What Makes a Rivalry: Describing “Good Old-Fashioned Hate”

The last regular season game in the college calender is designated for the games that will determine what happens the next 364 days. Bragging rights between fans is put on the field on Rivalry Week. And quite honestly, it’s my favorite part of the college season.

But what constitutes a rivalry? When can ESPN boost ratings by calling a game a “rivalry” game? In today’s media driven world, rivalries are labeled too quickly.

Today, we are going to look at the five “reasons for rivalries.” If you hate a team, it’s probably because of one of these five reasons.

1. Division

The division title is the first goal of every team. It guarantees a playoff spot. It puts you at an advantage to win a conference title. It is the first step to winning the bringing home the big prize. In order to get that division title, you got to beat out those other teams. A division race is an exciting storyline people will flock to see.

Not only does the division title bring animosity between teams, but division rivals have to play each other every single year. There is familiarity with the teams, which makes them harder to beat. In college football, you have every division opponent on your schedule. In the NFL, you have to play your division rivals twice. In baseball, you play multiple series with division rivals. Those multiple meetings make the rivalry stronger.

Every division game can be seen as a rivalry game. Some division opponents may not be an intense rival, but every time division opponents play, there is more at stake than usual. Fans will go to those games and cheer, even if the team is a pushover.

When a game has something at stake, it can turn into a rivalry game quickly. And that when a rivalry game has something on the line, it just makes it that much better.

2. Distance

Crosstown rivals and instate rivals are classic. When a town or state develops a local rivalry, opposing fans live near each other.

I’m an Alabama fan who used to live in the state. Alabama and Auburn logos are everywhere. If you are a Bama fan, those Auburn logos start to annoy you. They remind you of that dreaded team that is only a short drive away. You have coworkers that are rival fans. They might even do a bit of trash talking. And if they won the last Iron Bowl, you just have to take it like a man.

Those opposing fans that live near you feed into that rivalry. You don’t want to hear it from them anymore. Players don’t want to hear it from the opposing team. It all just adds fuel to the fire.

3. Playoff History

In the NHL, there is an old adage that rivalries are made in the playoffs. This makes since when you understand the intensity of a playoff series. Players cannot afford to take a game off in a seven-game series; they have to put all they have into each and every play.

When you have to play each other seven games in a row, it takes an emotional toll. A dirty play or a blown call is prone to illicit an overreaction from fans.

For the NBA, the best example of this type of rivalry is the Lakers/Celtics series. The teams have met 12 times in the NBA Finals and the Celtics lead 43-31 in the Finals series. (The Celtics have won nine times against LA. The Lakers have won 3.) Hall of Famers like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabber, Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant give the rivalry a history fans can’t ignore. The uniforms created a tradition we remember.

4. Player Rivalries

Manning/Manning. Manning/Brady. Bird/Magic. Ovechkin/Crosby.

When these matchups happen, you forget that they have teams around them playing the game. The storylines are so rich and these are the moments when stars will shine. In these matchups, we ask the “Who’s better” question that will be debated in dorm rooms and bars across America. We see the best in those athletes and that’s just too fun to ignore.

5. “The Incident”

A coach or player left for another team. Some punk on the other team took out our guy for the rest of the season. A bench clearing brawl broke out during their last game. One bad call stole a championship away from your team.

There are not-so-fond memories we have of another team. It sparks the rivalry and each meeting, it gets a little bit hotter. The boos get just a little bit louder. And the games are that much better.

“The Incident” doesn’t usually create a lasting rivalry, because they are between personalities on the team. When those players or coaches leave, the root of the hate is gone.  But for the time being, those matchups are still hate-filled.

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