There have been some great games involving age-old rivals in just the past week or so. Coach K and Duke beat North Carolina on a buzzer beater from Austin Rivers. That three point shot antagonized a friend of mine, who happens to like the Tar Heels, to close a recent non-sports text message with “ F*%$ Duke.” The Lakers dropped by Boston and nipped the Celtics in overtime in front of the rowdiest Garden crowd of the season. Maine hockey went on the road and swept BU. All examples of thrilling games between arch rivals.
When sworn enemies meet the games are just more special and often more hyped, as ESPN proves during what they bill as “Rivalry Week.” But I don’t blame them, as I do say college sports rivalries are the best. Game day between Oklahoma and Texas or Alabama and Auburn football is bigger than Christmas in those states. I already mentioned Duke and Carolina in hoops, although Missouri-Kansas and Louisville-Kentucky are pretty intense as well. Coaches at these schools keep or lose their jobs by beating or losing to a rival.
Students, coaches, fans and the media also get a little more excited when two high school rivals meet. The Bangor and Brewer hoops teams now play once a season at the Bangor Auditorium. The MDI boys just wrapped up their first undefeated season in school history in front of the largest crowd to see a high school basketball game this season in this area. More than 1,400 people crammed into the Parady Gymnasium to see the boys not only win game number 18, but to see them do it by beating the school's biggest rival, Ellsworth.
One of the few times in history they have had to turn people away at the Bangor Auditorium was when Cindy Blodgett played for Lawrence. Her Bulldogs played traditional powerhouse and neighboring Cony of Augusta several times those years, and there wasn’t one empty seat even in the nosebleed section.
Heck, I’m north of 40 years old now, but I still remember an eastern Maine championship game I played in baseball against, you guessed it, Ellsworth. Normally about 30 family members would come to our games. But that warm day in June hundreds of people packed the Ellsworth baseball field like they were waiting to see U2 in concert. Why? To work on their tans? Maybe. But mainly because it was MDI and Ellsworth. Didn’t matter what sport, it was about the rivalry.
Professional rivalries today are a little different. Historically, players didn’t like other players on rival teams, but that’s not as common today. It’s the fans who still love the rivalries. Take Red Sox-Yankees. Those tickets are hard to get and darn expensive. The games are often on national TV. But I learned a few years ago that even after a heated Sox-Yankees showdown, often players from each team get together for dinner and drinks later that evening. The players get along better than fans, who have been known to occasionally run each other over with cars.
Still, there’s nothing sweeter than the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox did what no other baseball team had ever done. They came from three games down to win a best of seven series. Of course you know it was against the arch rival New York Yankees. If they had done it against Seattle, it just would not have been the same.
So get to enjoy rivals meeting during tournament week. You’ll hear some of the local play-by-play people throw out tired clichés. But you know it became a cliché for a reason. It really is true that when it comes to rivals doing battle, throw the records out! And buckle up for a wild ride.