Decade Debate: 6 Greatest Sports Rivalries

The word rivalry is defined as “competition for the same objective or superiority in the same field.” Rivalries exist in all facets of life, but they are no more apparent than in the world of sport. With the end of the decade looming, here are the six most intense rivalries of the last ten years.

6. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson

Competition between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may not produce the mystique that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus once did, but their rivalry has been exciting nonetheless. Without Tiger Woods, professional golf’s popularity would be a mere morsel of what it is today. The man has won 14 majors, holds his own tournament (the AT&T National), designed two beautiful courses, is the only golfer with his own video game, and garners public intrigue on the same level as world leaders. Still, his status as figurehead of professional golf wouldn’t have any merit without some stiff competition. Enter Phil Mickelson, Tiger’s only adversary with any staying power. When Mickelson won the 2000 Buick Invitational, he also officially ended Tiger’s streak of consecutive tournament wins at six. Over the years, Mickelson would hire Butch Harmon, Tiger’s former coach, and joke about Tiger’s use of “inferior equipment.” Still, their rivalry always remained amicable, even as Phil won his first major in ’04 (The Masters), the PGA Championship in ’05 another Green Jacket in ’06. During this year’s Masters, Tiger and Mickelson were finally paired together in a major event. Trudging down the final back nine at Augusta, the two golfers put on a show that thankfully lived up to the hype. –- Christopher Glotfelty

5. Lakers vs. Spurs

These two Western Conference giants won seven of the 10 titles in the ‘00s. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three consecutive titles to start the decade, and then Kobe won one “on his own” in ’09 (though Pau Gasol might have something to say about that). Meanwhile, led by Tim Duncan (arguably the greatest power forward ever to play the game), the Spurs won the NBA championship in ’03, ’05 and ’07. One of these two franchises represented the West in every season save for ’06 (Dallas). The Spurs and Lakers faced each other five times in the playoffs, and the winner went on to the Finals every time. Not only did this rivalry feature a great matchup between Duncan and Shaq, but Manu Ginobili served as a great foil for Kobe Bryant while the speedy Tony Parker and the physical Derek Fisher were a study in contrasts. This rivalry reached its pinnacle during the 2004 Playoffs when Fisher hit an impossible buzzer-beater to win Game 5 on the road and swing the series. –- John Paulsen

4. Colts vs. Patriots

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the best NFL rivalry of the decade is that it’s brand new. While the Colts and Patriots have seemingly battled forever, the rivalry is still in its infancy compared to great battles between the Cowboys and Giants, Cowboys and 49ers, and Bears and Packers. It wasn’t until 2003 when Peyton Manning’s Colts went into Foxboro in the AFC Championship Game and lost to Tom Brady’s Patriots, 24-14, that football fans said, “Hey – this could be one hell of a rivalry.” The theme of this rivalry grew quickly: New England had Peyton’s number. Not only did they beat him ’03, but they also produced victories in Week 1 of ’04 and in the Divisional Round of ’04 before Peyton finally rose to the challenge and knocked off New England in Foxboro in Week 9 of the ’05 season. But of course, everyone remembers the 2006 AFC Championship Game when Manning had to rally the Colts to a 38-34 win (the game featured four lead changes in the final seven minutes) to catapult his team to a Super Bowl victory against the Bears two weeks later. And now that Peyton has proven that he can overcome Brady and the Pats, Bill Belichick breathed some life into the rivalry last week when he inexplicably went for it on a 4th and 2 from his own 28-yard line when his team was up 34-28 late in the fourth quarter. The rest is history: The Pats’ offense was stopped cold, Manning and the Colts punched it in and a new storyline in the rivalry was born. Pats/Colts features two of the best teams of the decade, run by two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. What else do you need? –- Anthony Stalter

3. Federer vs. Nadal

For the first time in nine years, tennis made the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was to commemorate the 4 hour and 48 minute Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Hailed as the greatest tennis match of all time, Nadal would emerge the victor, ending Federer’s streak of five consecutive Wimbledon championships. After Pete Sampras retired, Federer quickly took a stranglehold on the sport, winning multiple Grand Slams. In 2005, a young Spaniard with a speedy serve and a stupefying backhand became the French Open champion. From this point on, Nadal and Federer would enter the most interesting rivalry between two athletes in the past decade. Rivalries come to life on the center stage and these two constantly manage to meet, as if ordered by the fates. They have met a record seven times in a Grand Slam final. Until Fed’s loss to Martin Del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open, all of their losses in Grand Slam finals had been to each other. Although tennis welcomed Federer with open arms, the sport needed Nadal for the sake of competition. From 2005 to 2008, Nadal defeated Federer in the finals at the French Open, depriving the Swiss of a Career Grand Slam (Fed would later capture the title in 2009). Nadal has run into Federer in each of his title runs – five times in the final. To put everything in perspective, the two have won 17 of the last 19 Grand Slams. Now that’s a rivalry. — Christopher Glotfelty

2. Duke vs. UNC

In college hoops, the best rivalry of the ‘00s is the best rivalry of all time – Duke vs. North Carolina. The two schools are located a mere eight miles apart and that proximity breeds pure contempt. The Blue Devils dominated for the first half of the decade, winning 12 of 14 head-to-head matchups from ’00 to ‘05, a national championship in ’01 and ACC regular season titles in ’00, ’01, ’04 and ’06. The Tar Heels’ resurgence coincided with the arrival of Roy Williams in ’03. Since ‘05, North Carolina has won seven of nine head-to-head matchups. They have also won two national championships (’05 and ’09) and five ACC titles (’01, ’03, ’07, ’08 and ’09). More recently, Roy Williams added fuel to the fire by signing the top prep recruit Harrison Barnes out from under Mike Krzyzewski’s prominent nose. With both coaches entrenched in great programs, this rivalry shows no signs of letting up. These two teams hate each other, and that’s just the way we like it. — John Paulsen

1. Red Sox vs. Yankees

The Red Sox and Yankees certainly made a strong argument this decade for keeping their status as one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. What has transpired over the past 10 years between these two clubs can’t be summarized in just one paragraph. But damn it, we’ll try: Yankees hand the Red Sox their worst home loss ever, 22-1; Carl Everett breaks up Mike Mussiana’s perfect game at Fenway; Larry Lucchino labels the Yankees the “Evil Empire”; Pedro Martinez…Karim Garcia…Don Zimmer tossed on his face; “Aaron BLEEPING Boone!”; A-Rod is heading to Boston…no wait, the Yankees; Dave Robert’s steal; Jason Varitek vs. Alex Rodrgiez; David Ortiz’s walk-off single; Curt Schilling’s bloody sock; Boston’s improbable comeback from down 3-1; Red Sox Nation is born; Gary Sheffield’s cap is knocked off by a Boston fan; Johnny Damon is a traitor; The Yankees five-game sweep; Roger Clemens chooses the Yankees over the Sox; The Mitchell Report…That’s a lot of great history and memorable moments between these two teams in just 10 years. All told, the Red Sox and Yankees have accounted for four of this decade’s 10 World Series winners and six of the 10 AL Pennant winners. These two storied franchises absolutely loathe each other, and it makes for some great storylines.— Anthony Stalter

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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