The Top 10 Rivalries in TEAM Sports
Sports over length of its existence has had many teams that refuse to even respect each other much less like each other. Players reflect on rivalries in documentaries and say things like “we just could not respect them no matter what.” When it comes to competition there is a take no prisoner attitude and being a competitive person it is understandable why this is the approach. Some of these teams listed here are known simply for their rivalry with another team, however others are not as popular and took place during different decades. Nevertheless, the hatred between the two teams is mutual. Winning is a 365-day affair until these two teams meet again and if they lose it is 365 days of humiliation and celebration for the same amount if they win the previous contest. So let’s begin.
#10 Miami-FSU (College Football)
Miami holds the win-loss record in this contest but do not let that dissuade you from believing this is not a rivalry. As talked about in the ESPN 30 for 30 “The U”, The University of Miami had many rivals including Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Florida, however, Florida State is by far their most sworn enemy. First of all, they are in the same conference which makes the rivalry more personal and in battling for a National Championship they also battle for conference superiority. When the rivalry started the University of Miami was not nearly the powerhouse that it would become. Florida State had more football royalty in the south-east than any other school, even Alabama. The 1970s changed everything though as Miami slowly built itself into a National Championship contender. Under coach Howard Schnellenberger who started in 1979, the Hurricane formulated a recruiting battle between all of South Florida which they referred to as “The State of Miami.” Schnellenberger recruited heavily in South Florida as he felt they had a more personal touch. The two schools he competed with where Florida and Florida State. Florida was not a conference rival at all but they still held Miami in the second division. Florida State was historically a great team as they had won a bunch of conference titles but like Miami where not National Championship material. In 1976, Florida State had enough to losing to its conference rivals in pursuit of a National Championship and hired Bobby Bowden. Bowden won two championship (1993 and 1999) but he is not remembered for those, he is instead of being the coach that was hired to tame the Miami Hurricanes. He is the University’s most successful coach ever winning 377 games. He couldn’t contain Miami though as he went 14-21.
Some of the greatest college football games came from this rivalry. For instance, in 1987, Coach Jimmy Johnson faced off against Bowden in a game that would feature more NFL players on the field at one time than at any other point in history. Both the Seminoles and Hurricanes were Top 5 ranked teams which made the contest have National Championship meaning. The Seminoles jumped out to a 19-3 lead. Miami though came back in the fourth quarter allowing only 7 points and scoring 23 points in the one quarter defeating the Seminoles. Two years later in 1989, the Seminoles upset the Hurricanes who had the #1 ranked defense in the nation at the time. That would be the most points the Hurricanes would allow all season and they would eventually go on to win the National Championship that year. As with all college football rivalries there are games that live up to the hype and this particular one had four. They were referred to as “Wide Right” and “Wide Left” due to the Florida State kicker missing the game winning kick on each attempt and the announcers call bellowing “Wide Right” or “Wide Left.” Each time the Seminoles were up for a National Championship and this was to be their only loss on the schedule with the exception of the wide-left which took place in 2002. Talking to the Miami Hurricanes it appeared that these kicks were a sign of destiny that they owned the state of Florida against the Seminoles who possessed the ability to lose in key moments. In the recent matchups Miami has been ranked twice and unranked once and won the last three meetings. Florida State though has the all-time win-streak record of 7 in the series which they have done twice, (1963-1972, 2010-2016).
Professional Basketball is a lot different than college where you face the same team twice, once home and once away. In professional basketball you face your rival way more and if you are in the same division even more than usual. Not to mention the playoffs, but often your rival stands in the way of an NBA championship. This rivalry took place in the 1980s and early 1990s and since has played out in the current NBA as the two foes have come up as contenders for a title. The Boston Celtics where a historic dynasty as it was and were known for their rivalry with the Lakers. They have 17 NBA championships which is the most by any team. The Pistons have 3 which is not even close; so why are they considered to be rivals. Well, their rivalry took place in the post-season and often each team had to get past the other to get to the NBA finals. The Pistons of the 1980s had finally become contenders for the ultimate crown and the NBA saw the beginnings of one of the greatest 6 year periods in its history. The Celtics had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish who went up against Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Dennis Rodman. These games where so intense that if a fight did not break out during a game it was significant. The Celtics were known for being a clean-team who played by the rules and the Pistons lived up to their reputation as “The Bad-Boys.” The Pistons only looked to dethrone the Celtics from their winning ways and the Celtics looked to continue their dominance of the Eastern Conference. Their first meeting came in the 1985 playoffs when they both had arrived at the Eastern Conference Semifinals. This series was quick and painful for the Pistons who where still young and in-experienced by all accounts. The Pistons won the fights on the court but lost the series. Backed by Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman the Pistons achieved a mental victory over the Celtics who had never played in such an intense series before-hand. In 1987 the Pistons knocked off the Bulls only to face the Celtics again for the Conference Finals this time. The Celtics again defeated the Pistons but the Pistons gained ground on the aging Celtics. The games were either a close-call or a blowout. In fact, Games 5,6, and 7 where within 6 points each. The Celtics went on to lose to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. However, 1988, was to be the year of the Pistons. The Celtics had finally succumbed to father time and the more youthful Pistons overcame them in 6 games. The Pistons marched onto the NBA Finals where they would lose to the Lakers. The Pistons had accomplished the feat by defeating the Celtics in 2 out of the 3 games that they had at Boston Garden; prior to this the Pistons had lost 21 straight in the building. The 1989 meeting saw the Pistons sweep the Celtics in the first round and in 1991 in the Semifinal round. The Pistons had owned the latter end of the series but due to their rough play they were given a more harsh look after what occurred. In the 2000s the rivalry died down as the Celtics were not playoff contenders in the early part of the decade and the Pistons were setting up a dynasty of their own. With the current Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons the rivalry has renewed since the Celtics are awaiting their first championship in a decade and the Pistons are waiting for their first in 15 years.
#8 Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund (Der Klassiker)
Soccer although not recognized as much as other sports in the United States still has its share of rivalries, especially with the addition of UEFA’s Champions League which makes various league teams face off regardless of country. In Germany’s top flight Bundesliga two teams have held the majority of the league titles but also make for the best matchups in the world of European Football. Bayern-Munich is the most-popular club in Germany due to their 30 titles in Bundesliga and their 6 Champions League titles. Bayern most recently won both Bundesliga and Champions League in 2019-2020. The Club has been around since 1900 and has had one of the most successful centuries in professional sports ever. Borussia Dortmund had always played in the backseat of Bundesliga finishing in second for an extended period of time. Many of Borussia Dortmund’s best players have ended up leaving and being signed by Bayern-Munich. They won Champions League last in 1996-1997 and were runners-up in 2012-2013. This is not nearly as successful as Bayern-Munich but still successful. When they go head-to-head the matches are called “Der Klassiker” or “The Classic.” This term has been disputed due to Dortmund and Munich not being long-term rivals and only in recent years has the rivalry seen success.
The Clubs first met in 1965 in which Dortmund won 2-0. The following year, Dortmund won the European Cup which we now refer to as Champions League over Liverpool and became the first German team to do so. This did not last long as Bayern-Munich won the following year. Dortmund was relegated for several seasons and Munich began its domination of German Football. In 1971, after rejoining the Bundesliga in 1971 Bayern slaughtered Dortmund 11-1 which remains the clubs largest victory in Bundesliga. In 1983 the two clubs met in a draw which featured a combined 8 goals. The 1990s would see the improvement of Dortmund. Dortmund won back to back titles in 1994-1995 and 1995-1996, not to mention when Dortmund won the Champions League in 1996 they won it on Bayern’s Home grounds. The heat began after Bayern-Munich elected Dortmund’s former manager to be theirs and thus the rivalry was official. Every season the teams face each other at least twice and often end up facing each other in Champions League. The 2000s again saw a major success for Bayern-Munich won swept through Bundesliga and demolished Dortmund. However, Dortmund was in massive debt and needed salvation. Unusual for any rivalry, Bayern-Munich pledged a €2m loan allowing Dortmund to last a little while longer. Bayern still currently holds a massive lead in the series and with recent acquisitions of Robert Lewandowksi and Mario Götze it seems that Dortmund may remain behind Munich for just a little while longer.
#7 Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears
This is the only installation on this list for the National Football League. The Green Bay Packers of Green Bay Wisconsin face off against the Chicago Bears. Each team played a role in the formation and combination of the National Football League. Each team was a part of the original NFL and holds more combined championships than any other active team. They also hold the most NFL Hall of Famers with Chicago leading at 34 and Green Bay with 31. Currently, the two teams play in the NFC North and every matchup brings the rivalry further than before. They first met in 1921 and since have met 200 times in both the regular and post-season. The Bears held the lead in the series over the Packers until 2017 and at one point even led by 24 games. The rivalry has featured some of the NFL’s greatest including Bart Starr, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Dick Butkus and more. Like any rivalry the series has had its share of notable games. The December 1980 matchup saw the Bears score 61 points which at the time was an NFL record. The 1985 Bears, arguably the greatest team in NFL History introduced William “The Fridge” Perry in the series as he scored a touchdown, one of his 3 in his career as a defensive lineman. In 1995, the Packers relatively new quarterback Brett Favre threw for a 99 yard touchdown in the matchup which is 1 of 13 times it has happened in NFL History.
The Bears and Packers have met twice in the playoffs and both teams have been in the playoffs four times together. They were matched up against each other in 1941 which the Bears won handily 33-14. The end result of that season was the Chicago Bears were the league champions. In 2011, they faced off against each other which the Packers won 21-14 and they also went on to win the Super Bowl. The Bears though have only one Super Bowl and the Packers have 4. The Packers have won the division most recently and are currently on a two game win streak against the Bears. 2020 may end that streak due to an expected Aaron Rodgers departure.
When asked about the significance of the rivalry in professional football it is considered to be the game’s greatest rivalry. According to various sources the rivalry is by far one of the meanest in sports today. Vince Lombardi was quoted as saying “you deal with the men on the field, and I’ll deal with Old Man Halas.” Even current Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked if he was to be released by the Packers if he would consider playing for the Bears and his response was that it would be “tough” to go against his former team like that. Dick Butkus still states that he hates Green Bay with a “stern passion” and he has not played football in several decades.
#6 Real Madrid-Barcelona (El-Clasico)
El-Clasico is by far the most watched football match in the world every single year. Like Bayern-Munich and Borussia Dortmund, this rivalry is more than simply a game. Historically, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have been two of the best teams on the European continent. They are the two best teams in Spain for sure. They consistently compete for the La Liga title and have produced some of the European Football’s greatest players. They have faced off against each other 277 times including appearances in the Champions League. At one point, the matchup even had the two best soccer players in the world facing off against each other which has made the game only more popular. The rivalry is also more personal because Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain. According to the book “Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football” the two clubs “hate each other with an intensity that can truly shock the outsider.”
The match was first played in 1902 which Barcelona won 3-1. Throughout the decades the clubs have been exposed to various political changes in Spain. During the rule of Francisco Franco many in Madrid supported him, however in Barcelona their was little approval of his totalitarian ways. Their was even suspicion of Real Madrid’s games being fixed in order to please Franco. Following Franco’s demise, there was a rise in hooliganism during the head-to-head matches which was frowned upon by the European community. Most often the hooligans were Real Madrid supporters referred to as the Ultras Sur. The Ultra Sur conflicted with the Casuals who were Barcelona supporters. In fact, with both sides competing against each other violently the Casuals turned themselves into a full-fledged criminal organization that committed small terrorist acts against the Ultras Sur. In supporting either side, if you are more liberal you are most likely a Barcelona supporter and the conservatives support Real Madrid.
On the field though it was anyone’s game. Barcelona and Madrid have actually split the number of victories in this rivalry. The teams have seemed evenly matched in recent years due each team having a “Big Three” of sorts each of which was at one point in the top 10 players in the world. The matches have also been known for their memorable goal celebrations. To name a few, a goal by Raul of Real Madrid in 1999 at Barcelona silenced a crowd of over 100,000 fans when Raul celebrated by putting his index finger over his lips taunting the fan base. In 2009, Carlos Puyol kissed his armband which had the Catalan symbol which is representative of Barcelona in front of Madrid fans. The most recent incident was when Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals in 2012 and asked the crowd to stop throwing items on the field at Barcelona. The rivalry has featured 28 Hat-tricks and has contained more Ballon D’Or winners than any other match in the game’s history. Real Madrid won 7 consecutive matches between 1962 and 1965 and Barcelona 5 between 2008 and 2010. Real Madrid has the biggest win at 11-1 in 1943. Lionel Messi has 26 Goals for Barcelona which is the most in the series and Sergio Ramos has the most appearances with 44.
The Boston Celtics have made this list already with their rivalry against the Detroit Pistons but their rivalry against the Los Angeles Lakers is by far professional basketballs most famous rivalry. They have met in over 12 NBA Finals which the Celtics have won 9 of. Boston’s dominance over basketball is a longer story for another document but if there is a team that has stifled their success it would be the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were the first NBA dynasty but they were not in Los Angeles at this point, they instead were in Minneapolis. They had won 5 NBA championships in just under a decade of existence but they would not achieve success again until the late 1960s. This era was owned by the Celtics who at one point won 8 titles in a row. The Lakers faced the Celtics for the first time in the regular season in 1948 and were dominated by Celtics. Since then, they have had 365 other meetings in which the Celtics have triumphed in victory over 204 times.
The Celtics and Lakers met in the 1959 NBA Finals in which the Boston Celtics swept the Lakers. The Celtics won again in 1962 beating the Lakers 4-2. The two teams met in the NBA Finals 6 times in the decade which is the most ever by two teams. Furthermore, it appeared on the outside to be unfair to many of the other teams because the Celtics and Lakers had the best players including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Jerry West, and many more. These matchups where Hall of Fame caliber to say the least and no other team could appear to compete with the two. The 1980s were a different story though. In 1979 the Lakers signed Magic Johnson which began the start of one of the greatest decades of dominance in basketball. The “Showtime” Lakers won 5 NBA Titles during the decade and proved to be the team of the decade. That same year, 1979, the Celtics drafted their own superstar Larry Bird who would assist in 3 more NBA Titles during his time with Boston. The Bird-Magic Rivalry played out just as well as the Celtics-Lakers Rivalry. They faced off against each other in the 1984 NBA Finals which the Celtics won 4-2, but 1985 was the turn around. The Lakers won their 3rd title at that point in the decade and held the Celtics to just 2 wins in a series where they were favored as the defending NBA Champions. The Lakers faced the Celtics again in 1987 and the same result happened, Lakers won again. It would be the last time in over 20 years that the teams would face off. The 1990s Celtics were coming off the loss of Larry Bird and the legendary Celtics lineup that had made them so successful. The Lakers would win two more titles in the 1990s and establish themselves in the coming 2000s with the tag team of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. These teams destroyed the Celtics despite many legendary performances by Paul Pierce. Like the “Showtime” Lakers, Kobe’s Lakers dominated the game and won 5 titles just like Magic Johnson. However, in 2008 the Celtics put up a formidable appearance in the NBA Finals and played against a now defunct Kobe Bryant team. The Celtics with Pierce, and the help of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen won the series and won the teams most recent title. Their last meeting in the Finals took place in 2010 when Kobe got his 5th and final title. The two teams often face off on Christmas Day and rarely during the regular season. However, in terms of rivalries this one is definitely the Championship rivalry as all of its best games have come in championship series.
#4 White Sox-Cubs (Crosstown Cup)
The Crosstown Classic takes place between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. North Side versus the South Side. This rivalry is quite unusual considering that baseball is not like many other sports. It possesses two leagues who rarely play against each other but must do so in the World Series. Inter-League play, as it is referred, it very common in baseball today but when this particular rivalry started it a team played exclusively in their League. The Cubs were historically the team that owned Chicago. The Cubs were joined in 1900 by Charles Comiskey’s expansion franchise the White Sox who were members of the American League. In their first six years sharing Chicago the Cubs and White Sox never met against each other. However, in 1906 the White Sox made it all the way to the World Series as the American League representative, the team opposite them, the Chicago Cubs. It was the first time that two teams from the same city had ever made it to the World Series. It would also be one of the last times in over 100 years that the Cubs would be in a World Series. The White Sox won the 1906 series and brought the first World Championship to Chicago. The White Sox would also go through their own World Series drought as they won in 1917, lost in 1919 and did not return to the World Series until 2005. Ironically, both teams championship droughts lasted as long as it would be before they would ever play again. For a rivalry, and a competitive one at that the White Sox-Cubs would not be played until 1997.
That year the Cubs and White Sox met up for one series that took place on the South Side. The White Sox won the series which then returned to the North Side in 1998. Ever since then they play 6 games a year against each other. They have tied 7 times in a series and still have only met in the playoffs once, the 1906 World Series was it. In 2010, the series had an added bonus very similar to what we see in college football. The Crosstown Cup which is given to series winner was awarded in 2010 and has been awarded ever since. The White sox have maintained control of the cup for the most part winning it four times to the Cubs 3 with no winner in 2015, 2016 and 2019. The all-time series leader is the White Sox who have won 68 of the matchups and lost 63 counting postseason appearances. As of today the 2020 season has favored the White Sox who hold the lead 2-1. The Cubs hold the longest winning streak at 6 but the White Sox hold the largest victory 12-2.
#3 Ohio State-Michigan ("The Game")
This could be argued as the greatest rivalry in sports over what is our #1 on this list due it being played just as long. However, in College Football, “The Game” holds the title for arguably the largest watched rivalry game every year. Historically the matchup has provided much entertainment to those in the BIG 10 Conference and often to the National Championship Committees as at several points the game has held National Championship implications. It has held its own in College Football lure but unlike most sporting events the winning and losing of it is more personal than anything a true sports fan may ever get to experience.
Ohio and Michigan historically have disliked each other due to a border dispute that took place when the states were assigned their specific territory. Ever since the two states disdain for each other has reached an all-time high in the last week of November. The two schools met well before their were conferences in 1897. Michigan was the victor that year and defeated Ohio State 34-0. Michigan owned the series winning 9 of the first ten meetings. In those games Ohio State scored 12 points total in 10 games. Yes, you just read that correctly, 12 points. They won their first matchup in 1919 defeating Michigan 13-3. Michigan accumulated 5 National Championships by that point and were the rulers of Collegiate Football. Ohio State did not win a National Championship until 1942 but they were still a strong contender but the team from Up North kept beating them. The 1950s changed everything, Ohio State was no longer a second rate team anymore. They hired their most popular coach ever in “Woody” Hayes who was known for his brash outburst but unlike any coach before him he produced results. Within 3 years of being hired he made them National Champions in 1954. He produced a team that Michigan marveled at Hayes’s success. Woody even made his team never say the word “Michigan” around him otherwise they would be removed from the team. Within 10 years the Michigan Wolverines needed to make a change. They hired one of Ohio State’s former assistants, Bo Schembechler, who would begin what would be called the “10 year War” in which Ohio State and Michigan would split the series. Hayes won the glory though because his teams produced National Champions and Heisman winners. Yet, Schembechler’s team produced Conference champions. Ever since, the series has been dominated mostly by Ohio State as Michigan has not won a National Championship since 1997. Since then Ohio State has won 18 of the last 23 meeting with a current streak of 8. Michigan holds the all-time series lead at 58-51-6.
#2 Duke-UNC (The Battle for Tobacco Road)
Basketball is the most popular sport in North Carolina, even football is less popular. There is one reason for this, two schools matchup for control of what is called “Tobacco Road.” At Chapel Hill sits the North Carolina Tar Heels and to the North in Durham sits Duke University. It is the #1 rivalry in college basketball. It is a battle of culture like two previous rivalries that we have mentioned. The Tar Heels are seen as dumb-dim witted buffoons whereas the Duke Blue Devils are seen as the Ivy Leaguers of the South. The South and basketball fans everywhere turn their televisions on when this game comes on.
They first met in 1920 and ever since then have met twice a year. At the time Duke was referred to as Trinity College until the name was changed not long after. They were not considered to be rivals though until the 1960s when college basketball began to grow national attention. North Carolina attempted to match the success of Kentucky to its west. Well, they proved that they could last as they began winning the National Championships. In the rivalry however it was a different story. The Blue Devils played against them in 1961 and their was a brawl at the match which set the rivalry ablaze ever since. Duke often played spoiler to North Carolina as in 1975, the Blue Devils upset the Tar Heels 99-96, North Carolina was ranked #8 at the time. Duke was not the superior athletic school but it seemed to always find a way to beat North Carolina for if not else, bragging rights. The rivalry took a turn in the 1980s when North Carolina saw arguably its greatest successes in one decade. With Michael Jordan and James Worthy the Tar Heels again won a National Championship and lost to Duke only once while Jordan was there. Neither team would win a National Championship for another decade though as the series often resulted in who would advance to the Final Four. Dean Smith’s North Carolina Team was by far the superior squad for decades but in the late 1980s things changed for Duke. Under Coach Mike Krzyzewski who is still coaching at Duke today the Blue Devils attained their largest successes in school history. In 1991, the Blue Devils won their first National Title and repeated in 1992. North Carolina won in 1993 though. It seemed that from then on the eyes of college basketball would turn to North Carolina to see who would come out on top. This rivalry is no joke, one representative was quoted as saying “if Duke was playing the Taliban that he’d pull for the Taliban.” The game is by far the most watched basketball game in the US every single year.
#1 Red Sox-Yankees
At #1 the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is the best professional sports rivalry. There rivalry like Ohio State and Michigan was over a state dispute. During the American Revolution the city of Boston never laid down to the British invasions but the New York residents “let” the city be taken over. Ever since then Boston and New York have had the issue of getting along. In sports as well, the issues ascend further. The Yankees were formed in 1903 and the Red Sox in 1908. They were division rivals since their formation and in the early years even fought against each other for a shot at the World Series. They have met 2,281 times counting 4 series in the playoffs. The Red Sox in their first two decades beat the Yankees almost 250 times. They were even World Series champions several times. The 1910s would be the last decade where they would control the rivalry until the 1970s. A big moment in the rivalry came in 1919 when Babe Ruth, a star pitcher for Boston was traded to New York. The Red Sox would not win a World Series until 2004. In that time the Yankees won 26 titles. The Yankees were the predominant champion not just in this rivalry but in American sports. The Yankees accumulated control over the Red Sox and were always where the Red Sox where not. Boston was unable to control the series at all and the Yankees knew they had control as they were getting all the glory. The teams rivalry has escalated as in 2008 an individual was murdered over a dispute about the game. Nevertheless despite Boston winning more championships in the past two decades than the Yankees that when they go head to head the Yankees are always the clear champion. There have been some notable series between the two. 2004 ALCS for example was a huge one for Red Sox fans as the Yankees had established a dynasty winning four World Series in the past 7 years. The Red Sox fortunes changed as they won 4 straight to defeat the Yankees and win their first World Series in 86 years. In 1978, the Red Sox where ahead of the Yankees by 14 games with 21 to go. The Yankees won enough of those games including sweeping the Red Sox to win the division and eventually the World Series. In 1999, they met in the ALCS which the Yankees used former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens against them and as a result won 3 games in a row to advance to another World Series. 2003, the two teams met in the ALCS again and Aaron Boone hit a walk-off homer to send the Yankees to a World Series. There many matchups have also led to large on the field altercations including a 2004 matchup when Alex Rodriguez was thrown at. This is what makes the best rivalry in sports today.
Despite the 10 matchups listed there are some that still deserve some recognition for their importance in sports so we decided to list some of them here.
La Liga: Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid
Premier League: Arsenal-Tottenham
Premier League: Liverpool-Manchester United