Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Rivalry Debate

I'm not sure this will interest too many people, but I'm going to throw it out there anyways, and see what happens. A few months ago on the "Collin Cowherd" show on ESPN Radio they were discussing what rivalries actually were in sports. It actually ended up being a pretty interesting debate and then it got me to thinking. Over the past couple of weeks, a lot more talks of rivalries have been brought up with the Yankees and Redsox. I will go through a couple of points that have been brought up in all of these discussions and inject my opinions. But I'm also curious what you guys think as well if you're interested. If not, I hope I'm not boring you with what I have to say.

1. Rivalries Only Exist If It's a Countrywide Phenomenon

This was one of Cowherd's main points. He in fact stated that the only two true rivalries in sports were Yankees/Redsox and Oklahoma Sooners/Texas Longhorns (in football). He claimed that these two were the only ones that he knew of that were followed all across the U.S. Now, I don't have actual Nielsen ratings in front of me, and I have no doubt that there are a lot of Sooners and Longhorns fans out there. But just judging from a local standpoint, I do know about a handful of Sooner fans, and I don't think I know any Longhorn fans. I can't imagine either that a bunch of people in California and Nevada are following this game every year. I don't even know if I've ever watched one of these match-ups. I truly believe that this is a rivalry, but I think it's more of a regional rivalry than Cowherd was making it out to be. In fact I've met more people that are curious about the Florida St./Miami game or the Duke/North Carolina game (in basketball) than I have the Sooners/Longhorns football game. So, that really doesn't make much sense to me. I think that even if it's just a statewide rivalry; couldn't that still be put up there with some of the others?

2. It's Only a Rivalry if Both Teams are Winning

In last weeks broadcast of the Yankees/Redsox game, I believe on Wendsday, Rick Suthcliffe made the comment that only now is this an actual rivalry. Because, before the RedSox didn't prove they could beat the Yankees in the postseason and win the World Series. But now that they have, this is a true rivalry. I agree with this to a point, but not about the Yankees/Redsox. This is a deepseated kind of thing; it all goes back to Babe Ruth. So, to say that this is just now becoming a rivalry is retarted. I mean, in the late eighties and early nineties, the Redsox made it to the playoffs quite a few times and they weren't playing the Yankees in them. So, the Yankees have nothing to do with them not getting to or winning the World Series. However, I do see how some rivalries die out. There was no greater rivalry in basketball in the eighties than the Lakers/Celtics, and for part of the nineties it was the Bulls/Pistons. But it would be hard to claim those as rivalries now. Or in the NFL, it could be argued that for three seasons the Jaguars/Titans was a bit of a rivalry and then the Ravens/Titans, but no one really looks at it that way now.

But at the same time, Cowherd was trying to say that the Broncos/Raiders wasn't a rivalry anymore because of the Raiders decline. Try telling that to a Raiders fan (like myself) or a Broncos fan. When you're such a fan of a team, as I am, that you will take the phrase "John Elway sucks" to your grave, I think it's safe to say that can be deemed a rivalry. Much like the Steelers/Browns is still a big deal to a lot of people, the Cubs/Cardinals, the Dodgers/Giants, the Braves/Mets, Duke/Kentucky (in basketball), USC/UCLA (football), and so on. These are still games evey year that mean a lot to the many fans of the teams.

So, I guess in my opinion, a rivalry is what you personally make of it along with a bit of an overall consensus. I've talked to many fellow Raiders fans that agree even if we go 2-14, as long as those two wins are against Denver we're happy. That's what makes a rivalry; the US majority be damned. I will say this though. When I'm thinking about what are probably the more popular rivalries today, they all seem to fall in football (both professional and collegiate). So, maybe when you only play each other no more than three times in one season, it becomes a little more important to everyone.


At 4/22/2005 01:30:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

A rivalry is any game that both teams get up for more than another game that could have been played at the same time. For example, the annual Kentucky-Louisville basketball game means much more to both teams than the games played before or after it. Everyone knows that. There can also be a small rivalry between teams, where you care a little bit more, but not a lot. Degrees of rivalry. There can also be a one-way rivalry where only one team gets up for a game. Memphis does this when playing Louisville. That's a big rivalry for them, and I wish they were playing next year.

I disagree with both of the numbered points you spelled out. A rivalry does not have to be national, and both sides do not have to be winning. If the Red Sox-Yankees thing wasn't a rivalry, then what was it? There was certainly more there than your typical baseball game. We need some kind of word for that, and rivalry will have to do.

At 4/22/2005 02:01:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

We do want to be clear, here. Jonathan is re-stating what ESPN morning radio guy Colin Cowherd thought made a rivalry and merely commenting on them, not making those points himself.

As for "rivalry," this isn't a word that has any vague meaning. It is the state of competition and antagonism, to paraphrase, it also has to do with "emulation," whereby you try to be as good as another.

Therefore, "rivalry" is just what Mike says it is. It can be Gallatin versus Hendersonville in high school football, and no one cares except them.

What Cowherd must be confusing this with is what constitutes "best rivalries" from mere "rivalries." I would argue that the Oklahoma-Texas matchup is something that used to be a national flavor but isn't any longer. Red Sox-Yankees has been a rivalry for a long time, but it has only been discussed in the last several years, where they keep meeting in the playoffs. I would argue the furor over this rivalry had not been that big of a deal in the 80's and most of the 90's.

If you had asked what the best rivalry in sports was about 10 years ago, you'd have gotten the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks--I guarantee that Red Sox-Yankees wouldn't have been on the map. There was also Red Wings-Avalanche. This was due not only to the teams being good, and popular, but that they fought bloody battles all the time, with no end in sight it seemed.

There are no true "national" rivalries, one that is always apparent and is always something the entire country gets into. It is a function of two teams being good at the same time for a noticeable period of time. That's when the country takes interest. They will always be regional rivalries until it matters.


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