Rivalries make sports.
It's a rudimentary statement, but one that resonates. Without some added heat, we'd have random competition, which certainly is less excitingly than a rivalry game.
To be honest, the perception that "anything can happen in a rivalry game" is overblown. In most games -- rivalry games included -- the better team wins, especially in high school sports.
But there are times when a David rises up and slays Goliath in a rivalry contest, and that's when these games are most memorable. Consider Warde's boys basketball ending its long losing streak at Ludlowe in 2009, Hamden stunning Fairfield Prep in the state final in hockey in 2010.
Rivalries can also be birthed by circumstances. Consider Warde and Danbury in wrestling. They're conference rivals, but only in that Warde has set its sights on becoming Danbury's foil. The Mustangs spiced that rivalry up when they unseated the Hatters as FCIAC champions in 2010, ending Danbury's 23-year stranglehold on the conference.
I bring this up, now of all times, because we're on the cusp of a huge rivalry week ahead. American and National will raise the ante in Little League-- and in fact already did in the U10 semis on Tuesday, with American beating its crosstown rival 4-0. Both National and American have qualified for Monday's semifinals in U12 -- the bunch that ultimately goes to the Little League World Series.
And after last year's gut-wrenching district final -- in both 11s and 12s -- National will surely be after payback.
Rivalries are often born out of envy. The Jones' got a Mercedes-Benz, so the Smith's need a BMW. It's no different in sports. National wants to beat American because American's gotten all the glory, recently.
The Yankees and Red Sox rivalry is no different. After losing in game seven of the 2003 ALCS -- after 85 years of playing second-fiddle to the Yankees' dynasty -- the Red Sox finally bagged the big kahuna. They had a deal in the works for Alex Rodriguez, yet could not finalize it. The Yankees then traded for A-Rod, leaving the Red Sox waiting at the alter, yet again.
The vitriol between New York and Boston caused both clubs to overpay in knee-jerk reactions. If the Red Sox sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Yankees need Kei Igawa. The Yanks overpay for AJ Burnett and Boston throws money at John Lackey.
It's no different than seeing your next door neighbor buy a 46-inch HDTV with surround sound and needing a 50-inch to trump him. Retailers -- many of whom have rivals competing with comparable products -- need to distinguish themselves. It's one of the most common types of advertising: prey on human's superiority complex.
It's not just a macho thing either. Frenemies are rivals, too, ladies.
In fact, the funny thing about rivals is -- while they promote their differences to distinguish themselves -- it is their similarities that are most apparent to outsiders. Quiz a non-Yankee or Red Sox baseball fan and their remarks about the New York and Boston are similar.
And a big part of rivalries is the give-and-take between supporters. Consider the Yankees vs. Mets rivalry. At Subway Series games, the dueling "Let's go Yankees" and "Let's go Mets" chants are audible on TV. The ballpark is electric if you're lucky enough to score a seat at one of those, or a Yankee/Red Sox game.
Although, these games can bring out the worst too. "Yankees Suck" chants can be heard at Fenway when the Sox are hosting the Mariners in April. Yankee Stadium's upper-deck does not have brawls when the Blue Jays come to New York. The vitriol makes tensions hotter, combined with alcohol, can make a lethal equation.
But Yankees/Red Sox has had staying power. The Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Angels, Indians, Mariners, A's and Braves could all stake claims as Yankees rivals in the last 20 years. The Angels, Rays and Indians have dueled the Red Sox in memorable series. Yet, none have had the longevity of Yankees/Red Sox, even as both went through down spells.
Rivals are always fun to kick while they're down. But having a staunch, and powerful rival often will push both unrealistic expectations, and, in turn, excellence.