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Six sports rivalries that just won’t quit

By on January 21, 2015

A debate regarding the best sports rivalries could become as heated as the clashes themselves. Every fan has an opinion. And a favorite team. And therefore, a most un-favorite team.

Chicago Blackhawks fans are required to despise the Detroit Red Wings. If you love Ohio State football, detesting the Michigan Wolverines is mandatory. Washington Redskins fans display a knee-jerk loathing of the Dallas Cowboys. Dodgers or Giants? It’s one or the other. And if you live near the Red River, on college football Saturday it’s either Texas or Oklahoma.

Here are six of the all-time most compelling sports rivalries.


Yankees vs. Red Sox

The always competitive, if not downright adversarial, great American cities of Boston and New York have long extended their one-upmanship to sports. Years before the Red Sox sold superstar slugger Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 and the Williams vs. DiMaggio debate, these two MLB American League teams, which have played each other more than 2,100 times, were at odds.

The fierce competitors continued their temper flaring, benchclearing behavior in early April 2014, when the eight-time World Series Champion Red Sox, who took the title in 2013, visited Yankee stadium, a place where fans love to remind opponents of their 27 World Series wins. All of which makes Boston’s tribute to retiring Yankee Derek Jeter that much more meaningful.

Here was the Yankee-est of Yankees, playing his final game in the enemy territory of Fenway Park. The Red Sox greeted him with the Aretha Franklin classic, “Respect,” the fans gave him a standing ovation, and Red Sox players of the past joined the team in a heartfelt tribute to their long time nemesis.

Bruins vs. Canadiens

When the Montreal Canadiens face their archrival Boston Bruins, players on each team get hot under the collar — despite the ice.

These historic franchises, both members of the National Hockey League (NHL) original six, have played each other more than any other teams in the league. And almost every time things get ugly, never more so than back in 1952 when Canadien Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, fresh from a concussion-causing encounter, leapt from the bench, his head dripping with blood, and scored the Stanley Cup Finals winning goal.

Three years later, Richard was at the center of another violent episode with the Bruins, when Hal Laycoe high-sticked him, causing a gash that required five stitches. Richard attacked, and broke his hockey stick over Laycoe’s body.

Bad blood continues to flow, as Bruins forward Milan Lucic told the Boston Globe last year: “I do hate them, and if you ask them the same question, I’m sure they’d give you the same answer about if they hate us.”


Packers vs. Bears

Lombardi, Starr and Favre? Or Halas, Ditka and Payton? Pick a side, pro football fans. There’s no middle ground between hardscrabble Green Bay and Chicago. Example: the Tinley Park, Illinois, couple, he a Bears fan, she a Packer backer, whose bizarre bet on the game in November 2012 (winner got to taser the loser) resulted in a call to the cops.

These storied teams, with a combined 22 World Championships, share a division (NFC North), thus playing each other twice yearly, often in conditions where players can see their breath. Da Bears, winners of the first match-up back in 1921 (20-0) and leader of the all-time series (93-89-6 at press time), beat the Pack once last year (27-20), then lost a late-December 33-28 thriller when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned following a months-long injury and threw a last minute touchdown to win the division title.

North Carolina vs. Duke

If familiarity breeds contempt, then the animosity between Durham’s Duke University and Chapel Hill’s University of North Carolina is understandable. The schools, and their consistently top-ranked men’s basketball teams, sit eight miles apart on North Carolina’s Tobacco Road. Talk to a fan of one team and they will be more than thrilled to badmouth the other. A book by author Will Blythe about the rivalry is fittingly titled, “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever.”

The second (UNC Tarheels) and fourth (Duke Blue Devils) winningest teams in NCAA history have met at least twice annually since 1920, often with down-to-the-buzzer, ACC-championship determining finishes. UNC had Dean Smith and Michael Jordan. Duke has Mike Krzyzewski, (a.k.a. Coach K.), and the Cameron Crazies. And both sides bleed blue, especially during March Madness.

Auburn vs. Alabama

This is not just another in-state college football rivalry. Just ask Harvey Updyke, Jr., the ’Bama fan who served 76 days in jail last year for poisoning two of Auburn University’s famous 80-year-old Toomer’s Oaks. (He got caught because he bragged about the deed when he called in to a sports talk radio show!)

In Alabama, home to no major pro sports franchises, the annual meet-up of the teams at The Iron Bowl (so named when it was played in neutral Birmingham, a steel hub), is what people talk about, argue about and look forward to all year long.

The University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide leads the all-time tally (43-35-1), and won two in a row, including a 49-0 blowout during their second consecutive National Championship season of 2012. Then Auburn’s Tigers won in 2013 with a last second missed kick/109-yard touchdown run stunner. The teams went on a scoring binge in 2014, with Alabama winning 55-44.

Allison vs. Yarborough

Although NASCAR is not technically a team sport, drivers often count themselves part of teams (Stewart-Haas, Childress Racing, etc.), assisting teammates on and off track.

So, the rivalry of drivers Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough makes the list based on this technicality, as well as sheer outrageousness and passion. They raced each other 438 times, with Yarborough claiming three championship titles to Allison’s one. But fans most remember the on-track skirmish during the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. Bobby’s brother Donnie and Yarborough wrecked, then jumped out of their cars to fight. Bobby stopped to help his brother, famously commenting, “I got out of the car and (Yarborough) started beating on my fist with his nose.”

Nothing like a little friendly competition.

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