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The Biggest Rivalries in Sports

April 30th 2006

The Biggest Rivalries in Sports

Texas Rivalries

From college football to Major League Baseball, rivalries between teams have always added excitement to fan experience.  Many teams are old rivals, while others have developed a competitive intensity more recently. What teams have been fighting it out for some time? Rivalries are at the center of many fan’s lives. Here’s a quick look at some classic ones.

College football has some of the most talked about rivalries in all of sports.  To begin with, you have the heated battles between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.  Being in neighboring states, they compete for regional bragging rights and often the same recruits.  Over the years, there have been many classic match-ups between the two teams. 


One of the biggest rivalries in college football history is between Big 10 powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan. These teams, that are usually nationally ranked, are so well matched and competitive that the winner is often determined in the final minutes and sometimes the final seconds of the contest. Consequently, when these two teams play, the game often determines which remains in the National Championship picture and which is out.

The South features the tough competition between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.  From the days of Alabama’s legendary coach Bear Bryant this has been one of the most talked about match-ups on the gridiron.  Both schools are in the same state and are highly competitive with each other year in and year out.  There have been many close, tight-knit games over the past century to prove it.  The Tennessee Volunteers also have an active rivalry with these two teams but nothing compares to the legendary hard fought battles between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide.


On the west coast, there is the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) rivalry.  This competition has been dominated recently by the success of Southern California and the strong teams they have produced over the last couple of years. Recently USC has taken to the field with Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinhart and Reggie Bush, giving the Trojans the edge. This next year we may see a shift in power with UCLA coming to the forefront.

The National Basketball Association has had the classic battles of the Lakers and the Celtics.  For decades these two teams fought back and forth to determine who would take home the NBA crown.  There were the great match-ups in the 60’s and 70’s of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, which are legendary in the history of the NBA.


The 80’s hosted memorable post-season contests between the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and the Celtics’ Larry Bird.  Their respective teams, with Bird running the court and dishing off to Robert Parrish for a slam dunk or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar working the ball inside only to pass back to Johnson for three, produced some of the greatest moments in NBA history and will be talked about for decades to come.

The meetings between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks produced another fine rivalry. Michael Jordon with his extreme athletic ability was the catalyst for tough contests in which the Knicks sometimes surprised the team from the Windy City; although the majority of the time Jordan and company were on the plus side in these contests.

Every season a tandem of college basketball teams always stand out as among two of the best in the nation. In North Carolina both on and off the court, one college basketball rivalry dominates the region. The University of North Carolina and Duke, both members of the highly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), are located only 8 miles apart. Both schools possess myriads of faithful fans that have traveled Tobacco Road year after year to see their teams fight for victory.

Since 1990, the two clubs have a combined for a total of eleven Final Four appearances. Those who follow the ACC certainly recognize the high profile contests that have defined their rivalry. The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are synonymous with big name games, some of which they have won and others they’ve lost.

Off the court, these two teams also battle it out by attempting to recruit some of the most talented players in the nation. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils often court the same players, with coaching staffs jousting with each other for the finest players available. NCAA National Championships are the hallmark of both these schools.  If you enjoy excitement and hardcore college basketball at its best, Duke and UNC are your ticket. 

In Major League Baseball, there is perhaps the greatest rivalry of all sports.  The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have battled each other on the diamond since the early twentieth century.  The rivalry became heated in 1920 when the Red Sox sold the game’s greatest player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees.  From that point on, the Yankees dominated the rest of Major League Baseball, going on to win 26 World Series; while Boston, after Ruth departed, was unable to capture a single crown. 

Some people began to call Boston’s championship drought the “curse of the Bambino.”  The trade of Babe Ruth, who was also known as the “Bambino,” was supposedly the reason why Boston couldn’t win a championship. But that all changed in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox were able to come back from three games down in the American League Championship Series and defeat the New York Yankees, and then go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. 

This was what Red Sox fans had been waiting for, and now they’re hopeful that they will never have to hear about “the curse” again.  This has been one heck of a rivalry over the years and odds are that it will continue to be one of the best in sports.

When there’s an intense rivalry between two teams it’s always magnified by fan enthusiasm.  The fans are what make two teams want to compete harder against each other, but it takes exciting, hard-fought games to get the fans interested.  Most great rivalries are not built on one or two good contests, but over decades of excellent games.  

There is no set number of games that teams must play in order to generate a rivalry.  The fans and players together are the ones who decide what makes an ongoing, classic rivalry.  But one thing is for certain, there is nothing better than watching two, evenly matched rivals battle it out until only one is left standing.

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Pat Stevens
This article was written by Pat Stevens sponsored by If you’re looking to see your favorite team live in action, look no further than where fans buy and sell the hottest sports tickets. Reproductions of this article are encouraged but must include a link back to


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