What does and doesn’t make a rivalry



Ayn Rand once said, “Indifference, not hatred is the opposite of love.”

Remember that quote the next time you voice hatred for your rival team. Red Sox fans hate the Yankees, but they desperately need the Yankees in the same way the Jedi needed the Sith. Rivalry unifies and defines. And it starts early.

In a Boston sports memorabilia shop, I once overheard two seven-year old Massachusetts girls fight each other with taunts of ‘Yankee fan! Yankee Fan;’ they also slapped one another across the face with pinstriped clothing. But in all rivalries, the loser is the side exhibiting more hatred, anger, and fear for its opponent.Think of “Sibling Rivalries;” the same exact principle applies in sports rivalries.

Now consider the ESPN hype machine and its subtitles for certain batches of games: “Big Monday,” “Throwdown Thursday,” “Semifinal Saturday,” “Showdown Saturday,” “Big Ten-ACC Challenge,” “Feast Week,” “Separation Saturday,” “Judgment Week,” “Championship Week,” and of course, “Rivalry Week.” In college football, rivalry week is actually two weeks: the 23rd and 30th this year.uclausc

Rivalries abound in all facets of life.

Anywhere there is competition, acrimony will follow. Avril Lavigne vs. Mandy Moore, Jay-Z vs. Nas, 2pac vs. Notorious B.I.G., Israel vs. the entire Muslim world, Richard Nixon vs. John F. Kennedy, Eminem vs. his mother/ex-wife/Michael Jackson/Moby/Insane Clown Posse/every other human being on Earth. But of course, defining someone as your mortal enemy will undoubtedly bring more attention and publicity to him/her.

During the 1990s, British pop music was dominated by two bands at odds with each other: Blur and Oasis. I was a big Oasis fan in high school, but discovered my now all-time favorite band, Blur because of its much publicized rivalry with Oasis. So when you hate your rival, be aware that you are validating their power and existence by bringing attention to them. Down the line, that could even (unintentionally) bring more success for him.

Rivalries take many forms and are based on different situations. You can have a rival based on your location: USC-UCLA.

Or your rivalry could be based on the coinciding histories of success: USC-Notre Dame.

Obviously, you can have more than one rival, or a different rival for each sport. Florida has Kentucky in basketball, Florida State in football. The Florida State Seminoles actually have two rivals in football: Miami and Florida. The rivalry deepens, given which opponent stands in the way of bigger success. goodvsevil

A true rivalry involves mutual hatred and symmetry. For mutual hatred requires success for both parties, and within the same general chronology. A perfect example is the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. Another example involves regional centrism dividing the local population. Like the “Red River Shootout” of Texas-Oklahoma. It is played at a neutral site halfway between the two schools, (and even has a distinct landmark defining the border) making it an especially great rivalry.

In 2004, Street & Smith ranked the all time top 100 college basketball programs. Michigan and Michigan State were right next to each other at #24 and #25 respectively.  A textbook rivalry with teams separated by decent drive.  Since the end of the extremely corrupt “Fab 5” era, this series has been very one-sided, but Street & Smith’s evaluation takes in the full history of every program, not just the recent past. (And this ranking is outdated, because it was before two more Spartan Final Four appearances). Symmetry can apply only in basketball though because Michigan’s rival in football is Ohio State.

And when you have your hated rival on the ropes, when you’re beating them solidly and decisively, you don’t let up. Sportsmanship may be discarded. During the national title season of 2000, Michigan State beat Michigan 114-63 on the final day of the regular season. Mateen Cleaves had a record setting 20 assists, Charlie Bell had a career high 31 points. MSU shot 16 of 32 from 3 point. The 51 point deficit was the worst loss for any Michigan team ever. State had them put away early, but stepped on their throats when they could have just as easily letup.

When it’s a rivalry game, corporal punishment is natural. After all, most people could use a machine to rage against.

Catch me Fridays at 7:30 AM Central talking Bears for WAOR Michiana, NBC Sports Radio and Tuesdays at 10:30 AM Central talking Illinois and Northwestern for KOZN Omaha, Fox Sports Radio

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the nation. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and RSS


  1. I guess Illinois doesn’t have a true rival in football. not in the actual sense of the word.

  2. I only clicked this link to look at the picture of the girl, just sayin’.

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