rivaling that atmosphere and choreography in American sports is in the student section at a big Penn State football game or from the aforementioned Cameron Crazies, but even that’s a pretty big stretch. Amazing.
I’m sorry if I left out your favorite Peruvian water polo rivalry or something, there were a lot of rivalries that are bigger than Sox-Yankees to choose from, and I had to leave out many that deserved to be mentioned, including Barcelona-Real Madrid, Peñarol-Nacional, and England-Scotland. Thanks for reading, and I welcome debate in the comments.