The League

David Aldridge
Sports Reporter

David Aldridge

A nationally recognized sports journalist.

Rivalries Are Dying


Most great NFL rivalries are on the wane.

In college football, they still know about it, and they know about it in the winter in Durham and Chapel Hill. Nadal-Federer has been pretty cool lately. But in the NFL, with players moving from place to place, the heat has dissipated, like a dying asteroid.

On Sunday, you will not see a Redskins player screaming 'die you dogs, die! Die, you yellow dogs!' at the Dallas sideline, as one did during the 1972 NFC title game.

You will not see a Cowboy throw a funeral wreath into the Washington locker room after the game, as Harvey Martin did when Dallas scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to knock the Redskins out of the playoffs in 1979. (They had home field throughout the playoffs!)

You will not hear about bounties on Tony Romo's head, which George Allen copped to when it came to Roger Staubach-and which Diron Talbert cashed in on.

It seems that way in all pro sports; even Lakers-Celtics in the Finals last June didn't have that good old-fashioned hate of the 80s, when McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis. I mean, who's the good guy in Red Sox-Yankees now? They're both leviathan, sucking the joy out of baseball, one Japanese import at a time.

But who cares if the players don't care as much?

Rivalries aren't for them, anyway; they're for you. The players graduate from college (well, some of them); you remain an alum. The pro guys take the bucks elsewhere, or get traded (man, does Favre look weird in that shade of green), or retire. You keep the key chains and the bumper stickers and the fading posters; you remember Kilmer's touchdown pass to Charley Taylor in '72 and to Mike Thomas in '75, and Ken Houston's Bulldog on Walt Garrison in '73, and Tank McClinton stuffing Dorsett on the goal line in '78, and Dexter's leap, and World Grant settling under the ball in '82, and now, as Frank Herzog shouted, the stadium shakes. The real stadium.

You shout "We Want Dallas," and mean it.

By David Aldridge  |  September 26, 2008; 9:23 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Rivalries over Red Herring | Next: Transience Killed The Rivalry


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The death of rivalries in the NFL is due to Free Agency & Parity... to have a good rivalry you must have two teams good enough long enough to face each other in critical matches over time. And those teams must be made up of players who genuinely care because they've experienced both highs and lows battling a specific team and its specific players repeatedly. And fans so rabid their sense of self-identity at least partially rides on the outcome. But today, the players move around so much they don't have time to really understand and develop animosity for one specific rival - nor do fans get a chance to really attach themselves emotionally with the players. It's been a long, long time since Wilbur Marshall changing teams was thought of as astonishing. And while this ensures parity and that's nice - it also ensures that no two teams will be good enough long enough to be at each other's throats in multiple significant situations. Without those factors, rivalries are doomed. So take your pick, NFL - what do you really want to drive your business? Great Rivalries or League Parity?

Posted by: Daniel | September 26, 2008 4:54 PM

To be rivals, the two teams have to be peers - back in the 70s, the heyday of that rivalry, the 'Skinz and 'Boyz were near-constant contenders to winning it all, and each was a credible threat to the other. In ultimate results, Cowboys came off better during that decade - then declined in the 80's and it was a joy to gloat at them, contrasting Gibbs rise w/ the decline of Landry.

By the 90's though, to the extent there was a rivalry, it was one-sided. Redskins by and large stank after that last SB win, while the Cowboys became a dynasty - the whole peer-as-predicate-to-rivalry thing was gone.

Posted by: Khalid | September 27, 2008 10:43 AM

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