The Best Grudge Matches in Recent Sports History
Grudge matches have been a staple in sports going back to the earliest part of the 20th century.
Some of the oldest rivalries have helped define why sports is such an important part of American culture. In the 1950s for example, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had the most intense rivalry in baseball.
It reached its peak in 1951 when the Giants mounted a tremendous comeback after falling 13 1/2 games behind the Dodgers and forced a playoff for the National League championship. With the Giants trailing 4-2 in the ninth inning of the third and final game of the playoffs, Bobby Thomson hit a three-run homer to give the Giants a miraculous pennant.
There was a rivalry before Thomson's tremendous blow; there was a grudge between the two teams ever since. It has not waned even though the teams left New York and moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In this piece, we look at the greatest grudge matches in recent sports history. Some are long lasting, while others came along much later.
Old and new rivalries have one common factor: hatred.
NFL: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
The New York Giants faced the New England Patriots in two Super Bowls over a four-year period. The Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII following the 2007 season and then scored a 21-17 victory in Super Bowl XLVI four years later.
The Patriots came into Super Bowl XLII as a clear favorite because they had recorded a perfect 16-0-0 regular season and won both their playoff games.
They had defeated the Giants in the regular season. If they had been able to beat the Giants, they would have had their spot in the history books as only the second NFL team in history to have a perfect record and win the Super Bowl.
They failed when quarterback Eli Manning escaped New England's pressure late in the fourth quarter and threw a long pass downfield that little-used wide receiver David Tyree caught miraculously against his helmet. Manning would throw the Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress shortly thereafter.
When the Patriots had their chance for revenge in 2012 (following the 2011 regular season), they did not have a perfect record. They were favored in the game, however, but this time Tom Brady had the ball in his hands with a chance to lead the Patriots to a last-second win. The Giants defense, however, shut Brady down to give New York another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had been 3-0 in Super Bowls before they met up with the Giants. Now they have two losses on their resume and the thought of the Giants makes the Patriots and all of their fans see red at what has been taken away from them.
NFL: San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
These two teams are currently the best teams in the NFC West division. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, many expected either the Seahawks or the 49ers to emerge as the NFC champions. Fueling this rivalry is a personal feud between San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.
This rivalry is a relatively new one, even though the Niners and the Seahawks have been playing in the same division since 2002. Both teams have been at the top of their games at the same time only recently, but there is a pure and vicious hatred in every meeting.
In 2012, the Niners and Seahawks split two meetings, but the Niners finished with an 11-4-1 record and took first place by 1/2 game over the 11-5 Seahawks.
Seattle lost its divisional playoff game to Atlanta, while the 49ers went on to beat the Falcons in the NFC Championship game.
The Niners lost the Super Bowl, but seeing their archrivals play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy fueled the Seahawks' collective fire.
Harbaugh and Carroll were coaching rivals in college football's Pac-10 prior to becoming head coaches of the 49ers and Seahawks, respectively. Harbaugh coached Stanford while Carroll led USC, and the two developed a healthy dislike for one another that has not been abated.
When Harbaugh's Stanford team rolled to a 55-21 win over the Trojans in 2009, Carroll said "What's your deal?" to Harbaugh after Stanford attempted a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.
MLB: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
These are the two bellwether franchises of the American League and the rivalry has been hard and nasty since Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold outfielder/pitcher George Herman Ruth to the Yankees prior to the 1920 season so he could finance his Broadway play, "No, No, Nanette."
After the Yankees fleeced the deal by acquiring the game's greatest player, the Red Sox have been trying to get back at the Yankees ever since. While the Red Sox have had some memorable triumphs—especially in the last 10 years—the Yankees have had a significant edge in the rivalry.
This has been the defining rivalry in the American League since the Babe switched sides.
Some of the most notable moments have been the Yankees' 1978 victory in the one-game playoff victory at Fenway park that gave them the American League East title. That game featured a shocking three-run home run by light-hitting Bucky Dent and another home run by Reggie Jackson. Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski ended that game by fouling out to third baseman Graig Nettles on a hard slider from fireballing relief pitcher Rick "Goose" Gossage.
The Red Sox would lose the 2003 pennant when the Yankees mounted a comeback against ace pitcher Pedro Martinez, who failed to hold a three-run lead in the seventh game. The Yankees took the title on an 11th-inning home run by Aaron Boone.
The following year, the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the ALCS, but the Red Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball history to come back from such a deficit and win the series. The Red Sox mounted late rallies in Game 4 and Game 5 at Fenway Park to win in extra innings both nights. They then rolled to wins in Game 6 and Game 7 at Yankee Stadium to secure the pennant.
The hatred between the two teams started with the sale of Ruth; it continues to this very day. The Yankees signed former Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury as a free agent following Boston's 2013 World Series triumph, and that move poured more gasoline on this conflagration of a rivalry.
CFB: Alabama vs. Louisiana State
The Southeastern Conference has been the dominant conference in college football, and Alabama and Louisiana State have been two of its best teams in the last decade.
Alabama and LSU have been playing since 1895, and the Crimson Tide leads the series 48-25-5.
Nick Saban has led Alabama to three national championships since becoming head coach in 2007. Prior to taking over the Crimson Tide, Saban had a five-year run at Louisiana State. He also won one national title while coaching the Tigers.
The rivalry reached a fever pitch in 2011, when the two undefeated teams met in November at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Les Miles' LSU team emerged with a 9-6 overtime triumph.
Alabama and LSU would meet again in the National Championship game two months later where Saban's Crimson Tide rolled to a 21-0 victory at the Superdome in New Orleans.
These two teams each won national championships with Saban as the head coach. LSU would also win a national title under Miles. Every time these two teams meet, it's a ferocious grudge match.
MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
These two teams were New York City rivals through the 1957 season when both moved to the West Coast. They brought the hatred with them when the Dodgers settled in Los Angeles and the Giants laid down roots in San Francisco.
The Giants' triumph in the three-game playoff in 1951 has long been baseball lore as Bobby Thomson delivered "The Shot Heard Round the World," when he hit his pennant-winning, walk-off blow.
However, there have been other decisive meetings.
The Giants repeated their playoff success against the Dodgers in 1962, when they defeated the Dodgers in another three-game series.
When the two teams were involved in a heated pennant race in the summer of 1965, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal touched off one of the most infamous brawls in baseball history when he swung his bat at Dodgers catcher John Roseboro's head and cut him severely.
The Giants and Dodgers have battled regularly for National League Western Division honors and playoff spots.
The emotion of the playoff wins in 1951 and 1962 have never dissipated. Whether they have played on the East Coast or the West Coast, these two teams have always wanted to beat each other badly.
CFB: Michigan vs. Ohio State
Michigan and Ohio State have perhaps the top rivalry in all of college football. These two Big Ten opponents have been playing each other since 1897. Michigan leads the series 58-45-6.
These two teams have dominated the Big Ten conference and they have combined to win 76 league championships.
The rivalry reached legendary proportion in the 10-year period between 1969 and 1978 when the two teams bullied the rest of the Big Ten. While both teams had a slew of outstanding players, the dominant figures in the meetings, however, were Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes and Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler.
Schembechler had played for Hayes at Miami (Ohio) and had been an assistant on Hayes' staff, and the two men were quite close. That friendship was put on hold when Schembechler took the Michigan head coaching job.
Schembechler's Michigan team won the 1969 meeting over Hayes' top-ranked and undefeated team with a score of 24-12.
Schembechler's team would gain a 5-4-1 edge in the 10-year war.
While the series has ebbed and flowed in both schools' favor, Ohio State has won 10 of the last 12 games.
Michigan tried to derail Ohio State's undefeated season in 2013, but the Wolverines came up a point short and dropped a 42-41 decision at Michigan Stadium when Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke decided to go for a two-point conversion seconds before the end of the fourth quarter instead of tying the game with an extra point and sending it to overtime.
College Basketball: North Carolina vs. Duke
North Carolina and Duke have been archrivals in college basketball since they began playing each other in 1920. North Carolina leads the all-time series 132-104.
These two dominant Atlantic Coast Conference teams have been battling each other on Tobacco Road for nearly 95 years. They have combined to win 48 ACC regular-season championships and 36 ACC tournament championships.
North Carolina has been to 18 Finals Fours in the NCAA Tournament, while Duke has been to 15. The Tar Heels have won five national titles and the Blue Devils have won four national championships.
The schools were known for their titanic battles in the 1980s and 1990s when North Carolina was coached by Dean Smith and had players like Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins. Duke has long been coached by Mike Krzyzewski who has had stars like Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.
The series turned into a blood feud in 1961 when North Carolina's Larry Brown and Duke's Art Heyman got into an on-court brawl that resulted in suspensions for both players. The hatred between the two schools has never been abated on the basketball court.
NBA: Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat
The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat became unlikely rivals because of their frequent playoff meetings. The two teams have faced each other in seven playoff series since 1992, and the Bulls have won four of them. The Bulls went on to win the NBA title after three of those victories, while the Heat has won the title once after beating the Bulls.
The Bulls were the NBA's dominant team in the 1990s as they were led by Michael Jordan. Every team in the league wanted to beat them, but there was a special hatred between the two teams at the time because Miami knew it could not match up with the Bulls in terms of talent and often tried to get into physical battles to even the playing field.
The Heat are currently the most talented NBA team, as they are led by the redoubtable LeBron James. When the two teams met in 2011 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls had achieved the better regular-season record and won the first game of the series.
However, James was not about to let his team fall short and they went on to win the next four games to take the series. Miami also won the 2013 playoff series between the two teams by the same 4-1 margin.
The early playoff meetings between these two teams featured a ferocious coaching duel between Chicago's Phil Jackson and Miami's Pat Riley. Neither man had much respect for the other at the time, and the two teams went at each other in a ferocious manner.
The hate factor remains strong.
NHL: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins are two of the Original Six in the National Hockey League and they have been playing each other since 1924. They have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs 33 times, more than any other two teams in the league.
These two teams have battled with contrasting styles for decades. The Canadiens have often been a speedy, skilled and finesse-oriented team, and have often baffled the Bruins with their slick passing. The Bruins are a rough-and-tumble, physical team that plays with heart and effort, no matter what the odds.
The Canadiens have long held the upper hand in the series. They did not suffer a postseason series loss to the Bruins from 1943 until 1988. However, the Bruins have had an edge since then.
The series has featured some of the game's greatest players, including Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur for Montreal and Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely for the Bruins.
The 1971 playoff meeting was considered one of the great upsets in NHL history as the Bruins were the dominant team in the regular season and they were expected to blow through a Montreal team that had many holes. However, the Canadiens brought up rookie goalie Ken Dryden to stem the Bruins attack, and Montreal pulled off a seven-game triumph.
In 1979, the Canadiens had won three straight NHL titles and had one of the greatest teams in the history of the league. While they had disposed of the Bruins in 1977 and '78, Boston extended the Canadiens to a seventh game. Boston played one of its greatest games and led 4-3 in the closing minutes of the third period until Lafleur blasted home the tying goal after the Bruins were called for a too many men on the ice penalty. Montreal would win the game in overtime and go on to win its fourth straight Stanley Cup.
Boston would not defeat Montreal in the playoffs until 1988, when it eliminated its longtime nemesis in five games.
The Bruins were spurred by their 2011 seven-game victory over Montreal to win the Stanley Cup.
NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been playing each other since 1996, when the Cleveland Browns picked up stakes and moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. The two teams had disliked each other intently prior to the move, and the intensity picked up even further with the move to Baltimore.
This is perhaps the most ferocious rivalry in the league because the teams have similar styles. Throughout the years, the Steelers have attempted to put together the hardest-hitting defense in the league. In the years when they have not been at that level, the Ravens took that honor.
These teams go after one another in a vicious and brutal manner. While it's mainly about winning, it's also about exerting physical dominance.
The Steelers lead the all-time series 23-16-0, and they are 3-0 in postseason meetings.
There's always vitriol between the two teams, and the last meeting saw the Ravens come away with a 22-20 victory on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones appeared to be on his way to a kickoff return for a touchdown but he had to alter his course when Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin put one foot on the field of play. Tomlin's maneuver allowed Jones to get tackled from behind.
Tomlin said he didn't mean to interfere, but his explanation did not hold water and he was fined $100,000 by the NFL.
While the Ravens won the game, Tomlins' mis-step was representative of how players and coaches from both teams will do anything to get an edge on the other.