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Top 7 Greatest Sports Rivalries

Updated on January 25, 2012
The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma didn't quite make the list
The Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma didn't quite make the list

These sports teams just can't stand each other

Ever since the dawn of sports, there have been sports rivalries. Yes, athletes want to win every game, but some games mean a whole lot more to them than others. The same goes for the fans. There are certain rivalries that take sports to a new level.

Before I start with this list, I'd like to state that I do have a personal bias toward American sports. There is only one non-American sports rivalry on here. I can't say I know enough about cricket to know whether India-Pakistan is a heated rivalry.

With that said, here are my picks for the top 7 sports rivalries:

7. Ali vs. Frazier

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were the two best heavyweight boxers of their generation. Unlike today, where there are multiple championship belts and various reasons why the title cannot be unified, back then there was one and only one champion.

Ali and Frazier would end up fighting each other in three epic boxing matches. The first, named the Fight of the Century, ended with Frazier winning by unanimous decision. He and Ali both had to be taken to the hospital after the 15-round battle, and rumors even circulated that Frazier had died.

The second fight was called Ali - Frazier II, and it took place in Madison Square Garden, the same location as the first fight. Ali won this 12-rounder by a unanimous decision, although some boxing experts scored the fight in favor of Frazier. Overall, this fight was disappointing and led many to believe the careers of both men would soon be over.

The final fight in this rivalry is better known as the Thrilla in Manilla. It took place in the Philippines. Ali came out strong and won the early rounds. As he tired, Frazier took the middle rounds. Ali finally made his comeback in the 12th, 13th, and 14th rounds, and before the 15th round could start Frazier's trainer threw in the towel, as his fighter could barely see out of his badly swollen eyes. It was later revealed that Ali was just moments away from quitting himself, and he would say that it was the closest he's ever come to death. ESPN ranked this fight as the fifth greatest sporting event of the 20th century.

6. Manchester United vs. Liverpool

I don't know much about soccer, but I know Manchester United and Liverpool have been rivals for longer than most sports have existed. This rivalry dates back to a time when Manchester had a strong textile industry and Liverpool was a major port for importing and exporting materials.

These teams have met 183 times since their first match in 1894, with Manchester United leading the series 71-51-61. Since both teams hail from the northwest of England, these games are often referred to as the North West Derby.

These teams despise each other so much they don't even transfer players between the clubs, a common practice in international soccer. No player since 1964 has made a transfer directly from either team.

5. Giants vs. Dodgers

The Giants/Dodgers rivalry started in New York, when both teams played in the same city and in the same National League. For decades, it seemed like the Dodgers and Giants were fighting it out for the pennant every year. Their fans, despite living near one another, intensified this rivalry by abusing one another before, during, and after games.

In the 1950's, both teams moved to California, for a time becoming the only teams on the west coast. This led to even more fans becoming part of this historic rivalry. Just last season, a Giants fan was nearly beaten to death by a mad Dodgers fan in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium. In the aftermath, the rivalry has cool slightly, but expect it to reignite as soon as both teams are in playoff contention and playing one another again.

4. Ohio State vs. Michigan

There are many great rivalries in college football, but Ohio State - Michigan is the greatest. These teams play each other every year in an event that has become simply known as The Game. Since both teams have historically been among the best in college football, this game often has major implications on the national championship and what teams will play in the annual Rose Bowl game.

In 1934, Ohio State coach Francis Schmidt was asked if his team could beat Michigan. He replied, "Of course we can, Michigan puts their pants on one leg at a time just like we do." Since then, Ohio State players have received a pendant with golden pants as a reward for beating Michigan. Former Buckeyes players consider these pendants to be more valuable than a national championship or a Heisman Trophy.

The height of this rivalry came in the 1970's, during the height of the Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler eras at each school. Michigan was 5-4-1 against Ohio State during this period, which would become known as the Ten-Year War.

Overall, Michigan leads this series 58-43-6 since they first played each other in 1897.

3. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The oldest rivalry in the NHL pits two Canadian teams against one another. Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs dates back to 1917, and Montreal leads the overall series 376-308-88. They have met in the postseason 15 times, with Montreal holding a slight 8-7 edge.

Although it seems like it's just a competition between two Canadian cities, this rivalry actually goes back to long before the NHL existed and includes ethnic, cultural, and religious tensions. It's a battle between the French-speaking Catholics in Montreal and the protestant English-dominated Toronto. The ethnic background of Canadians living between Toronto and Montreal largely decides what team they will root for.

2. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Unlike most other rivalries, there really isn't a cultural background to this one. Los Angeles and Boston have no reason to hate one another. The Lakers and Celtics form the best rivalry in the NBA simply because each team has been so successful and that success has caused them to play each other in so many important games.

In the regular season, the Celtics hold the overall advantage with a 153-121 record. Amazingly, these teams have met in the NBA Finals a record twelve different times. The Celtics have won the championship nine of those times, although the Lakers won the last one in 2010.

Although many people thought this rivalry was dead in the post-Larry Bird and Magic Johnson era, the Lakers and Celtics have met in the Finals in two out of the last four seasons.

1. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

The greatest rivalry in sports has really blossomed over the past decade. In fact, 15 years ago people would have thought a person was crazy to call the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry the greatest in sports. Now both teams are perennial contenders and they play each other 19 times every season, and thanks to the wild card format the teams can now also meet in the postseason, and they've done so three times.

The Red Sox and Yankees have played each other a total of 2,100 times since first meeting in 1901, back when they were known as the Boston Americans and the New York Highlanders. The Yankees hold the series edge 1,132-954-14. Yes, this rivalry dates back to a time when teams could actually tie.

Part of the rivalry goes back to when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and he would go on to be perhaps the greatest baseball player ever. The Red Sox would not win a World Series for nearly a century after that trade.

Although the Yankees hold a 2 to 1 edge in postseason series victories, the lone Red Sox series win over the Yankees was one of the greatest of all time. In the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees held a 3 to 0 game advantage over the Red Sox. The Red Sox would miraculously win four straight games to take the best-of-7 series. It is the only time in baseball history that a team has won a postseason series after being down 3 games to none. The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series that year for the first time in 86 years, putting a chip on the shoulders of the Yankees players who have otherwise been quite successful over the past 15 years (5 championships). They were the Yankees team that finally allowed Boston to break the curse.

What is your favorite sports rivalry?

Submit a Comment

  • samtenabray profile image


    6 years ago from uk

    No Millwall v West Ham, Rangers v Celtic, Alabama v Auburn??


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