Who’s Winning in These Classic Rivalries?

Who doesn’t love a good rivalry?

Army vs. Navy, Coke vs. Pepsi, Jim Borden vs. Michael Phelps.

Such rivalries often capture the nation’s, if not the world’s, attention. But many people may not know much about these rivalries, particularly who is currently “winning” in these match-ups.

So I thought it would be fun to take a look at several of these classic rivalries, and give a status report on who is currently ahead in the rivalry. I broke the rivalries into two broad categories, sports and business. I’ll cover the great sports rivalries in today’s post, since I’m guessing most of my readers are more interested in those rivalries. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some classic business rivalries. A big thanks to Wikipedia for supplying most of the info that follows.

  • Army vs. Navy: Army and Navy first met on the football field on November 29, 1890. The most recent game was on December 10, 2016. Army beat then #25 Navy 21–17, ending Navy’s 14-game winning streak in this series (the longest winning streak in the history of the series). Navy leads the series 60–50–7. Instant replay made its American debut in the 1963 Army–Navy game.
  • Duke. vs. North Carolina: The intensity of this basketball rivalry is augmented by the proximity of the two universities, located only ten miles apart roughly along Tobacco Road, as well as the fact that Carolina is a public university and Duke is a private university. North Carolina leads the all-time series 134–108, and for the last 142 meetings at least one school has been ranked in the AP Top 20 or AP Top 25.
  • Michigan vs. Ohio State: This football rivalry, known as The Game by some followers, was ranked by ESPN in 2000 as the greatest North American sports rivalry. Michigan leads the all-time series, 58–48–6.
  • Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier: Ali and Frazier met three times, with Ali winning two of the Fights. The first fight, known as the Fight of the Century, was held at Madison Square Garden. Frazier won by unanimous decision over previously undefeated Ali in the 15-round bout, with Frazier scoring the fight’s (and trilogy’s) only knockdown, at the beginning of the final round.  The second fight was also held at MSG, with Ali winning by unanimous decision in 12 rounds. The final fight, called the Thrilla in Manila, is considered one of the greatest fights of all-time. Ali won by technical knockout (TKO) after Frazier’s chief second, Eddie Futch, conceded the fight prior to the 15th round.
  • Red Sox vs. Yankees: These two baseball teams have competed for over 100 seasons and have since developed one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. In 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold star player Babe Ruth to the Yankees, which was followed by an 86-year period in which the Red Sox did not win a World Series. This led to the popularization of a superstition known as the “Curse of the Bambino”, which was one of the most well-known aspects of the rivalry. The Yankees currently lead the regular season series1,183–996–14. The teams have met three times in the playoffs, with the Yankees winning twice. However, the Red Sox playoff win in 2004 was perhaps the most dramatic.The Red Sox comeback was the only time in baseball history that a team has come back from a 0–3 deficit to win a series. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series, effectively ending the 86-year-old curse.
  • Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics: The Celtics–Lakers rivalry involves the two most storied franchises in the NBA, and has been called the best rivalry in the NBA. The two teams have met a record 12 times in the NBA Finals, starting with their first Finals meeting in 1959. Boston leads the all-time series (regular season and post season), 198-159. Of the 12 NBA finals, Boston has won nine to L.A.’s three.
  • Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova: The two retired tennis players engaged in an iconic rivalry for dominance in Women’s tennis in the 1970s and 1980s. It is considered to be one of the greatest in Women’s tennis history and in sports in general. From 1973 to 1988 they played 80 matches, including 61 tournament finals. Navratilova leads the head-to-head match-ups 43–37, tournament finals 36-25, and Grand Slam finals 10-4.
  • Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer: (warning – this is a long write-up) The greatest rivalry in the history of golf. While researching this one, I came across this touching tribute to the two players that describes the power of the relationship forged by this rivalry:
    On the day of Arnold Palmer’s most heartbreaking loss, Jack Nicklaus was there for him.Nov. 20, 1999, Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Gold Course. Jack and Barbara Nicklaus are watching their son Gary try to earn his PGA Tour card. Nicklaus’ cell phone rings. It’s Palmer, with sad news. Winnie, his wife of 45 years, has passed away from cancer. We’ll fly right up, Nicklaus says. No, stay and watch Gary, Palmer responds. Nicklaus insists – we’ll come.Nov. 22, 1999. A memorial service is conducted for Winnie Palmer at Unity Chapel in Latrobe, Pa. Afterward, the mourners repair to Latrobe Country Club for a reception. Palmer suggests to Nicklaus that they turn on a TV and see how Gary Nicklaus is doing in the final round.Nicklaus has been getting updates by phone from his son’s coach, Rick Smith. He appreciates Palmer’s gesture, but says it isn’t necessary. Palmer insists – we’ll watch.They turn on the TV and watch Gary play his final few holes. When his final putt drops, it completes a 7-under 63 that, on his ninth trip through Q-School, finally results in a PGA Tour card. In Latrobe, Palmer and Nicklaus embrace. There are tears.Arnold Palmer, who turns 85 on Sept. 10, and Jack Nicklaus, 74, have been rivals on and off the golf course for more than a half-century. On the course, each achieved a status the other couldn’t match: Nicklaus the game’s greatest player, Palmer its most popular. “Jack had the trophies that Arnold wanted, but Jack didn’t have the love of the fans that Arnold had,” said Ian O’Connor, author of “Arnie & Jack.”The rivalry began in 1958 in an 18-hole match featuring Dow Finsterwald and local amateur Howard Baker Saunders against Palmer and a precocious 18-year-old Ohio amateur named Jack Nicklaus.The first historic shots in the Palmer-Nicklaus rivalry were fired in the 1960 U.S. Open. At Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver, Palmer charged from seven shots back on the final day to win. Nicklaus, still an amateur, finished second.They crossed paths again in the final round of the Phoenix Open Invitational in February 1962. Palmer had a double-digit lead and Nicklaus was in a tight battle for second place. “It was actually the first time I played with Arnold in a tournament,” Nicklaus said. “We walked off the 71st green and Arnold was going to win the golf tournament. He turned around to me, put his arm on my shoulder and he says, ‘You know, you can finish second here now. All you have to do is take your time.’ He says, ‘Be relaxed. Just play smart. Birdie the last hole.’” Nicklaus did, tying for second. He never forgot Palmer’s gesture. “It was a nice little olive branch to throw out to somebody.”Palmer and Nicklaus dueled again in the 1962 U.S. Open. Nicklaus was only a rookie on Tour, but this would turn out to be the zenith of their rivalry. After 36 holes Palmer was tied for the lead with Bob Rosburg, with Nicklaus in a three-way tie for fourth, three shots back. Nicklaus caught Palmer in the final round, setting up an 18-hole playoff on Sunday. Nicklaus won, 71 to 74.From 1962, when Nicklaus recorded his first win, through the end of the decade, they were virtually dead even in Tour wins (Nicklaus led, 30-29). Looking at 1962-64, the period bookended by Nicklaus’ first major and Palmer’s last, they won six of 12 majors (three apiece) and combined for five runner-up finishes.As their post-playing careers evolved, Nicklaus and Palmer continued to compete with each other, whether it was over golf course design, tournaments, endorsements – or beverages. Palmer has long mixed his iced tea with lemonade, a drink that came to be known among golfers as an “Arnold Palmer.” A version licensed with that name began to be sold in 2001. The Arizona Beverage Company, which distributes the Palmer drink, introduced a new line of Nicklaus-branded lemonades just before the 2012 Masters. “Jack will still come to me and say ‘How many ‘S K U’s’ or ‘skus’ [stock keeping unit, that applies to sales] does Arnold have in his drink?'” said IMG’s Alastair Johnston. “I said ‘A lot more than yours, Jack.'”Competition – friendly competition – is the core of their relationship. “Arnold and I have been the most fierce competitors two guys can imagine, on the golf course, off the golf course,” Nicklaus said. “Neither one of us likes to lose.”Palmer passed away in September of this year. At the memorial service, the farewell to the King turned somber when Nicklaus, his voice cracking as a large tear formed in his left eye, urged the elite and the everyman to remember how Arnold Palmer touched their lives. “I hurt like you hurt,” Nicklaus said. “You don’t lose a friend of 60 years and not feel an enormous loss.”
  • Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: Referred to as El Clásico (“The Classic”). I’ll admit that I don’t know much about soccer, but since it is the world’s most popular sport, I felt obliged to include at least one rivalry from the world of sports. I came across this great article that ranked the 25 best sports teams rivalries, and lo and behold, the number one rivalry was a soccer one, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. The rivalry comes about as Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain, and they are sometimes identified with opposing political positions, with Real Madrid viewed as representing Spanish nationalism and Barcelona viewed as representing Catalan nationalism. The two clubs are among the richest and most successful football clubs in the world; in 2014 Forbes ranked them the world’s two most valuable sports teams. Both clubs have a global fanbase; they are the world’s two most followed sports teams on social media. Real Madrid leads the head to head results in competitive matches with 93 wins to Barcelona’s 90, while Barcelona leads in total matches with 109 wins to Real Madrid’s 97. Along with Athletic Bilbao, they are the only clubs in La Liga to have never been relegated (whatever that means…)
  • Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The Federer–Nadal rivalry (known by many as Fedal) is considered by many to be the greatest in tennis history. They have played 34 times, most recently in the 2015 Swiss Indoors final, and Nadal leads their twelve-year-old rivalry with an overall record of 23–11. Nadal also leads the head-to-head of their 11 Grand Slam matches (9–2). I’ll admit that I’m biased (Federer is my favorite player), but despite these head-to-head results, I still think Federer is the greatest player of all time.
  • Alabama vs. Auburn: Known as the Iron Bowl, is one of the biggest intra-state football rivalries. Alabama leads the series 45–35–1. Despite this Alabama lead, I think Auburn takes the cake for the greatest finish in a football game, and it happened to be against Alabama. With 1 second remaining in the game, Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal to try and win the game. The kick fell short, and Auburn cornerback Chris Davis ran the kick back 109 yards to win the game for Auburn, 34-28. Here’s the video; the audio by the Auburn announcers is epic: (two more rivalries after the video)
  • Radnor vs. Lower Merion: This is the second oldest continuous high school football rivalry in the country. I know, because I live in Radnor. Lower Merion currently leads the series 56-53-11. However, Radnor has won 16 of the last 18 games, including the four years that my youngest son was the manager of the football team! Radnor High School grants the students of the school a half-day on the next school day if the school beats Lower Merion. However, the students of Lower Merion do not enjoy any similar reward. Go Radnor, Beat L.M.!
  • Michael Phelps vs. Jim Borden: all I can say is that I’ve never lost an Olympic final…

P.S. If you’d like to see other takes on great sports rivalries, here are a couple that I found:

EPSN’s listing of the greatest sports rivalries, as of December 31, 1999

The Sportser, listing the 25 greatest team rivalries (referenced above)

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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