NATO’s 28 member countries will meet in Chicago this weekend to address global challenges—together. Ironically, on the city’s North Side, bitter rivals will wage war at the Friendly Confines. The Cubs-White Sox rivalry has divided the city—and many of its households—for decades. Many are born to a clan and their allegiance grows over the years—every win, every loss, every insult is personal. And bragging rights are the currency of choice around every bar stool, ball park and battering ram sports fans can get their hands on.
Matchups against rivals serve as a season’s guidepost for fans and athletes. As soon as the NFL schedule is set, Bears fans circle games against the Pack—and the same is true on the other side of the Cheddar Curtain. As much as we loathe those pea-and-corn looking Packer fans, they detest us sausage-clogged Cutlerites equally. But we live for it.
Sports rivalries are epic and primal. They have rich and emotional histories with larger than life characters. That’s what appealed to Steppenwolf’s Eric Simonson when he wrote Lombardi: The Only Thing and Speak American. A lifelong Packer fan (not his fault, he was born in Wisconsin), Simonson knew the lore of the rivalry as his own. And just as George Halas served as the patriarch on this side of the divide, Vince Lombardi was his general. The success of Lombardi led to a second sports-based venture; Simonson was asked to write the book for a play celebrating the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
So we decided to have Simonson and WBEZ’s sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout join Afternoon Shift for a look at some of the greatest sports rivalries throughout history—and really, who doesn’t love making arbitrary lists?
That being said, as a longtime lover of sports--and irrational disdain--I give you 10 of sports most storied rivalries (in no particular order…because I’m also a coward and a commitment-phobe).
1. Bears vs. Packers: See above. And WBEZ midday executive producer Justin Kaufmann’s personal exploration of his deep-rooted hate for Green Bay and a careful—and catty—examination of Halas and Lombardi, care of ESPN’s Lester Munson and Pulitzer-Prize-winning Packer fan and Lombardi biographer, David Marannis.
2. Yankees vs. Red Sox: Really, you could argue that it’s Yankees vs. everyone but for 86 years, many Bostoners blamed it on the Curse of the Bambino. So the takeaway here: don’t trade Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
3. Duke vs. Carolina: About the only thing these teams agree on is what color to paint their bodies. Duke’s Camden Crazies are, in fact, crazy; but the state of North Carolina and college basketball fans everywhere look forward to the two—three if we’re really lucky—times a year these two teams hit the hardwood.
4. Michigan vs. Ohio State: There’s so much hate here that I hate 'em both. This Big Ten rivalry dates back to 1897.
5. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: The heyday of the NBA is often accredited to these two guys. When Bird and Magic were playing, oftentimes, the games weren’t broadcast on television. Nowadays, many people would rather watch a Lakers-Celtics Hardwood Classic over the modern-day spectacle that is the NBA.
6. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier: The punching pair fought just three times but their final meeting, known as the “Thrilla in Manila” featured months on trash talk.
7. Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe: At last year’s U.S. Open, tennis enthusiasts celebrated the 30th anniversary of the match where Johnny Mac finally dethroned Borg and became the No. 1 player in the world. After five years in the top spot, Borg couldn’t bear being second best—he was burned out and retired from tennis at the age of 26.
8. Martina Navratilova vs. Chrissie Evert: Like Magic and Bird, these two were fierce rivals with great respect for one another—probably a good thing considering the two faced each other 80 times over the years. From 1975 through 1986, either Evert or Navratilova held the No. 1 ranking at the end of every year. But Navratilova was the ultimate victor, holding Evert to a 43-37 margin.
9. Cubs vs. Cardinals: Harry Caray may have started his broadcasting career in St. Louis but he most certainly left his heart—and his legacy—in Chicago with the Cubbies. In retrospect, former Cardinal Mark McGwire and former Cub Sammy Sosa might not be the perfect poster boys for “pure” competition—but the season the two sluggers spent chasing Roger Maris’ home-run record was one of the most exciting in recent history.
10. Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding: Uhhh…this one maybe went a little too far. Nancy Kerrigan, favored to win the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was clubbed after a private session before the competition. With Kerrigan sidelined by the injury, Tonya Harding went on to win in Detroit and secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic team—and later, of course. her place in sports’ infamy once her role in the attack was revealed.