The Perfect Rivalries are Between Friends
The final scoreline read 42-40 and I was on the wrong end of that mark. It was the Sal game, the biggest game of the year and in the end my boys had failed to pull out a victory against our biggest rivals. The opposing team, known affectionately as the Jags, is our biggest rival. There is no team I’d rather beat than the Jags, but sometimes one just doesn’t have the ability to pull it out, you know? With ESPN’s rivalry week passing last week, the combination of Rivalry week and the Sal game got me thinking about sports rivalries and why they are so special. I soon realized the one mandatory part of any great rivalry is the team’s be competitive. Look at the great ones: Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-North Carolina, Ohio State-Michigan, and Elder-St. Xavier. All of these rivalries key on the fact that the teams will be playing a competitive match-up. Networks pray for a close game (especially one with a boatload of meaning such as UNC-Duke in the ACC Championship Game or Yankees-Sox for the AL East title). No real rivalry exists when it’s one-sided, no matter how close the team’s my be. The University Cincinnati versus Cincinnati State wouldn’t quite draw the crowd a Georgetown-Syracuse match-up would because the scoreline would read like Harry Potter’s first Quidditch match. In the end, all the great rivalries from college and pro sports have another common factor: they all hate each other. That’s what the announcers say too. Things like “You can see the hatred these teams share for each other” or “the animosity between the two contesting ball clubs is omnipresent throughout the arena”. Hatred is very flammable for the rivalry fire. Motivation to beat something you hate is a strong emotion. Failure seems to be the only response to a loss to someone or a team you despise….however, these great rivalries are not perfect rivalries no matter how much ESPN or whomever tries to sell to you that they are. Perfect rivalries only subsist between friends, not enemies. A perfect rivalry cannot be built upon a foundation of animosity…ask Cincinnati and Xavier.
The reason I consider the Sal game a perfect rivalry isn’t because I play in it, but because it is between friends. Trash talk is expected in the week leading to the Sal game and you are not doing your job if you talk about how much better you are. Remember the motivation I talked about for wanting to beat someone you hate? it is a more potent emotion when playing against your friends. The best part about a rivalry between friends, however, is the ending. When the final buzzer or whistle sounds, the scoreboard matters little. A player remembers the great time he had playing against his buddies. They reminisce about this and that, how the game was lost and won. The feeling, however, isn’t of arrogance or defeat, but rather joy. The great paradox (but a beautiful paradox) is there is nobody one would rather beat than his friends, but there is also nobody he’d rather lose to. You can relish the game for the game. You can appreciate the effort for the effort. You see how everyone laid everything out on the floor or field. Forget the score. Who cares that at the end of the Sal game it was 42-40 in favor of the Jags instead of my boys and I. We can both celebrate the game, because it was such a good game. There is no “I cannot believe we lost to those douches” or “The final score line did not go away against those bloody infidels and now we must wallow in the self pity of knowing we failed a large fan base because losing this game is like the culmination of planet Earth.” When it all comes down to it, the perfect rivalry in sports between friends reinforces one of the great sports cliches: it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Against friends, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but how you leave everything on the court and then celebrate the fantastic game with a nice cold mountain dew afterwards with the same guys who just beat you; because it all honesty, you didn’t mind losing to the Jags, because you attend their other games and cheer them on. So why not be happy for their win against you? You may have wanted to beat them more than anyone else in the entire league, but you also mind losing to them the least….gotta love paradoxes.