In the history of sports, many rivalries began only to last for decades on end and to become not only fierce but historic and to be talked about for decades to come. A rivalry between two sports franchises is only just part of the game itself.
Let’s take a look at five of the oldest and greatest rivalries in all of sports:
Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens
A rivalry that dates back to 1917 and the oldest rivalry in the National Hockey League. Both teams were two of the Original Six teams. There’s been a total of 812 meetings between the two with Montreal leading the series both in regular season (397-317-88-10) and playoff play (42-29). A combined 37 Stanley Cup titles between the two. They’ve met five times in the Stanley Cup finals with Toronto winning three times. Since their last encounter in the 1967 finals, Montreal went to win it all ten more times while Toronto has been in a drought. At one point, Montreal had a 14-game winning streak against Toronto which was snapped on October 14th, 2017 and since then Toronto has been on a five-game winning streak against Montreal.
New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox
A rivalry dating back over 100 years. Over 2,250 meetings between the two clubs. New York leads both the regular season (1,202-1,018-14) and playoff (12-11) series. The rivalry began before Babe Ruth entered Major League Baseball, but the rivalry didn’t really pick up until Ruth’s arrival. On January 3rd, 1920, then Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees and the Red Sox went on to suffer an 86-year drought which was superstitiously called “The Curse of the Bambino”.
During that period the Yankees won the World Series 26 times. Although during the period of the curse, the Red Sox and Yankees met only twice during the postseason and the Yankees would win both times. Overall, both teams have only met four times in the postseason and both teams have beat each other twice. It was in the 2004 AL Championship series when the curse had finally broke; New York had a 3-0 series lead and were closing in on the win in Game 4 when Boston came from behind and won the game in the 12th inning. The Red Sox went to win the series and they went to win the World Series thus finally ending their painful 86-year drought. Since the end of the curse, the Red Sox have three World Series while the Yankees have won one.
Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers
A rivalry that began in 1921. 198 meetings between the two teams with Green Bay leading the all-time series 97-95-6. From 1985 to 1988 the Bears went on an eight-game winning streak against Green Bay while Green Bay went on a ten-game winning streak against Chicago from 1994 to 1998. From the 20s to the 60s, the Bears dominated the rivalry amassing a 49-26-6 record. During the Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr era, Green Bay went 15-5 against Chicago.
Since 1992, the Packers are 40-15 against the Bears. Brett Favre went 22-10 against Chicago and Aaron Rodgers is currently 16-5 against the Bears, including 1-0 in the playoffs. Walter Payton played 24 games against Green Bay and rushed for over 2,400 yards and scored 19 times while Chicago went 17-7 in Payton’s 24 games against the Packers. Both teams have only met twice in the playoffs; in 1941 and in the 2010 NFC Championship at Soldier Field where the Packers upset the Bears 21-14 to advance to the Super Bowl where they went on to win the title.
There’s been some true bad blood in this rivalry including Chicago’s 61-7 win over the Pack on the December 7th, 1980 when Starr who was Green Bay’s coach at the time angrily confronted Chicago head coach Neill Armstrong due to Chicago’s brutal and excessive blitzing and refused to shake his hand. On another occasion, in the 1985 season, the Packers allegedly left horse feces in the Bears locker room when the Bears took on the Packers at Lambeau Field. It ultimately backfired as Chicago went on to win.
There’s also the infamous “hit list” game on November 23rd, 1986; Packers Defensive end Charles Martin, during warm ups allegedly waved a towel that had the name and number of five Chicago players, two of which were Jim McMahon and Payton. During the game after McMahon threw an interception, Martin grabbed him from behind and slammed him into the turf, injuring his shoulder and ending his season in the process, resulting in an ejection and two-game suspension for Martin. To this day, that play is still considered the dirtiest play in NFL history.
Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics
A rivalry that began in 1948. Considered the most storied rivalry in the history of the NBA, these two franchises have met in the NBA finals a record 12 times in a span of 51 years. Boston is 9-3 against Los Angeles in the finals. The rivalry originally ignited in the 60s when the Lakers and Celtics met six times in the finals with Boston winning each time. The rivalry disappeared in the 70s but it reignited when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson arrived in the league.
In 80s, the Lakers and Celtics only met three times in the finals, and the Lakers emerged victorious twice, though the on-court rivalry between Bird and Magic not only impacted the two teams but impacted the NBA overall and it’s been said that Bird and Magic both saved the NBA. The Lakers won the title five times in the 80s while Boston only won it once. Once Bird and Magic retired, the rivalry once again went cold until Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce revived it when Los Angeles and Boston met in the 2008 and 2010 finals with both Los Angeles and Boston winning respectively.
Brazil and Argentina
An international soccer rivalry that began in 1914. Listed as the greatest rivalry in international soccer, both nations have won a combined seven World Cup titles and 22 Copa America titles.
Throughout their history many of their encounters resulted in incidents, including in 1937 and 1946 where violence erupted between the players and spectators who would invade the pitch causing chaos. Although they never faced each other on the pitch, Brazilian legend Pele and Argentinian legend Diego Maradona ignited in a rivalry of their known primarily through trash-talking and personal criticism. Brazil and Argentina have met in the final of the 2004 and 2007 Copa America tournaments as well as the final of the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, with Brazil taking the win in all three meetings.
The most well-remembered games between the two nations include an encounter in the 1982 World Cup tournament where Brazil knocked Argentina out of the tournament and also in the 1990 World Cup in the Round of 16 where Argentina sent Brazil home. Their 1990 World Cup encounter is known as the Holy Water game due to the Brazilians believing their water had been spiked. Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi haven’t had a feud. On the contrary, they were teammates at Barcelona and Neymar says Messi is his idol and he’s learned so much from him. Seems like even in historic rivalries, there’s some peace among the players.
Rivalries have impacted sports for many decades now both positively and negatively. While the impact has caused a series of infamous misfortunes, rivalries play big parts in the writings of the sports history books. In other words, without rivalries, sports would not be the same. Sports would be considered to be boring.