Friday, April 22, 2011

Rivalries and Respect

Rivalries and Respect. Do those two words belong together in the minds of most fans or players? At first blush, I have to admit that I didn’t see it either. You hate your rivals don’t you? You can’t stand anything about them. You don’t like their colors, their field, their stadium, their players, their managers and coaches, their fans make you sick, heck, and you even hate the food and drinks at their place, right? That is what makes for a great rivalry, a seething dislike for all things related to your opponent.

I am not a fan of either team but in Major League Baseball no rivalry can equal the Red Sox - Yankees feud. The Yankees - Red Sox rivalry extends way beyond my lifetime. I get that people born in either New York or Boston get amped about playing those other guys. What strikes me as significant about this rivalry is that people who have never even set foot in either city will take a side in the battle of bragging rights. I see people all the time in Florida wearing either a Sox or Yankee hat and upon inquiry about why they love their teams; often I am surprised to find out that they have no real reason. They just sort of chose one day and the rest as they say is history. Sometimes their choice goes back to a spring training game they attended with their dad or some other memory but many have never made it a game in Fenway or Yankee Stadium, new or old. But if you ask them if they like the other team, you always get the same answer with varying shades of colorful expletives, NO! While other teams have divisional foes, there doesn’t seem to be the same hatred level in the rivalry with the possible exception of the Giants – Dodgers but since I live on the east cost that rarely makes the sports shows. This year that is not the case due to the violent attack that seems to be motivated by the rivalry. I say seems to be because I don’t know the details of the case except what has been broadcast by the sports shows. If you know of any other rivalries in MLB that you think are worthy of mention, please let me know in the comments.

College baseball and softball have more traditional rivalries and some that are situational. Florida and Florida State, Alabama and Auburn, UCLA and USC, Arizona and Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas, Texas and Texas A&M, and Kentucky and Louisville are always going to be rivals no matter what the sport or competition. You could list a dozen more easily and it wouldn’t take you long to come up with a much longer list of classic rivalries among collegiate athletics. But there are also situational rivalries that develop because two schools have great programs within a sport that may not be traditional rivalries. Florida plays Lacrosse now and will develop rivalries with schools from conferences outside the SEC because of who they play. Alabama comes to Gainesville today to play Florida in softball and this has developed into a huge rivalry because both programs are fighting for the same recruits, a right to go to the Women’s College World Series, and win the SEC on a yearly basis of late. Add to that the fact that Alabama and Florida have met for the a few SEC football titles and you see why fans are starting to pay attention to a new rivalry.

But consider this, a rivalry is only a rivalry so long as both teams are relatively good in the sport you are playing. You don’t usually consider it a rivalry game if you have beaten that opponent the last 20 times you have played them. The rivalry loses its luster somewhat if the won-loss record is heavily skewed in one direction. The team that has lost the last 15 in a row may want to win badly, but does the winning team and their fans really worry about beating a team you have owned for that long? That is the point where respect for your rivals comes into play. You know that you have to bring your “A Game” when you play your rival not only because you want to win but because you know if you don’t they will beat you because they are as good as you are. Nobody really cares about a rivalry with a constant cellar dweller in any league. We want our rivals to be good at some level because that makes us feel better when we beat them and lessens the pain should they beat us.

As fans we like to rag the other team and their fans. We mock their cheers, we make fun of their mascot, and we might even have great nicknames for their team, but at some level we realize that the reason we don’t like them is that they have a good team and we can’t stand to see them beat us. Fans may not dish out much respect on the surface for opposing players but let one of the Yankees or Red Sox trade jerseys and see how much love we give them then! But players on the other hand often have a deep appreciation for the talent of their rivals. I have witnessed this many times over the years with Gators and Noles after football games and I have seen this after many Gator softball games with the Crimson Tide. All of us who are fans would do well to learn from the players and remember to appreciate the talent on both sides of a rivalry. Perhaps then the rivalries will not spill over to stupid behavior like killing trees or punching people in the back of the head. Let’s keep the rivalries in perspective people and treat them with respect!