OPINION: Rivalries are the heartbeat of sports

Tanner headshot

Tanner Castora

With Kent State taking on Akron in basketball this past Friday, a question arose in my mind.

What’s the greatest rivalry in all of sports?

If competition was a massive oak tree, one of its longest and deepest roots would be rivalries. I mean, think back to your childhood days out in the backyard, the playground or even gym class.

Sure, you always wanted to come out on top in whatever you were playing, but there was always that one kid or group of kids you wanted to beat more than anyone. Losing in general hurt, but losing to them gave you a different kind of sting ­— one you couldn’t just shake off on the bus ride home or at the dinner table.

But why? There was no money on the line, no trophy to be won. No, there was something more much more important in play: Pride.

Rivalries bring out the purest form of competition.

Some of my favorite memories in my 21 years of life are watching Ohio State play Michigan with my family at my grandfather’s house. Half of my family decked in scarlet and grey (good guys), the other half in maize and blue (bad guys).

To this day, without hesitation, I will tell you it is my favorite sporting event and always will be.

When making my list of the best rivalries in sports, I considered a few different factors: History, tradition, national relevance, proximity and pride (How important this win is for no reason other than to own bragging rights over your rival).

10. Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson: If you follow golf, you must pick a side. There’s no in between. They’ve made golf exciting again.

9. Red Sox vs Yankees: They play each other so many times each year that it takes away the importance of each match up. For every one memorable game they’ve had, there’s 20 no one will ever speak of again. Really good but not great, sorry.

8. Wilt Chamberlain vs Bill Russell: These two giants, both literally and figuratively, are pillars of the game of basketball.

7. Army vs Navy football game: Did I mention how important pride is?

6. Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal: The two greatest tennis players to ever live have gone head-to-head 38 times over the past decade and a half. Nadal has the edge, 23-15.

5. Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson: Took the NBA to another level during the mid-to-late 80’s.

4. Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali: Three fights, 41 rounds and a whole lot of blood. Even someone who knows nothing about boxing will recognize these names.

3. Duke vs North Carolina (basketball): The crowd and atmosphere at these showdowns are second to none. Two incredible programs separated by less than 10 miles.

2. Alabama vs Auburn (football): No professional teams in the state of Alabama. This means everything.

1. Ohio State vs Michigan (football): “The Game.”

Tanner Castora is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].