The sad truth is that for many serious football fans, myself included, your mood depends on your team’s success. No one wanted to talk to me after the Ravens lost to the Jags on Monday night a few weeks ago; I was miserable and mean. But nothing can cause a mood swing quite like a rivalry game. These games can be more exciting than the Super Bowl, and they can incite more rage, excitement, sadness or glee than any other game of the season.
Rivalries can stem from many things; players causing problems with other players, prior wins or losses, movement of players and coaching staff among different teams, or geographic ties. Most often though, rivalries stem from competition within a division, which is an underlying cause of the rivalries that follow.
One of the biggest rivalries in the NFL is the rivalry between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. It is the longest-running NFL rivalry, dating back to 1933, and is thought of as one of the top rivalries to this day. Both teams are in the NFC East, and the rivalry is further fueled by the fact that they are so close geographically. The first match-up between these teams this year ended in a W for the Giants, something that surprised many. The Eagles came in to the season with the nickname “Dream Team”, while the Giants came in with several injuries and having lost a number of key players before the season began. No one expected the Giants to win, but with rivalry games the unexpected can happen. They will meet again in week 11.
The Jets – Patriots rivalry is fueled by the competitiveness between the two cities. New York and Boston also have the huge rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, so it only makes sense that this would carry to football as well. These teams have met once already this season, in a game that ended badly for the Jets. But the Jets were on a losing streak, were playing without some key players, and the game was in Pats territory. This week they meet again, and the Jets will have the advantage. They will play at home, with their previously injured Center (who missed the first game against the Patriots) back in the mix, and this time the Pats are coming off of a losing streak while the Jets have won their last three games, including this past week’s victory over the Bills - who beat the Patriots in week 3.
The Redskins and the Cowboys are another pair of teams whose division rivalry (also the NFC East) is historically great. Since the 60s these teams have won 8 Super Bowls and 27 division titles between them, though neither team has looked spectacular recently. This rivalry has been one of the most interesting off the field as well. In 1961 Dallas fans tried, but failed, to set chickens free on the Redskins’ field during halftime. The next year fans were successful in sneaking a turkey into Redskins owner George Marshall’s hotel room before a game. Earlier this season the competitors met in Dallas, where the Cowboys eked out an 18-16 win. They meet again in week 11, and since neither team has proven to be very good this year, it should be an interesting match-up.
Like the Jets – Pats rivalry, this is a rivalry between divisional teams whose states (Wisconsin and Minnesota) have serious rivalries in other sports, including baseball and basketball. Both teams have had winning seasons, with 9 Super Bowl visits between these teams since 1961. Only the Packers have come back with a ring. A major conflict recently between these teams involved Brett Favre, a longtime QB for the Packers. In 2009 he signed with the Vikings, who then defeated the Packers in a Monday Night game that October. This rivalry is known for being very balanced with seemingly equal teams, but it doesn’t seem as balanced this year. The Packers are undefeated, including a week 7 defeat of the Vikings, while the Vikings have a measly 2 wins all season. They will meet again next Monday, and considering the rivalry and the MNF game, anything can happen.
The Ravens – Steelers rivalry is a bitter AFC North rivalry that will always be close to my black and purple heart. Currently this is probably the fiercest competition in the NFL, as both teams have top defenses who make hard hits and offenses that can make plays and move the ball under pressure. (And if you are a Flacco-hater, his last drive this week should make you feel pretty stupid.) Both teams have made the playoffs the past 3 years, and both teams have had top ranked defenses the past 8 years.
The best part of this rivalry is how seriously the players, the coaches, and the fans take it. Hines Ward, WR for the Steelers has said of the rivalry in the past, “They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. There’s no need to hide it,” and Terrell Suggs, LB for the Ravens, said in an interview before this week’s game, “I’m a Baltimore Raven and you ask me do I hate anybody in Pittsburgh. I think you gotta answer that question yourself.”
The fans really make the rivalry what it is. Fans from both teams travel well, and aren’t afraid to show up to the other’s home field. While Steelers fans can be extremely violent (in the 5 years I lived in Pittsburgh I’ve had full beer cans thrown at me, been thrown out of sports bars for wearing purple, and had my car keyed for displaying a Ravens magnet), Ravens fans can talk just as much trash and start just as many fights.
The truth is that the teams are pretty evenly matched rivals. While the Steelers have more wins in the history of the rivalry, the Ravens hold the latest two Ws, and a sweep of this season’s match-ups. Steelers fans like to make accusations that the Ravens are a team of criminals, but the latest to have run-ins with the cops? Big Ben and Hines Ward, both from the Steelers. The only significant difference between the teams is the number of Super Bowl rings – but since the Ravens came to Baltimore in 1996, there are only 3 rings between the 2 teams, one for Baltimore and 2 for Pittsburgh.
Although the regular season games between the Steelers and Ravens are over, the teams will surely meet again in the playoffs. So, see ya in January Pittsburgh. In our house. Then we’ll see who the real champion of this rivalry is.