Right now on boston.com, you can vote on the NFL’s best rivalry. Patriots-Colts is in there, but its competition came in, chiefly, wars that go well beyond one era.
Browns-Steelers is on the list. But if you ask Pittsburgh’s players who their most hated opponent is, I’d bet, to a man, it’d be Baltimore. And vice versa. Take the Jets linebacker Bart Scott — late of the Ravens — at his word for this, in referencing newfound hate for Miami.
“This is beef. It ain’t got nothing to do with a must-win. To me, this is my new Pittsburgh,” said Scott to the New York media a couple weeks back. “I’ve been searching for one, and I found it.”
See? Scott’s point-of-reference for distaste was with the Steelers (which, I guess, really IS the direct descendant of the original Browns). Is it Pats-Colts? Actually, it’s close.
No, there’s not a lay-up quarterback storyline. But there are big names on each side, such as Hines Ward in Pittsburgh and Ray Lewis in Baltimore, that have been around for a long time. Both franchises have contended for most of this decade, and each has a championship. Plus, where there’s respect between the Colts and Patriots, there’s genuine, old-fashion hate between the Steelers and Ravens.
Ward actually told reporters in Pittsburgh before last year’s AFC title game “I love being the most hated guy” in Baltimore. Scott, back then, called the showdown “an opportunity for one of our organizations to really build up the level of hatred.”
Pats-Colts has the prestige. Ravens-Steelers has the punch. I remember being in Pittsburgh for a Monday night game last year, and with Baltimore in town, Heinz Field really felt like a dark place. Kind of like an alley where these two could throw haymakers at each other. Remember, that was the game where Lewis basically broke Rashard Mendenhall’s torso … After the Ravens were said to have put a bounty out on the then-rookie running back.
So to piggyback on our slideshow, here are some of the best rivalries of this decade, disregarding, for a moment, history. Remember, chances are, a decade from now, Pats-Colts will be just another game. If you don’t think so, maybe you need a reminder on how big Cowboys-Niners was in the early-to-mid 1990s.
I say Pats-Colts and Ravens-Steelers are atop the list. Here are five more …
Broncos-Chargers: Another quarterback-driven rivalry — Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler’s dislike of one another fueled this one. The teams still don’t like each other, even with Cutler gone, and have been the best in the AFC West for a while now.
Cowboys-Giants: The truth is that the NFC East is Rivalry Central. But this one really kicked up a notch with the verbal salvos that have been tossed across the country since 2007. Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton said after winning at Giants Stadium in 2007 that the Cowboys were like “Big Dogs” looking “to mark our territory.” Ouch.
Patriots-Jets: On the vitriol meter, this one goes past Indy for the Patriots. It’s been heated now for 13 years, since the day Bill Parcells headed South on the Northeast Corridor. Remember when Tuna and Robert Kraft declared the border war over? Not a chance.
Packers-Vikings: The two jockeyed for position atop the NFC North for much of this decade, but the ante really got upped over the last year or so, a time in which the Vikings set themselves up to get Green Bay icon Brett Favre, then pulled the trigger and got him in purple. The Bears are the historically bigger rival for Green Bay. But Minnesota’s Enemy No. 1 now.
Buccaneers-Panthers: This is an underrated one, and isn’t now what it used to be. But when these teams were elite (Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl in ’02, the Panthers got there the year after), there was nastiness here. In one 2003 game, the clubs combined for a staggering 33 penalties.