Commentary: Rivalry weekend conjures up some classic pairings

Commentary: Matt Calkins

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

The Civil War. The Apple Cup. If Thanksgiving was the turkey dinner, then Saturday is the pumpkin pie.

Yes, it’s the ever-scrumptious rivalry week —where emotion alone can catapult even the lowliest teams to a victory. Well, except maybe the Beavers.

But it gets you thinking: Just what are the greatest rivalries in sports? Here’s a quick list of the most heated match-ups since Rock met Scissors.

You might just call them unrivaled.

Ohio State vs. Michigan

These schools boast 18 national championships and 10 Heisman winners between them, and have met 106 times — with Michigan leading the series 57-43-6.

Names such as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler need no introduction, and the No.1 Buckeyes’ 42-39 victory over the No. 2 Wolverines in 2006 may be the greatest regular season game this century.

But as intense as this rivalry may be, there is also room for some levity.

An ESPN commercial once featured a man in an Ohio State sweater making out with a woman in a Michigan sweater.

The caption afterward? “If it weren’t for sports, this wouldn’t be disgusting.”

Lakers vs. Celtics

Blazers fans may have a hard time recognizing that anybody can loathe the Lakers — or the L*kers as many call them in print —more than them. But Bostonians cannot be denied here.

Of the 65 championships that have been won in the NBA, these two franchises own 33 of them, with Boston leading 17 to 16.

Additionally, they have met in the Finals a record 12 times — spanning three generations — with the Celtics taking the first eight and the Lakers winning three of the past four.

There was preliminary talk that Los Angeles might not retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey simply because he wore a Boston uniform for a season, and Jerry West confessed that his perpetual defeats at the hands of the Celtics played a role in his depression.

The Laker faithful may enjoy money more than any other fan base. But they do not enjoy green.

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

This doesn’t have the venom of a Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe rivalry, nor does it have the cultural significance of a Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. But from a pure talent standpoint, this friendly feud has to rank among sports’ all time best — and Rafa’s five-set victory over Roger in the 2008 Wimbledon Final is likely the greatest match in history.

Nadal leads the series 17-9 and has won seven of their nine grand slam meetings although this is a bit misleading because a good chunk of their matches have come on clay — the Spaniard’s best surface.

Even so, without Nadal, Federer may very well have 21 or 22 majors under his belt. As Tony Kornheiser once said on “Pardon the Interruption” — “Federer needs Nadal to go away.”

Not going to happen anytime soon. And we’re all better for it.

Yankees vs. Red Sox

Bucky bleepin’ Dent. Aaron bleepin’ Boone. Boston fans wouldn’t dub these former Yankees with these monikers if not for some deep-rooted hostility.

While the animosity between the Lakers and Celtics has been equal for some time now, Red Sox fans’ disdain for the Yankees used to be very much one-sided. And why not?

New York was racking up World Series titles almost bi-annually while Boston was dry for 86 years. Then, in 2004, the Sox won four straight to down the Yankees the most dramatic ALCS in history.

Now, Boston knows what it’s like to be perpetual front-runners, too — hated by the whole country.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

What? It’s officially Christmas season now. Nothing wrong with a wish list.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com