Rivalries in sports can be fickle. There are some that are eternal, of course. Yankees v. Red Sox with its long history and great players – Ted Williams v. Joe DiMaggio; Lakers v. Cetics – Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Bird; Redskins v. Cowboys; Bears v. Packers; even when the competitive edge between these teams wanes, the rivalry lingers below the surface, waiting for the moment that the teams’ fortunes wax again.
Troy Aikman’s rookie year with the Cowboys, they went 1-15. The win? A Thanksgiving Day victory over Washington. The year the Sixers went 9-73, they only beat one team in the NBA twice. That would be the Celtics, who won 68 games that year.
Then you have those rivalries without the long history, but which nonetheless crop up. Some last; some don’t.
Niners v. Cowboys dominated the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but Young and Montana and Aikman all retired and before that even happened Brett Favre being a bigger nemesis for both teams than each other.
The Phillies and Pirates were division and interstate rivals in the ‘70s and had an annual battle for first place. They even had bench clearing brawls.
Now the Pirates are that series on the schedule where the Phillies have to give away free rain bonnets to get people to show up.
Lakers/Spurs? Please. That lasted about 2 seasons.
But Ravens/Steelers is one of the best rivalries in football, although you could argue that that rivalry hearkens back to Ravens/Browns.
No such history is extant, however, for Patriots/Colts, and that one’s been a dandy for a while.
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Patriots/Colts is a rivalry come lately, but it’s defined the last decade of the NFL. Two of the all-time great players, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, squaring off on the field, and in football debates in sports bars and living rooms around the country.
7 of the last 11 AFC Championship Games have included either the Pats or the Colts, including twice when they played each other, each team winning once.
It’s one of those rivalries that has occasionally made household names out of names that shouldn’t be, like Mike Vanderjagt, Ben Watson or Melvin Bullitt, and bizarre folklore, like the playoff game where each team scored a touchdown by having one of their offensive linemen recover a fumble in the end zone. But could it outlast the respective careers of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? This week, we got our first look.
The upstart and rebuilt Indianapolis Colts, behind rookie QB Andrew Luck, headed into Foxboro boasting an unlikely 6-3 record, and a game that looked like a breather on the Patriots’ schedule at the beginning of the season would, instead, be a challenge. Meanwhile, the Colts would get a chance to gauge just how far they were from true contention.
For a half, at least, this game was not only competitive, it was exciting and high-energy and, dare I say it, had a playoff atmosphere about it. Luck and the Colts staked out a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, but successive touchdowns off a punt return and an interception return gave the Patriots the lead, and they went into the half up 24-17. And. . .you know you can’t spot Tom Brady 14 points and still win. It doesn’t happen.
Brady threw a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to put the game out of reach 38-17, and another interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth made the game a laugher.
Shapes of things to come: Luck and Brady meet post game
But I don’t think this signaled the end of the Colts/Patriots rivalry, simply because New England is clearly the better team at the moment. Instead, I saw a pair of teams that still had a very high level of competitive fire for each other.
Don’t forget, not every Brady vs. Manning contest came down to the final possession. Blowouts happen. But the game intensity, coupled with the fact that New England is still VERY good and figures to remain so while the Colts are a lot better a lot sooner than anyone thought they would be tells me this rivalry is one that will last at least a little while longer.
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