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Friday, August 12, 2011

Ranking Boston's Best Rivalries

A lot of talk on 98.5 The Sports Hub this week has centered around what is currently the best rivalry in Boston sports.  There has been a lot of feedback from callers and a variety of different answers.  The debate centers around four rivalries, one for each of the major teams: Celtics vs Lakers, Red Sox vs Yankees, Bruins vs Canadiens, and Patriots vs Jets.

Now this isn't trying to determine which is the best of all-time.  Each rivalry has had its high points, but these rankings are based off where they each stand in 2011.

Without further ado here are my 2011 rankings of Boston's best sports rivalries...

4. Red Sox vs Yankees

This may be surprising to a lot of people, especially the pink hat crowd, but this is currently the fourth best rivalry.

The rivalry peaked in 2003-2004 when the teams played back to back 7 game series in the ALCS.  The Yankees won in 2003 on Aaron Boone's extra inning walk-off after Pedro Martinez was infamously left in too long by Grady Little and gave up a 5-2 lead in the eighth.  That series was also memorable for the Game 3 hostilities, which included a bench clearing incident and Pedro throwing Don Zimmer to the ground. 

That loss led to an offseason that was almost as hotly contested as the ALCS had been.  The Red Sox made a run at trading for Alex Rodriguez, but that deal fell through and the Yankees swept in and made their own offer.  This brought the hate level in the rivalry to an all-time high.  The Red Sox added their own spice to the rivalry by bringing in 2001 World Series Yankee-killer Curt Schilling.

The 2004 season was highlighted by another brawl between the teams.  This one began with Jason Varitek shoving his mitt in Rodriguez's face after he was hit by a Bronson Arroyo pitch.  The teams met again for the chance to go to the World Series.  As we all know now, the Red Sox fell behind 3-0 in the series after a 19-8 shellacking in Game 3, but came back to win the series in 7 games after heroics from Dave Roberts, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, and others.  Boston went on to end their 86 year title drought by sweeping St. Louis in the World Series.

The problem for this rivalry is that the Sox and Yankees have not played a playoff series since 2004.  They have each won a title since 2004 but neither team had to go through the other to get there.  Even this season the teams are competing for the AL East title, but they are both pretty much assured of making the playoffs so there isn't the same level of urgency in the matchups.

They do seem to be on a collision course for the 2011 ALCS so another heated postseason series could get this rivalry back up towards the top of the list.

3. Celtics vs Lakers

This rivalry has recent history on its side.  Since the 2007-2008 season, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Celtics and Pau Gasol joined the Lakers, the teams have met twice in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics capped off the greatest single season turnaround in NBA history by defeating the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals in six games.   That series also saw the Celtics stage the greatest NBA Finals comeback in history on the Lakers' floor, coming back from a 24 point deficit to win game 3.  It also saw the Celtics lay a 39 point annihilation on the Lakers in the series-clinching victory.

The teams seemed poised for a return date in the 2009 Finals.  The Lakers swept the regular season series, including a tense and testy 1 point overtime victory in Boston.  Both teams were at the top of their respective conferences when Kevin Garnett injured his knee after the All-Star break, effectively ending his season.  The Lakers went on to win the 2009 title over the Orlando Magic, who defeated the Celtics in the second round in 7 games.

The teams met again in 2010 in what once seemed like an unlikely Finals pairing.  The Celtics struggled to the fourth seed in the East that year, but made it through the East and met up again with their arch-rivals.  After a regular season that saw each team win by a single point on the other's floor, the teams played a seven games series in the Finals.  The Celtics held a 3-2 series lead heading back to Los Angeles, but the Lakers won games 6 and 7 on their home court.

This rivalry could be slipping down the list to the fourth spot in the near future.  Both teams are aging and were bounced out of the second round in this year's playoffs.  The labor issues in the league are also threatening to cancel the 2011-2012 NBA season.  Call me crazy but a year without playing each other could hurt this rivalry's current standing.

2. Patriots vs Jets

This rivalry has the potential to slide up into the top spot.  If the 2010 season was any indication then this rivalry could hit a boiling point in 2011.

Last season the Jets confounded New England in the Meadowlands for the second straight season.  The second meeting was a different story.  The Patriots shut down, and shut up, the Jets in Foxboro on Monday Night Football in December to the tune of 45-3.  The Jets would have the last laugh though.  Completely disregarded by the media and fans the Jets came into Foxboro and knocked the Patriots off in the Divisional Playoffs.

This rivalry has always been just as compelling because of the off the field drama.  Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Rex Ryan have all contributed to the rivalry almost as much outside of the games as they have during them.  Rex Ryan single handedly has brought the rivalry to a whole new level.  From his introductory press conference Ryan has enjoyed taking jabs at New England and Belichick.  Wes Welker went against Belichick's wishes and engaged in some of the verbal sparring, leading to his benching early in the playoff game.

For the third straight year Rex Ryan has declared the Jets Super Bowl favorites.  They have made back to back AFC Championship games, while the Patriots have won back to back division titles.  Ryan has declared that other teams need to step up and knock off New England besides them.  The Patriots have loaded up to try and take back the momentum in this rivalry.  Their signing of long-time Jet Shaun Ellis led Ryan to publicly state that he would not wish Ellis well. 

This rivalry has been heated off the field leading into the 2011 season, and fans can only hope that the on-field action matches the off-field soap opera.

1. Bruins vs Canadiens

Another rivalry that has been as intriguing off the ice as it has been on it.

The Canadiens' style of play, centered around flopping around trying to draw calls, and their legions of apologists they call fans make them an easy team to hate.  This rivalry has been ratcheted up in recent years, especially this past season.  

The Bruins were the eighth seed in the 2008 playoffs and matched up with the Canadiens.  Despite falling behind 3-1 in the series the Bruins battled back to force a game 7 that Montreal won at home.  The following season the Bruins swept Montreal out of the playoffs.

The 2010-2011 season brought this rivalry to an entirely new level.  February saw the Bruins win an emotional, brawl-filled 8-6 victory at the Garden.

On March 8 Montreal defeated the Bruins 4-1 but the game was marred by Zdeno Chara hitting Max Pacioretty into a stanchion along the boards.  Pacioretty was severely injured and his season was ended.  The hit sent the city of Montreal into a frenzy.  Numerous fans called 911 on Chara and sought to have him arrested.  The Montreal police have investigated the incident and the issue remains unresolved.  The Bruins were able to exact some revenge at home later in the month.  They completely dominated Montreal 8-0.

That victory gave Boston confidence heading into the playoffs, where they were again matched up with the Canadiens.  The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 series lead winning the first 2 games in Boston.  The Bruins responded though and came back to win the series in seven games.  Three of their four wins came in overtime, including game 7 at home.  That series served as a spring board to the Bruins' first Stanley Cup in 39 years. 

This rivalry has always been heated but will enter rare territory this upcoming season: with the Bruins clearly on top.  You can bet Montreal will be gunning hard for Boston now that they have the Cup and two straight playoff series wins over them.

Once again this is not a ranking of the best rivalries of all time.  This is just a ranking of where they stand today in 2011.  The great thing about sports is that things are always changing and this time next year we could be looking at completely different list.

We as fans just need to sit back and be thankful that we live in a city with so many great sports rivalries.

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