By: Matt Turner
When thinking of professional sports rivalries, a few match-ups come to mind. The Red Sox and Yankees. The Celtics and Lakers. The Bruins and Canadiens. The Packers and Bears. Teams used to play chippy, trash each other in the media, and wouldn’t even look in their opponent’s direction pregame. Handshakes and hugs were never even an option.
When looking at the professional sports world now, there is no real hatred between teams like there has been in the past. The lack of emotion takes away from the atmosphere of the greatest rivalries in sports. Here are a few reasons why the sports world has gone from Alex Rodriguez getting punched in the mouth by Jason Varitek, to having “rivals” exchanging friendlies prior to a game:
Lack of Long-Term Team Success
Very few professional sports teams are able to maintain success year in and year out, causing rivalries to fizzle. When two good squads face each other in consecutive playoff atmospheres, both are battling to keep their season alive and that is when tempers flare, blood boils, and the best rivalries are made.
Take The Bulls and Pistons for example.
In the late 1980’s, Michael Jordan began his run as the greatest basketball player of all time, and the Pistons became serious playoff contenders. These two teams came to absolutely despise each other. This rivalry was so intense because Detroit eliminated Chicago three years in a row, and a year later, the Bulls swept the Pistons. Jordan would eventually go on to win his first title.
Games and series with that much on the line are when rivalries peak. Other examples would be the Red Sox/Yankees in 2003 and 2004, and the Canucks/Blackhawks in 2009. There is still bad blood between these teams, but the rivalries are no where close to where they used to be due to inconsistent levels of success.
The Sports World is Soft
If a game from 20 years ago were to be played today, league officials and the commissioner would have a fit. Below you’ll see a video of Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis that was simply called a common foul. No flagrants, technicals, or ejections occurred. Cheap shot? Maybe, but it intensifies the game and raises the stakes.
Player safety is extremely important, but take a look at the other video below to see the kind of flagrant fouls called in today’s NBA. Soft calls take players out of games, and can often change the level of passion that many rivalries feature.
Apparently, it also does not take that much to get ejected or thrown from a game either. Take a look at this clip from a Red Sox/Rays game in 2014 for example.
Jerry Remy states that, “…the umpires are right on top of things. They immediately, because of the history, put warnings to both sides.”
This is why rivalries are dying.
When pitchers throw at batters, and both sides get heated, fans start to sit on the edge of their seats and opponents are geared up to brawl. You can see how fired up John Farrell was as he argued with the home plate umpire. Say that Brandon Workman then plunked Evan Longoria during his next at-bat. Both sides would be coming at each other’s necks to defend their star players, and that is the type of action that sports fans want to see.
Now, it is understandable that the umpire is trying to ease tensions and simply do his job, but at times, the tension is the best part of the game. Two teams who want nothing more than to turn the contest into a boxing match is what has fueled rivalries for decades.
Lack of Loyalty in Sports
It’s difficult for rivalries to form when the league’s biggest stars are constantly switching teams.
Take LeBron James and his tenure with the Miami Heat for example. LeBron faced the Pacers in the playoffs for three straight seasons and those games got increasingly heated, especially with Lance Stephenson‘s antics. But when James left to play for Cleveland, that rivalry quickly diminished.
The same goes for when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, and when Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers. When teams lose their big-name players, they lose their rivalries as well.
Lack of Hope for the Future
Rivalries are historic and the sports community tries to hype them up to create more excitement for prime time match-ups. Truthfully, they are just good games with no real animosity between two clubs. The games aren’t the same as they used to be, and it is unfortunate it has to be that way.
I believe that college rivalries will live on forever, but as for professional sports, they will now come and go. Here is to hopefully witnessing more bad blood between two teams, because there is nothing better than a good rivalry.
Cover photo via: Elise Amendola/AP
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