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25 Biggest Sports Rivalries of All Time

Jordan Pomaville

In November 1969, coach Woody Hayes was about to take his No. 1, undefeated Ohio State football team to Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes were riding a 22-game winning streak that spanned three seasons, had defeated Michigan the previous season 50-14 and won the Rose Bowl against Southern Cal as well as a national championship.

Despite all the accolades the Buckeyes received in 1968, Hayes believed the 1969 team was his all-time greatest. But in that era, the Big Ten had a “no repeat” rule, meaning that since the Buckeyes had gone to the Rose Bowl the previous year, they couldn’t in 1969. Treating the game against Michigan as merely academic, Sports Illustrated jokingly pushed for a Woody Bowl, pitting the Ohio State offense against the Ohio State defense for the national championship.

However, led by first-year head coach Bo Schembechler, Michigan shocked the Buckeyes by winning 24-12. The Buckeyes hadn’t scored fewer than 34 points in a game all season.

The victory sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl. The game kicked off the 10-year battle between Hayes and Schembechler and elevated a rivalry that began in 1897 and has carried on to the modern era.

Rivalry games force sports fans to confront the ugly side of their fandom — the part of them that hates the other team even more than they love their own team. Let’s celebrate these hatefests with the top 25 biggest sports rivalries.

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

  • Most recent meeting: In a late July four-game home series against the Yankees, the Red Sox won three of four, avenging the Yankees’ two-game sweep of the Red Sox in MLB’s London Series in June. The good feelings didn’t last long, though. A week later, New York swept a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.

In 1919, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold outfielder/pitcher Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Despite winning three World Series with Boston, Ruth was shipped to New York, and when he retired, he had hit 714 home runs, a record that stood until 1974. Boston endured disappointment and close calls until it finally won another World Series in 2004. By the end of that 86-year time span, the Yankees had won a record 27 World Series. Before the Red Sox could break the “Curse of the Bambino” in the 2004 World Series, they had to notch their most dramatic series victory against New York. In the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox became the first and only MLB team to rally from an 0-3 series deficit, beating the Yankees in seven games. 

Duke vs. North Carolina

  • Most recent meetings: Last season, North Carolina swept its two regular-season basketball matchups with Duke, but the Blue Devils bounced back with a win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament semifinal.

Proximity and greatness have fueled the constant conflict between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. The schools sit a mere 10 miles apart down Tobacco Road and have been playing each other at least twice each season since their first meeting in 1920. They’ve met up in an AP Top 10 matchup 48 times and combined for 51 conference championships in the 66-year history of the ACC.

But perhaps the rivalry’s greatest moment came in 1974 when UNC trailed Duke by eight points with 17 seconds remaining. In a comeback that predated the three-point line, UNC made two free throws, forced two Duke turnovers as the Blue Devils attempted to inbound the ball and converted them into baskets, and then hit a last-second shot from 25 feet out to tie the game. Duke was devastated, and UNC went on to a 96-92 overtime win.

Pictured: Duke vs North Carolina, 1970.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

  • Most recent meetings: In the 2018-19 NBA season, the Lakers and Celtics managed a split, each winning a game on the other’s home court.

One of the only NBA rivalries to stand the test of time, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics became rivals simply by being good and have stayed rivals even during some down years for each team. They have combined for 33 NBA titles, with the Celtics edging the Lakers 17-16. The two teams have matched up a record 12 times in the NBA finals, beginning in 1959 when the Lakers still played in Minneapolis, an area that actually has lakes.

In the rivalry’s most recent chapter, the 2010 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant led both teams in scoring in six of the seven games, including the decisive Game 7, which gave the championship to the Lakers. Of his five NBA titles, Bryant ranked his final one against the Celtics as No. 1.

Pictured: Boston Celtics vs Minneapolis Lakers, 1959.

Michigan vs. Ohio State

  • Most recent meeting: In 2018, Ohio State upset Michigan 62-39 in coach Urban Meyer’s final regular-season game with the Buckeyes.

The roots of this rivalry date back to the Toledo War in 1836, when a skirmish broke out between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan over a strip of land that included the port city of Toledo. But since their first meeting in 1897, Ohio State and Michigan have done battle on the gridiron. Prior to the inception of the Big Ten championship game in 2011, Ohio State and Michigan played for the conference title 22 times. The rivalry was reignited by Michigan’s upset in 1969, but Ohio State has dominated recently, winning seven straight and 14 of the past 16.

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

  • Most recent meeting: In March 2019, Barcelona beat Real Madrid 1-0, taking a one-game lead in all-time Clasico wins, 96-95.

The rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid has perhaps the oldest and most politically complex origins of any modern rivalry. Catalunya, with its core city of Barcelona, was an independent state before the unification of Spain. In the 20th century, Real Madrid became a symbol of Spanish nationalism, whereas FC Barcelona represented Catalan separatism.

While Barcelona has had the upper hand recently, Clasico games shine a little brighter when they come in a Copa del Rey final. In 2014, the annual Spanish soccer competition was down to Barcelona and Real Madrid. Tied 1-1, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale scored the game-winning goal with five minutes remaining, giving Los Blancos a Clasico win and Copa del Rey championship.

 

Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

  • Most recent meetings: During the 2018 season, Dallas and Washington split their two matchups, each winning at home.

The Dallas and Washington rivalry began with foresight from Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ first president and general manager. Schramm negotiated the Cowboys be placed in the NFC East division, believing it would result in more exposure in the more populated East Coast television markets.

That action set Dallas on a collision course with division opponent Washington for two games a year. While Dallas dominates the all-time series 71-45-2, Washington might have the sweetest victory. On the way to their first Super Bowl title in the 1982 season, Washington matched up with the Cowboys in the NFC championship game. Backed by running back John Riggins’ 140-yard, two-touchdown performance, the Redskins beat the Cowboys 31-17.

Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

  • Most recent meeting: The Cardinals won two of three games in a series at Chicago’s Wrigley Field from July 30 to Aug. 1.

This rivalry that divides fans in central Illinois began when the National League’s Cubs (then known as the White Stockings) and the American Association’s Cardinals (then known as the Browns) played in the 1885 World Series (then known as the World’s Championship). The series ended in a 3-3-1 tie.

Proximity and sharing a division — both are in the National League Central division — has kept animosity alive between the fanbases. But it was a mano-a-mano competition that’s perhaps most memorable about the rivalry. In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both chased after the single-season home run record of 61. McGwire hit number 62 against the Cubs and went on to hit 70. Sosa finished second with 66, but he won National League MVP honors and took the Cubs to the postseason.

Liverpool vs. Manchester United

  • Most recent meeting: Liverpool and Manchester United tied 0-0 at Manchester’s Old Trafford in February 2019.

The rift between soccer clubs Liverpool and Manchester United began as a rivalry between the cities they call home. In the late 19th century, Manchester merchants, tired of the high import fees in Liverpool, funded the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, effectively cutting out Liverpool, the premier port city. Manchester rose in prominence while Liverpool declined, but their clubs remained dominant on the pitch, combining for 38 league titles.

It’s Liverpool that cemented the greatest comeback in the rivalry. On the road at Liverpool in January 1994, United scored three goals in the first 23 minutes of the match, seemingly ending as soon as it began. But Liverpool battled back, with Nigel Clough scoring two goals before Neil Ruddock headed in a game-tying goal in the 79th minute, sending the home crowd into hysterics after the 3-3 draw.

Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

  • Most recent meetings: In 2018, these divisional rivals squared off twice with the Chiefs winning both, 35-3 and 40-33.

When both teams played in the upstart AFL, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt helped negotiate the merger with the NFL and agreed to have NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle oversee the combined league, ousting AFL commissioner (and Raiders owner) Al Davis. In 1969, the final year of the AFL, the Raiders beat the Chiefs twice during the regular season but lost to Kansas City in the AFL championship game.

Of course, the following year, in the first season post-AFL/NFL merger, tensions boiled over when Raiders defensive end Ben Davidson hit Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson in the back with his helmet. Davidson was immediately retaliated against by Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor, and a bench-clearing brawl ensued. Even worse for both teams, the game ended in a tie at 17, giving nobody any satisfaction.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants

  • Most recent meeting: The Dodgers took three of four from the Giants in a mid-June series at Dodger Stadium.

This West Coast rivalry began as an intercity clash between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Manhattan-based New York Giants jockeying for position in the National League. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, owner Walter O’Malley talked Giants owner Horace Steinheim into joining him in California, preserving their rivalry. Both teams began playing in California in 1958.

In their long history, the Giants scored the most dramatic win in 1951. Trailing the Dodgers by 13 games on Aug. 11, the Giants won 39 of their final 47 games to tie the Dodgers by season’s end. The teams played a best-of-three series for the National League pennant and in Game 3, trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants rallied as Bobby Thomson hit “the shot heard ’round the world,” sending the Giants to the World Series.

Alabama vs. Auburn

  • Most recent meeting: Last season, Alabama destroyed Auburn 52-21 on the way to another appearance in the College Football Playoff.

This in-state battle pits one of college football’s bluest of blue bloods — Alabama — against an Auburn program that, despite its successes, has had to live in the shadow of Alabama. The Crimson Tide lead the all-time series by a hefty margin of 45-31-1 and have one of the most intense fans.

In 2011, after seeing a jersey of Auburn’s 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, hanging on a Bear Bryant statue in Tuscaloosa, Harvey Updyke used an herbicide to poison two famed oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in downtown Auburn, where fans gather to celebrate big victories. Updike spent six months in prison and was ordered to pay restitution to Auburn.

Pictured: Alabama vs. Auburn in 2017 Iron Bowl.

Army vs. Navy

  • Most recent meeting: Army beat Navy 17-10 in December 2018 to secure its third straight Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. The Black Knights later beat Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish 11-2 and earn the No. 19 ranking in the final AP Poll.

The U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy have played each other on the gridiron 119 times. They’re not the powerhouse programs they were in the first half of the 20th century, but Army and Navy still can draw the entire student body of both schools — something no other college football rivalry can claim.

In 1926, Army and Navy played before more than 100,000 spectators in the official dedication game of Chicago’s Soldier Field. Navy entered the game undefeated, while Army had just one loss. Perhaps it’s fitting that these off-field allies shared victory in their greatest game as the Midshipmen and Cadets fought to a 21-21 tie.

USC vs. UCLA

  • Most recent meeting: In a lackluster matchup between a pair of sub-.500 teams, UCLA beat USC 34-27 in November 2018.

Perhaps the only true crosstown rivalry in college sports, these two Pac-12 programs are situated just 13 miles apart in Los Angeles. To underscore this common ground, both teams wear their home jerseys in their annual matchup, a practice that started when the Trojans and Bruins shared the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as their home field.

In a rivalry that has numerous “Game of the Century” contenders, the 1967 USC-UCLA clash certainly meets the criteria. UCLA quarterback and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban took on USC and O.J. Simpson, who went on to win the Heisman the following year. With a berth in the Rose Bowl and a national championship on the line, Beban passed for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns, but Simpson ran for 177 yards and scored twice to lead No. 4 USC to a 21-20 victory over No. 1 UCLA.

Louisville vs. Kentucky

  • Most recent meeting: In the 2018-19 college basketball season, Kentucky swept both games against Louisville.

In a state that has no professional sports teams, it’s two college basketball titans that inspire the most passion among sports fans. But between 1923 and 1982, the schools played each other only three times — all in the NCAA Tournament. This is owed to legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp’s refusal to schedule and seemingly acknowledge the Louisville program. But that all changed when the teams met in the 1983 Elite Eight — without a doubt the most important game in the rivalry. In the game, No. 2-ranked Louisville beat No. 12-ranked Kentucky in overtime, which made Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. take action, intervening in the rivalry to get Kentucky to schedule an annual game with Louisville beginning in the 1983-84 season.

Texas vs. Oklahoma

  • Most recent meeting: In the annual matchup played at the Cotton Bowl, Texas beat Oklahoma 48-45 in October 2018, but the Sooners got revenge over the Longhorns in the Big 12 championship game, defeating Texas 39-27.

This border-state rivalry began with the first meeting of Oklahoma and Texas in 1900. Since 1932, Texas and Oklahoma have met at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas every October during the Texas State Fair to settle the score. Dallas makes a convenient meeting point, being exactly 200 miles from the University of Texas’ home in Austin and the University of Oklahoma’s campus in Norman. Just last season, for the first time in the history of their 114 meetings, Texas and Oklahoma played in a championship game. The Sooners won and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff for the second straight year.

Notre Dame vs. USC

  • Most recent meeting: Notre Dame defeated USC 24-17 in November 2018 to cap an undefeated season and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

This rivalry was born when USC athletic director Gywnn Wilson’s wife, Marion, convinced Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne’s wife, Bonnie, that a trip to Los Angeles every other year would be a nice respite in the late fall. Outside of a hiatus during World War II, they’ve played every year since 1926, and their mutual success had made for appointment viewing every fall.

On Oct. 15, 2005, first-year head coach Charlie Weis thought his Irish had pulled off an upset when the ball squirted out of the hands of Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart as he ran toward the goal line in the final seconds. After USC coach Pete Carroll argued that the ball went out of bounds with time remaining, officials put seven seconds on the clock, and Leinart scored for a 34-31 win. The loss could have been the biggest “win” of the Weis era. Just weeks later, Weis signed a 10-year contract extension that kept Notre Dame paying him long after he was fired following the 2009 season.

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

  • Most recent meeting: The Saints swept the Falcons last season in their two matchups, 31-17 and 43-37, en route to an NFC championship game appearance.

Having shared a division since 1970, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have played each other twice each season since, except in the shortened 1987 season. It’s the only noncollegiate football rivalry in the Deep South and inspires fun-loving fans to invade each others’ cities for a good time.

The Falcons have won the only playoff matchup between the two teams (in 1991), but the Saints have the most emotional victory. In the official reopening of the Superdome in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, Saints’ safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt for an early touchdown in a 23-3 Saints victory. Now battling ALS, Gleason — and his punt — are commemorated with a statue outside the Superdome.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins

  • Most recent meetings: The Bruins and Canadiens split their four matchups in 2018-19, each winning two games.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins were among the original six teams in the NHL. Since they first met in 1924, they’ve played another 745 times — more than any other two teams in NHL history. On top of that, they’ve met in 34 playoff series with nine of them going to a Game 7 — another NHL record.

The most remarkable of these Game 7 clashes happened in the 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinal. Boston had a 4-3 lead with 2:22 left to play when the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice. This penalty opened things up for Guy Lafleur to tie the game with a one-timer to send the game into overtime. In overtime, Canadiens left wing Yvon Lambert scored the winning goal to send Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final and eventually their 20th Stanley Cup.

 

Florida vs. Georgia

  • Most recent meeting: Georgia beat Florida 36-17 for the fifth time in the past eight years in October 2018.

The Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators meet annually in Jacksonville, Florida, for what’s known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. A Jacksonville tradition that began in 1933, the game has been played elsewhere only in 1994 and 1995 while the stadium was under renovation.

While school officials have tried to discourage the usage of the famed “Cocktail Party” moniker, the nickname has stuck. The 1984 and 1985 contests perhaps are most emblematic of the nickname. In 1984, on a two-year bowl ban for NCAA violations, Florida routed Georgia 27-0 and fans stormed the field, tearing down the goalposts. Not to be outdone, in 1985, the Bulldogs upset the No. 1 Gators 24-3 and fans stormed the field, resulting in 65 arrests.

New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders

  • Most recent meeting: During the 2018-19 NHL season, the Rangers and Islanders finished 2-2 against each other.

The Rangers-Islanders feud began in 1972 when the Islanders joined the NHL as an expansion team stationed in Nassau County on New York’s Long Island. The upstart Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-1983, while the well-established New York Rangers (part of the NHL’s original six) suffered a championship drought that lasted from 1940-94.

Te most modern moment in the rivalry occurred on neutral ice in January 2014. As part of the NHL’s Stadium Series, the Islanders and Rangers played outdoors at Yankee Stadium in front of more than 50,000 spectators. Tied 1-1 in the third period, left wing Daniel Carcillo scored the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 Rangers victory.

LSU vs. Alabama

  • Most recent meeting: In November 2018, visiting No. 1 Alabama cruised past No. 4 LSU 29-0 at Tiger Stadium.

This Deep South rivalry began with their first meeting in 1895, but only became an annual event beginning in 1964. However, this rivalry really took off when Coach Nick Saban took over the LSU program before the 2000 season. In his five seasons there, the Tigers were 4-1 against the Crimson Tide and won the national championship in 2003. After a two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, Saban returned to college football — this time with Alabama, throwing gasoline on the fire of this rivalry. Since joining the Crimson Tide in 2007, Saban has gone 10-3 against the Tigers, winning the past nine.

The two biggest moments in the rivalry came in the same season. In 2011, No.1 LSU beat No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa 9-6. But a little over two months later, the teams met again for the BCS National Championship. Alabama got its revenge, winning the game 21-0 along with the championship.

 

Harvard vs. Yale

  • Most recent meeting: In the latest installment of “The Game,” Harvard beat Yale 45-27 at Fenway Park in November 2018 in the highest-scoring game in the history of the football rivalry.

The two oldest schools in the Ivy League, Harvard and Yale have played each other 135 times. Their first meeting was in 1875 in a game that was much closer in resemblance to rugby than football as Harvard won four goals to zero. Even as their prominence as football powers has waned, the two academic powerhouses played their most well-known game in 1968. Yale was the heavy favorite and up 29-21 after a Harvard touchdown and two-point conversion with 42 seconds left to play. However, Harvard executed an onside kick, scored another touchdown as the clock expired and made another two-point conversion to tie. Despite tying for the Ivy League title, The Harvard Crimson said it all with its now-famous headline: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”

Cal vs. Stanford

  • Most recent meeting: In 2018’s Big Game, Stanford easily dispatched Cal 23-13 to win its ninth straight rivalry game.

The first Big Game was played in 1892 and was organized in part by future president Herbert Hoover, who was a Stanford student at the time. With the exception of a three-year hiatus during World War II, The Big Game has been held every year since, pitting California’s flagship public university against the private school founded by Leland Stanford across the bay.

The 1982 game featured this memorable call from longtime play-by-play announcer Joe Starkey: “The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!” Cal won on what is known simply as  “The Play,” a hook-and-ladder kickoff return touchdown executed by the Golden Bears as time expired — with the Stanford band celebrating prematurely on the field.

Notre Dame vs. Navy

  • Most recent meeting: Notre Dame drubbed Navy 44-22 in October 2018.

While it’s not the most even-handed, Notre Dame and Navy’s rivalry might serve as a feel-good story after some of the nastier rivalries on this list. During World War II, Navy saved Notre Dame from financial collapse by paying to use the Indiana campus as a training facility. To pay back this debt, Notre Dame has kept Navy on the schedule every season. From 1964-2006, the Midshipmen lost 43 straight games to the Irish, still a college football record. But in 2007, Navy’s option offense couldn’t be stopped, and the Midshipmen finally broke their losing streak against Notre Dame in triple overtime 46-44.

BYU vs. Utah

  • Most recent meeting: Down 27-7 in the third quarter, Utah scored 28 unanswered points to beat BYU 35-27 in November 2018.

This holy war splits the state of Utah between fans of the private BYU college and the state flagship university. Historically this rivalry pits the more conservative BYU, aligned with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, against the left-leaning University of Utah. While the Cougars dominated the 1970s and ’80s, the now Pac-12 conference Utes have won eight straight.

The biggest matchup between the schools occurred in November 2008, when No. 14 BYU took its 10-1 record to Salt Lake City to meet No. 7 Utah, undefeated at the time. The Utes won convincingly, 48-24, to complete a perfect season and earn a berth in the Sugar Bowl, where they capped a perfect season with a 31-17 victory over Alabama.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 25 Biggest Sports Rivalries of All Time