The League

Dan Levy
Sports Media Guru

Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.



Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had a unique rivalry. From college to the pros, the Bird vs. Magic rivalry has really never been seen again in team sports. Sure there were other great players at the time. Larry Bird said just last week that the Celtics had a more heated rivalry with the Sixers than they did with the Lakers. And the fact is, Bird's rivalry with Dr. J was much more heated than his with Magic. But with the most of the Celtics-Lakers match-ups being in the Finals, the profile was much higher than a regular-season series or even Eastern Conference playoff series could ever be. Hence Bird vs. Magic. And their teams fed off their stars' personalities.

Lakers. The epitome of Showtime. West Coast mentality.

Celtics. Down and dirty. Hard-nosed overachievers. East Coast sensibilities.

(It's actually funny how we attribute Magic to LA and Larry to Boston. One guy was from Lansing, Michigan and the other from French Lick, Indiana, yet they helped define our nation's coasts for more than a decade.)

Magic and Bird had a rivalry that you don't usually see in team sports. Connors vs. McEnroe. Jack vs. Arnie. Ali vs. Frazier. There are some great players in the NBA right now, but nothing has reached the Magic/Bird level. Not Kobe vs. LeBron (yet). Or Lebron vs. D-Wade. Not Duncan vs. Shaq. Okay, fine, probably Shaq vs. Kobe, but that's about something else.

There's nothing even close to any of that in football today. The nature of football is just different. Offense and defense are on the field at different times, so two quarterbacks would NEVER be on the field of play, fighting against one another (other than the occasional coin-toss skirmish.) Football has no fluidity to the game, so the back-and-forth anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better nature of basketball helped grow the game's rivalries...and the lore of Magic and Bird.

And their teams were always there. In the Finals. Fighting for the title.

With football, the rivalries all seem to be off the field. Donovan McNabb vs. Terrell Owens. Brett Favre vs. retirement. Philadelphia Eagles brass vs. people with cancer. Jerry Jones vs. fiscal responsibility. I mean, have you seen that stadium?

For the purposes of this exercise, let's keep it to the Bird-Magic criteria. Two great players who faced off repeated times on the biggest stage. But in the Super Bowl, it's been nearly a decade since the same NFC team was in the game twice (Giants in 2001 and 2008). Obviously, for both historic and geographic purposes you can put the Patriots in as one team. But who is the other team?

Indianapolis? They faced New England a few times en route to the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh? They've gotten two rings in the last four years, but didn't have to beat New England either time to get there. And I'm not sure Ben Roethlisberger has reached Magic or Bird status yet.

So reluctantly it seems that the NFL's version of Magic and Bird is Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Two great players, but the rivalry isn't even close to that on the hardwood. And no way they'll ever team up for such a fantastic video game.

By Dan Levy  |  March 27, 2009; 11:24 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You can throw out basketball, hockey, baseball and the rest. Pro football and (only because of Tiger) golf, are the only ones I watch.

Posted by: hansonharley1 | March 29, 2009 8:33 AM

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