A RIVALRY FOR THE AGES[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]History matters. The dislike between two teams is much deeper than a shared hometown or divisional alignment. Sports rivalries are shaped by a sense of place and identity as well as by psychology, sociology, and politics.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row gap=”10″][vc_column][vc_column_text]When you think about great sports rivalries, what teams come to mind?
In baseball, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is always intense. In college hoops, Duke vs. North Carolina is the standard. Football? The old school peeps — like me — have been told the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have a rich history of disdain for each other, but that grew and peaked before my time.
In the NBA, I can’t recall any more exciting rivalry than the 1980s Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did the two teams go head-to-head for all the marbles, the talent on the floor was off the charts. Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale. The Lakers and Celtics have met 12 times in the NBA Finals. Nothing — I mean, nothing — compares to those 1984, 1985 and 1987 showdowns at old Boston Garden.
You couldn’t manufacture that kind of story. No one would believe it. The Lakers/Celtics rivalry is priceless.
If your team is not on my short list, I am sure there is a city, state or regional opponent that gets your blood pumping. I am about to experience that feeling this week when the New York Mets play the St. Louis Cardinals. Time and changes to the game have dampened the excitement that once shadowed the two teams in the mid-80s.
Who can forget 1985? Gary Carter’s Opening Day walk-off home run off none other than Neil Allen or, six months later, Darryl Strawberry’s 440-foot home run in St. Louis off Ken Dayley in the 11th inning.
“Those series in St. Louis were just wonderful, and 1985 was just off the charts,” Keith Hernandez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2016. “In 1985, if we had played each other every night, there would have been so many brawls. It would have been unbelievable fun.”
Remember, the Mets and Cardinals were both in the National League Eastern Division in 1985, 1986 and 1987. The two teams played each other 18 times per season. “It really stinks that there’s only one series at each place when you play out of the division,” said Hernandez said. “They should play each other twice a year at both places and we could cut down on the interleague play.”
Still, the lingering emotions of the Mets-Cardinals rivalry would resurface from time-to-time. In 2000, the Mets “let the dogs out” and knocked off the Cardinals handily in the NLCS to advance to the World Series. Then, in 2006, Yadier Molina broke the Mets hearts — or was it Carlos Beltran? — in Game 7 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium.
Last week the fans were flamed on the rivalry when Nolan Arenado incited a bench-clearing brawl between the two teams. The blue and orange and red and white spilled out of their respective dugouts and — boom! — just like that I was shuttled back to the days of Jack Clark, Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor, Doc Gooden, Howard Johnson, Kevin Mitchell and all those “wonderful” moments that a rivalry gives to fans.
So, here we go again. The Mets and Cardinals open a four-game series tonight at Citi Field.