RECENTLY a pair of questions were posed to me: “Who is the rivalry between our teams more important to: the fans or the players? Have the fans just hated each other for so long, (that) it’s in our DNA now?”
The answer to Question One is tricky. However, just to pick a side and give an you answer, I’d have to lean towards it being more important to players.
Used to be, a player spent most (if not all), of his career with one team. Often he’d spend years going against the same guy, twice a year. He got to know his enemy. He got to either truly respect the guy, or absolutely hate his guts.
Up and down the line, on both sides of the ball, match-ups were battles. In some cases, real battles. Not just to win the game, but often to settle old scores. Mounting scores. Men threw hands that landed loaded with real hatred. It was a different age back then. Player mobility has killed that.
Rare now is the gladiator who will only don one helmet. Knowing this as a rookie, it’s no longer automatic for a player to cultivate a hatred for a player he sees twice a year. Too often there are situations like Oakland’s, where formerly bitter rivals (like WR Antonio Brown and LB Vontaze Burfict), end up teammates, who make a point of publicly “squashing past beefs”.
Still, players need the rivalries more than fans. Players need to make sure that when “(Insert Team) Week” comes around, that they say all the things fan want to hear. This is because fan-favorite players have more leverage come contract time. Especially if their jersey sells well. And nothing endears a player to fans faster, than trash talk that gets backed-up.
For fans, rivalries are a sliding scale. For instance, most Eagles fans view the Cowboys as the bane of their existence. Not me. For me, it’s the Redskins. Stems from back to the 1990’s. The Cowboys frequently had strokes of luck that made me roll my eyes. The Redskins however, used to flat-out play dirty during games, and refs would act blind to it, then that prissy fa- …the effeminate Mark Rypien, would be so smug. GOD! They were so easy to hate.
As for Question Two, on whether rival fan hatred is now genetic… Ask any Eagles fan with a kid who roots for a rival. It’s not genetic. I know for a fact, because my Mom was a Cowboys fan, and she didn’t hate me (an Eagles fan), or my brother (a giants fan). So it’s not genetic. It’s not. (FTR: I happen to love my brother and I also like him.)
Who really benefits, are sports franchises. They make a ton of bank off of our Blood vs Crips mentality. “Yo homes! You can’t be wearin’ them colors, in this stadium…”
Rivalries make the season more dramatic. They serve as a moralistic rally point, concentrate feelings of tribalism, and ultimately drive sales through the roof. Fans, players… pffft! No one needs rivalries more than the franchises themselves.
Understanding how important rivalries are, I’m still perplexed by the 2001 NFL realignment, which broke up divisions with five teams in them, and made every division a four team division.
While only 6 rivalry games per year seems more special(?), it means that it’s only 6/16 or 37.5% of the schedule. When there were 8 rivalry games it was 8/16 or 50% of the schedule. So while the division games are now more special, they now impact the schedule less. You can still go 10-6, and not need much Wild Card help, even if you lose every division game.
I miss there being five teams in the division. The top and bottom of a division are now too starkly defined. I miss that nebulous middle, and the frustrated players that came with it. So much bad blood. Helped fuel rivalries. I miss that.