2022: 22 (+3) Sports Rivalries Worth Knowing
Jan 26, 2022
The history of sports CANNOT be described through a single narrative, it is a tangled and interwoven mess of tales where characters return to make comebacks and where compelling archetypes of the underdog vs big bully take form over generations. We love the hero for how he overcomes adversity and defies all odds, but there is far more wrinkles to the many great teams and players we know and love. Through the 200+ years there have been so many faces, so many memorable moments, and marvelous mountaintops achieved, and for me, this blog post snapshots these great rivalries. I compiled this list using my favorite rivalries combined with some of the more well known stories from across the globe- so without further ado, let’s relive MY top 25 to kick off the year 2022.
25. (T-23) The Army vs Navy Game
There are so many historic rivalries in the world of college sports, which makes compiling an objective hierarchical list (such as this) quite difficult. The U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy have played each other on the gridiron 121 times. They’re not the powerhouse programs they were in the first half of the 20th century, but Army and Navy still draw the entire student body of both schools and the eyes of the world’s sports lovers. This carries a multigenerational lineage with a history quite like no other no other college rivalry can claim which is why it makes my list!
24. (T-23 ) USC vs Notre Dame Football
Outside of the classic 2006 Rose Bowl of USC versus Texas, The University of Southern California’s biggest most staunch rival lives in South Bend. The most recent meeting came in 2018 when Notre Dame defeated USC 24-17 to cap an undefeated season and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. These teams play every single year and combine for a grand total of 39 national championships as well as 14 heisman trophy winners. Today, Notre Dame still carries the last laugh with a head-2-head record of 48-36-5. As an American his rivalry underwrites the constant domestic battle between midwest traditional game and the glamorous coastal program. This rivalry has no shortage of controversies, bad blood, and vitriol, compelling generations of sports fans and capturing the eyes and ears of many more.
23. (T-23) Georgetown vs Syracuse Hoops
This Iconic rivalry all began back in 1979 when the inception of the Big East Conference began. Today The Syracuse Orange holds a majority 49-41 all-time record head-to-head with the bulldogs, however Georgetown has 11 conference championships to Syracuse’s 10. These two programs have two of the all-time greatest basketball coaches including Jim Boehiem and the late great John Thompson. Over the years, this was the rivalry where the marquee names such as Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Derrick Coleman rose and showed out at the biggest stages. With the wounds of the past fresh, this rivalry continues through conference games and into the big dance that is, March Madness.
22. Wilt Chamberlain vs Bill Russell
As we shift to professional basketball, the history book of the game cannot be told without the rivalry of Wilt Chamberlain vs Bill Russell. Wilt ‘the stilt’ will forever be known for his Hollywood persona and (literally) larger than life statistics that will never be broken, but Bill remained simply the most accomplished winner who ever walked on to the hardwood. During the sixties and seventies, this was the single greatest player rivalry across that 9 year span, When the sport was still gaining national popularity, Wilt’s statistical dominance was constantly met before the finish line culminating in a world championship. While Wilt scored 16,897 points, 2,304 rebounds, and 543 assists more than Russell, Russell’s Celtics wont two thirds of their games head-to-head and carried a 16-2 record in elimination games. He won 5 MVPs at Wilt’s expense and became the single greatest winner of all time with 11 championships.
21. UConn Lady Huskies vs Tennessee Lady Vols
Two of the greatest women’s collegiate programs are Tennessee’s Lady Vols and The Uconn Lady Huskies. UConn and Tennessee met 20 times between 1995 and 2007, including seven times in the Final Four. The Huskies defeated the Vols in the national title game in 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2004 and the Final Four in 2002. Tennessee claimed revenge ending Uconn’s championship dreams in the national semifinal in 1996 and 1997. With 11 championships for Uconn and 8 for Tennessee, these titan pograms dominated the sport, while no other program has more than 3 national titles to this day. In 2016, the late great Pat Summit passed away, and in 2018, both programs renewed their rivalry with a two game series in honor of the Pat Summit Honorary Foundation.
20. Raiders vs Broncos
No other divisional rivalry may be more vicious or hateful than the Raiders and the Broncos. Starting in 1960, these divisional rivals met twice a year for a spirited clash of sixty minutes in gridiron violence, and to this day, have the most Monday Night Football appearances which exemplifies how ‘box office’ this rivalry truly is. Head to head, the Raiders own a winning record of 69-54-2. Both the Raiders and the Broncos are home to some of the league’s greatest players of all time including Charles Woodson, Von Miller, John Elway, Kenny Stabler, Marcus Allen, Terrell Davis, Howie Long, Art Shell, Shannon Sharpe, Jack Tatum alongside so many more! The then ‘Oakland’ Raiders were always my favorite team. They were branded as the dirtiest, roughest, nastiest collection of players all time. There, the league’s misfits would be sentenced to Al Davis’s black hole bin simply to be uplifted once more behind the championship caliber coaching like the late great John Madden and Tom Flores. The Broncos also have a history of high powered offenses (in the 90s) behind John Elway and a relentless defense behind Von Miller over the latter half of the past decade. Today, these organizations sit tied atop the AFC West with 3 world championships, and they compete with high emotion following the greatest footsteps of the past.
19. Kobe vs Lebron
Among player versus player rivalries, very few surpass Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Sadly, these all-time greats never met in the NBA Finals, they did show out in iconic matchups over the last two decade spanning 2003-2016. When Kobe entered the league in 1996, he idolized Michael Jordan, essentially crafting his game to resemble something like MJs baby brother predecessor. Lebron followed Kobe in similar fashion entering the league straight out of high school in 2003. The all-time comparison between the two couldn’t be more neck-and neck. Despite LeBron being the king, Kobe wears the crown (for now) when it comes to championships and a few accomplishments. Kobe was a better winner with many more clutch performances on the biggest stage. At the highest level, Kobe had a 5-2 Finals Record with Lebron currently sitting at 4-6. Kobe also slimmingly outshining LBJ with 9 all defensive 1st teams, 12 all defensive team selections, 2 scoring titles, and 18 all-star game appearances with 7 more total games played. While both have played in 15 playoff appearances, LeBron had 4 league MVPs to Kobe’s 1. With Lebron entering the league more ready as the #1 overall pick, he was Rookie of the Year outweighing and outsizing Kobe since Day 1 by approximately 25lbs and 2”. Along with health and body maintenance, LeBron owns the analytical game, outshining Kobe in percentage and total statistics like points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Each generation argues their anecdote of who’s better, and their legendary status will continue to fuel sports bar debates forever.
18. Cubs vs White Sox
A historic statewide rivalry resides in the windy city and the first baseball rivalry of the list. While the Chicago Cubs and White Sox differ only by a matter of streets under another league division, there are few rivalries more intimate or more intense than this. It all started in 1900 when the white sox joined American League that just began. The only time they met in the World Series was in the 1906 where the White Sox won. In 1985, the city started the ‘windy city classic’ an annual game played for charity. Beginning in 1997, with the league’s rule changes both teams met six times a year. The city rivalry reached a new level developing more bad blood between the two clubs, when in 2006, Cubs player Brian Anderson and White Sox A.J. Perzynski started a full on brawl on the field. Today, the Cubs outweigh the White Sox winning more league pennants and division titles while appearing in more playoff and World Series appearances; But when the smoke settles, both franchises sit tied with three World Series Championships a piece, so it seems the best chapter is yet to be written.
16. Magic vs Larry
The NBA’s two most winningest franchises of The Lakers and Celtics is where we make our next stop in this list. Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird first met in the 1979 NCAA tournament when Michigan State faced Indiana State in the championship game where Magic’s Spartans won the title. Prior to their arrival in the NBA, the league was in chaos; Players were involved in crime and doing drugs famously noted by the fact that previous championship games were televised only on tape delay. When Larry and Magic entered, they changed the game. They were complete opposites; One was black, one was white, one was quiet, one was outgoing, and one was a midwestern blue-collar boy and the other was a Hollywood star. These cultural divisions narrated the rivalry and fueled a deep-seated competitive hate for one another, revived the long-standing rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics of the 60’s and 70’s.
Larry Legend and Magic met in the finals three times from 1984 to 1987 and when the decade commenced, Magic walked away winning 5 championships and Larry won 3. Both men played 13 year careers and made 13 all-star games, but neither were more important than their respective playoff contests and heated battles in NBA finals matchups. During their maximal 13 year careers, both won 3 MVPs, with 9 NBA 1st team selections and 10 all-NBA team selections. Each guy had their calling card; Bird was a deadly marksman, shooter in field goals and free throws while mastering the 3-pointer. Magic was a wizard in assisting the ball which led to what we know as ‘Showtime’. By 1992, both players joined the Olympic dream team, and in 2002 introduced each other as they accepted their Hall of Fame enshrinement. As competitors, They’re NBA's duo who transformed the game, brought the NBA to national prominence, and popularized it across the globe.
17. Brady vs The Manning Brothers
Tom Brady may never have a bigger problem with one family his entire life than the Manning family. Generally, Brady in New England had a winning record against both Eli’s Giants and Peyton’s Colts, but when it came to the postseason, things got a lot more interesting. Tom truly was ‘terrific’ head-to-head with Peyton finishing with a 10-4 record against him. Peyton finished better in touchdowns, passing yards per game, whereas brady threw fewer interceptions and carried a higher completion percentage. While Brady, outlasted Peyton in his regular season Indy matchups, Peyton did knock out Brady’s Patriots in the 2006 AFC championship game and again in the 2013 AFC championship game.
As Brady rebounded in 2007, his Patriots were on a historic page, going undefeated 16-0 during the regular season. Behind Brady and Randy Moss, that explosive offense took them right into Super Bowl XLII where they met with the swarming defense of The New York Giants. During the superbowl, Eli and the Giants shocked the sports world ending their season with a final of 17-14 scoring on a late game-winning drive. Eli was an all-time quarterback even at the time of this matchup, while Eli was approximately a ‘.500’ quarterback within a phenomenal system orchestrated by Tom Coughlin. While the stats are not comparable, Eli seemed to have the last laugh when it mattered most, contributing to some of Brady’s only career blemishes.
15. Messi vs Ronaldo
Sitting at number 15 are two of the world’s most renowned athletes. Both international soccer stars, Argentinian star Lionel Messi and Portuguese star Christiano Renaldo remain as two of the world’s most accomplished players in the history of the sport. Until they both entered the sport, I had never watched a minute of world soccer in my life. Many of the famous names such as Pele were mere mythical beings as far as I was concerned. As both players Ronaldo and Messi transcended the sport, they emerged as world superstars and caught my attention. Combined, they have over 1500 total Premier league games played and over 1200 club goals between the two of them. While Ronaldo has the nodd in more world games and coals all time, Messi owns the head-to-head advantage with a record against Ronaldo of 16W-9D-10L. Ronaldo has 2 international trophies to Messi’s zero, but Lionel Messi won more club championships in his respective country. As their careers continue to unfold, the chapters will continue writing themselves as their legacies unfold.
14. Texas Longhorns vs Oklahoma Sooners
It’s commonly known as ‘The Red River Showdown’. Renowned as one of the most intense rivalries in all of college sports, The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners are college football royalty. Some of the game’s most colorful players like Brian Bosworth & Vince Young have cemented their legacy during the games of this rivalry while many great coaches have accomplished so much between locker room walls in Austin, Texas and Norman Oklahoma.
In 1958, Texas upset the #2 OU Sooners after Oklahoma had won six in a row against the Longhorns and nine of the past 10 going into 1958. 1963 was the first time in the series, Oklahoma and Texas met in a #1 vs. #2 matchup. Texas won 28-7 and went undefeated the remainder of the season, which ended with a national championship. In 1984 Texas was #1 was #3 in the nation. Coach Barry Switzer wore a "Beat Texas" cap. Oklahoma led 15-12 late and and after a game-clinching interception non-call in the end zone, Texas kicked field goal to secure the tie. In 2000, OU put up a record 6 touchdown during their march to a national title six rushing touchdowns. In 2005, Texas would capture revenge in a dominant 45-12 performance en route to the national title. In 2018, the teams met twice in the 2018 season, where OU clinched the Big 12 title with a 39-27 win over the Longhorns.
Recently, Oklahoma has been better than .500 since the end of World War II and is 16-7 since 2000. As they leave the Big 12 and transition into the Southeastern Athletic Conference (SEC), they continue to fight for their programs’ legacies amongst new opponents. As it stands, Texas leads the series all-time at 62-50-5 with Oklahoma achieving 7 national titles and with Texas winning 4.
13. Ravens vs Steelers
The heart of the AFC North lives in the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. While the Steelers are home to some of football’s most historic lineage, the Ravens only became a team organization 6 years ago (1996). The Baltimore Ravens became renowned by their record-setting hard nose defenses including hall of fame players such as Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Ray Lewis. In 2008, GM drafted Ozzie Newsome drafted Joe Flacco who later lead them on to win their second title against the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl XLVII. The steelers have gone through generational rosters of success. In the early 70’s the Steelers featured tremendous defenses, eventually coined ‘the steel curtain’. In the decades facing the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh played complimentary football featuring a competent offense featuring young Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, and Hines Ward. Lead by Dick LeBeau, the high-powered defense was intoxicating featuring Troy Polumalo in the secondary and James Harrison on the defensive line.
While the Steelers achieved a record six superbowl victories as a franchise, the Ravens have had a tremendous amount of success winning two super bowls themselves in 2001 and 2013. As it stands, the Steelers own the winning record of 32-24 in 56 meetings (regular and postseason). In 2008, Baltimore loss all three games against Pittsburgh culminating in their loss during the AFC Championship game. This was just the beginning between these teams, because again (in 2010) they would met three times splitting the regular season matchups. In the divisional round, the Steelers hung on to advance. The rivalry gained national popularity because in 2013 they were featured in a special Thanksgiving Day game and on Christmas Day in 2016. In 2022 and beyond, the bad blood continues on seemingly annual Sunday night game matchups, and with Big Ben retiring after the season and Lamar Jackson being the franchise QB, there’s plenty of room for great football ahead.
12. Giants vs Dodgers
The battle for the National League’s West! The rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants goes back many years, one cock-full’of much regular and postseason madness. The two cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles are home to far different cultures, politics, and economics which has been reflective of each respective fan base. Over both of their rich histories, there has been everything from clutch bats and home run highlights to violent altercations between fans and controversial calls. Since the teams’ beginnings, the Giants have dominated the then Brooklyn Dodgers with a staggering head-to-head record of 721-670-17. Meanwhile, since moving to Los Angeles in 1957, the Dodgers lead in head-to-head wins with a record of 577-548. With the Dodgers clinching 24 and the Giants winning 23, both organizations have more National League pennants than any other team combined! What is even crazier is that both these franchises never, I repeat NEVER met in the postseason until this past year in 2021. As it stands in this rivalry, San Francisco sits at 8 World Series Championships with their last in 2014. The Dodgers sit at 7 rings with their last most notably in 2020. With the Giants under tremendous management with Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts for the Dodgers, these teams are destined for many more great chapters in MLB history.
11. Giants vs Cowboys
The football Giants of New York have been a part of one of the NFL’s most compelling rivalries in the game. From 1964 to 1980, Dallas essentially dominated this rivalry winning 17 of 20 games during the span. While there was minimal relations between the two, the great Tom Landry was a pro-bowl level player for the Giants at the time, who later went on to coach 29 years for the Cowboys where he won two titles during the 70s. In 1987, the Giants won their first title behind the swallowing defense of Lawrence Taylor. They followed that up with their second title in 1991. In 1993, the Cowboys began their run of 3 titles in 4 years, where Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys dominated football in the 90s thanks to the leadership of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irving. This competitive back and forth of suberbowl success ushered in a tight-nit rivalry for the 2000s.
From 2003 to 2009, were some of the most competitive NFC East battles of the rivalry. The Eli Manning lead Giants and Tony Romo’s Cowboys traded grueling close games during the regular season year after year. While the Cowboys have not made it back to the Super Bowl since 1996, the Giants won two more championships in 2018 and 2012. Today, their head-to-head record stands as Dallas controlling the win column with a 71-47-2 record (over 120 appearances).
10. MJ vs Detroit’s ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons
The two titans of midwest basketball: Michael’s Chicago Bulls vs Isaiah’s Detroit ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons. This was a redux attempting to live up to the Lakers vs Celtics rivalry of the 80’s, and its own special kind of way it certainly did not disappoint. When MJ came into the league in 1984, he was a one man show under Doug Collins’ Chicago Bulls. With the huge scoring games, it was no secret Jordan needed a sidekick. It wasn’t until Jerry Krause drafted Scottie Pippen in 1987 where he was able to advance in the Eastern Conference Playoff hunt.
The juggernaut that was Isaiah Thomas’ Pistons were tough, violent, in-your-face and arrogant and they certainly had every right coming off back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. As MJs Bulls came into form they ran into those Pistons along their championship run where Michael was beaten, battered, bruised in a way we may never see again. Enforcers like Bill Laimbeer, John Salley, and Rick Mahorn were the stalwart enforcers below the hoop constantly putting Michael on his back. Albeit against a Hobbled Magic Johnson lead Lakers team, in 1991, Michael finally broke through to win his first championship. The Pistons were never the same, and it started the launch of Michael Jordan’s first three-peat of championships.
9. Blackhawks vs Red Wings
Staying in the same two cities, two Members of NHL’s ‘The Original Six’ enter my top 10 rivalries. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Hockey in the world, but the number between this rivalry are undeniable. With 17 championships combined between the two organizations, they are home to some of the best hockey the league has ever seen. As two original members of the 6 team league that Hockey began with, the rivalry didn’t really heat up until They have some of the crazy fights between fans and players, and many wounds of the past are still raw and open for both teams and their franchises. In 1961, the Black Hawks (led by Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita) broke 23 years without a title by defeating Gordie Howe's Red Wings. On a visit to Olympia Stadium in Detroit in the 1960s, Hull was heckled by three Red Wings fans who eventually climbed the glass and dangled their arms over it before he hit them with his stick. In 1971, the league’s realignment sent the black hawks into the Western Conference, which was essentially reversed in 1980-81 during realignment protocol of the league. That realignment brought more tough competitive spirit back to the rivalry which was temporarily subdued.
In 2013, The Chicago Blackhawks came back in historic fashion to defeat Detroit in 7 games and win the cup. As of 2022, Its been over 14 years since Detroit’s last Stanley Cup and 6 years since Chicago’s last win. As it stands, Detroit is winning their head-to-head with an overall record of 410-319-85-15 over the span of 829 total games, which is an amazingly tight-knit record considering how many matches they’ve played over the last ninety plus years.
8. Tiger vs Phil
There are very few golfers that are more accomplished or decorated than Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Until the early 2000s, Golf wasn’t a cool, glamorous or even athletic sport for that matter. Tiger Woods changed EVERYTHING. The two careers of Tiger and Phil would be interwoven from the twenty year period from 1996 onward.
While the head-to-head statistics and wins are hard to track, there is a lot of similarity and differences between both styles and their accomplishments. Tiger won his first Tournament in 1997, then in 1999, Tiger tied for the PGA Championship and won The US Open in 2000. Thereafter, Phil won his first three major wins (2004 to 2006). From there until the end of the decade, Tiger won a handful more tournaments, absolutely dominating. After winning the 2009 Northern Trust Open (Riviera), and achieved his third Master’s win by 2010. With Tiger temporarily out of the sport for a host of personal reasons beyond golf, during that absence Phil won his 40th PGA win by 2012. For over two decades, Tiger & Phil’s competitive spirits out on the green kept eyes glued to the tv set, even those casual fans who would never watch golf in their lifetime. Together, (each in their own right) dominated professional golf not only domestically, but on the world stage.
7. Federer vs Nadal
Similar to Golf, the story of modern Men’s Tennis cannot be told without Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal. Over the last 15 years, the sport has been dominated by both Federer and Nadal. The Swiss versus the Spaniard have a head-to-head record consisting of 24-16 in favor of Raphael Nadal. In finals, he also has the lead (head-to-head) of 14-10. Between the two, Nadal leads in French Open victories 6-0 and Australian Open victories 3-1, but Federer commands Wimbledon where he leads 3-1 in their matchups all time. They are the only pair of men to have finished six consecutive calendar years as the top two ranked players on the ATP Tour (from 2005 to 2010) and seven times overall, including 2017. This includes a record 211 consecutive weeks sharing the top two rankings from July 2005 to August 2009. From 2006 to 2008, they contested every French Open and Wimbledon final. Their 2008 Wimbledon final was lauded as the greatest match ever by many long-time tennis analysts. Their 2017 Australian Open final was one of the most highly anticipated matches in tennis history, in part due to the relevance within popular discussions on their placement in greatest-of-all-time listings, coupled with that fact that they were both already in their 30s, which is usually when most players are on the decline or have already retired. Other considerable matches between the two include the 2006 Italian Open final, 2007 Wimbledon final, and 2009 Australian Open final, all of which went to five sets.
6. Frazier vs Ali
DOWN GOES FRAZIER. Touted as ‘Fight of the Century’ it one of the single most iconic and highly anticipated matchups of the last century was between boxing heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. At this time in boxing, these were two of the very best fighters in the country, let alone the world. By this point in American history, Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) stood up to the media (along with other prominent sports figures) during this time to protest the war invested by the federal government. His actions allowed his career to suffer substantial consequences, and a majority of the populus was unsure how many prized fights he had left depending on the impending political situation.
During the buildup to the match, both Ali and Frazier went to ABC studios to promote the fight. On ABC’s show, Wild World of Sports the two began getting into it on camera adding fuel to the fire of the match. On the night of January 28th, 1974, the match began. Ali was aggressive right from the start. At the end of round two, Frazier, a notoriously slow starter in fights, was hurt by an Ali right hand and was in significant trouble. Referee Tony Perez stepped in between the two fighters having mistakenly thought he heard the bell. The interruption allowed Frazier seconds to recover, enabling him to finish the round on his feet. Ali employed markedly different tactics from the first fight. Ali came up with a new tactic, a half-hook half-uppercut coming from both sides. These punches resulted in a higher percentage of punches landed versus straight punches that frequently missed Frazier's bobbing head. As in the first fight, Ali also didn't allow Frazier to work inside, tying up the shorter fighter by holding him behind the neck with his left hand while keeping Frazier's vaunted left tied up with the other. This pattern of Ali’s flurrying punches dominated most of the fight. Ali won a close but unanimous decision.
5. Duke vs UNC (Battle of the Bluebloods)
This battle between the bluebloods is recognized as most likely the most iconic and important rivalry ever in college basketball. With a rivalry dating back well over 50 years, these teams have met a total of 254 times over that span. As it stands, North Carolina owns the win column over Duke with a 141-114 overall record. So many multi-overtime games have compelled and possessed the minds of these fans and students over the years. Many of the big names have passed through the tarheel locker room include Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, and Rasheed Wallance on the Carolina side. From Duke’s side of the court, their notable class of all-timers include Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Kyrie Irving, Grant Hill, and Elton Brand. The history of this rivalry has been passed down from generation to generation. From Cameron Stadium to the Dean Smith Center, these historic programs continue to garner the respect, admiratio, and fame of not only the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and their rich tradition, but also lifelong fans of the sport we know and love in college hoops. The tradition of this rivalry is yet to be matched in all of college sports, and with the recent retiring of Roy Williams, it may be time for Carolina to write the next chapter…
4. Michigan vs Ohio State Football
Michigan versus Ohio State is the football equivalent of the Duke & UNC blueblood rivalry. Since their first meeting in 1897, the two programs are commonly regarded across the country as the longest standing rivalry in college sports. Meeting over 117 times in their schools history, Michigan still maintains the winning head-to-head matchup between the two with a record of 59-52-6. The atmosphere of this rivalry is unmatched; Whether you’re in Columbus, Ohio or Ann Arbor, Michigan amongst 120,000 screaming fans, there’s no place quite like this rivalry which is why in 2000, ESPN named this rivalry the single greatest North American sports rivalry of all time. Few disagree, and for many years, it was traditionally and routinely a 12 noon kickoff on ABC every year. With more viewership and great competition between both schools, it’s simply why the TV ratings for this game’s broadcast trump the rest of college football.
This historic tradition has many incremental chapters: The Snow Bowl & Woody Hayes days (1950-1968), The "Ten-Year War" of Hayes vs Schembechler (1969–1978), Schembechler vs Bruce (1979–1987), the John Cooper era (1988–2000), the Jim Tressel (2001–2010), and the most notable recent era of Harbaugh vs Meyer (2015–2018). There have been periods in the early 2000s where coaching dysfunction plagued both programs momentarily, but in the grand timeline of this rivalry it pales in comparison to the rest of the story. As it stands, Michigan has been to 48 bowl games to Ohio State’s 50, but Michigan has captured 11 national titles to Ohio State’s 8 national championships. Until the coronavirus pandemic, this rival game was played every year for 102 years straight. The popularity of college football has never been higher thanks to the playoff format and other conferences in Division 1, so there will be many more chapters to come.
3. Packers vs Bears
The single best rivalry in the history of football is between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. They are home to some of the biggest names who ever played the sport such as Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, George Halas, Mike Ditka, Brett Favre, Walter Payton, and Aaron Rodgers. Over the past 100 years, this rivalry has passed the torch back and forth over the decades. Before the present-day league was formed, the Bears and Packers won a total of 22 championships combined! In today’s presently-constructed league we know and love, Green Bay is home to 4 championships and the Bears are home to 1. Since the beginning in 1921, this rivalry has seen the most action between any two teams in history with 204 games. Green Bay just recently took back the torch for the head-to-head win column in 2017, where it currently stands at 103-95-6 all time in favor of the Packers. The rivalry is so historic and old that their matchups from the first decade of the 1920s were home to occurring statistics such as the first in-game ejection, the first shutout, and the first 40 point game. The first playoff matchup head-to-head came in 1941 where the Chicago Bears defeated the Packers 33-14 en route to winning the Western Conference crown. There will never be quite a tradition in professional sports like the Packers & Bears.
2. Lakers vs Celtics
The single best rivalry in the history of basketball is between the Lakers and Celtics. Easily the most successful franchises, both teams have 17 world titles over the span of their existence. Originally from Minneapolis, these long-time rivals date back to the late 40’s, where in 1948 they first competed against one another. Back in Minneapolis, George Mikan and the Lakers dominated from 1949-1954 winning 5 titles in 6 years. Then in the 60s, Bill Russell and coach Red Auerbach won 9 titles in an 11 year span which left a Lakers championship drought for 18 straight years. In the 70s, the Laker & Celtic dominance diminished, merely combining for 3 championships across the decade, but the rivalry was renewed when Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson laced up for the long-time rivals just to bring the competition back in full form for the 80s. The lakers wound up winning 5 titled in the 80s and Boston won 3 titles as well. As they exited the silent 90’s, the Lakers would renew dominance under the unstoppable duo of Kobe & Shaq winning another 5 titles from 2000 to 2010. The Celtics won their lone title in 2008 from the pairing of ‘The Big 3’ where Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen achieved their first title.
Head-to-head in the NBA finals, Celtics have owned the matchup winning 10 out of 13 championships between their appearances. Similar to the Packers & Bears, both the Lakers & Celtics are home to the largest pools of hall of fame players all-time greats in the history of the sport including the likes of George Mikan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bill Russell, John Havlichek, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’neal, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James including so many more, there’s merely not enough time to count. As we sit here in 2022, the rivalry is set at 17 even, as we wait for the next generation to relight the torch to this all-time great rivalry in basketball history.
1. Yankees vs Red Sox
For over 120 years, the MLB’s American league has been home to the single greatest rivalry in all of professional sports; the New York Yankees & Boston Red Sox. Everybody knows the names, everyone knows the historic faces, it’s iconic in tradition and has stood the test of time as the face of the sport. Since the very beginning, the Red Sox felt tremendous success, but it all changed in 1919 when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees that would seemingly change the course of history, forever. From 1918 to 2004, the Red Sox experienced an 86 year championship drought, while the Yankees gained ground in their evolving rivalry by winning 26 championships during just that period of time! WOW
As the 2000s began, the rivalry was restored in its full capacity. Teams met back to back years in 2003 and 2004 in the AL postseason with some of the most competitive games and series this sport has ever witnessed. In 2004, the curse was broken and the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years bringing them to a total of 6 World Series titles.
In head-to-head terms, the Yankees still take the nod with a winning record vs Boston of 1232-1033-14. Since the 1900s (over 120 years ago), so much has changed between these long time hated rivals. While New York has the overall wining record, Boston owns the postseason between these two franchises going 3-2 in series head-to-head. There’s never been a more aggressive and deep-seeded hate between two teams than this one, which is why it remains number one all-time in the history of sports. When you enter Fenway Park, you can feel time standing still as fans reflect on all the history that has been made between these two teams.