You can probably say this every year, but the past 12 months have been bonkers for Boston sports rivalries. It’s been one long, continuous cycle of players and teams that this city has grown to hate, finding different ways to stir the pot. Then again, maybe that’s the point. That’s what rivals do. That’s what makes them rivals.
In the up-and-coming, fast-paced world of Major League Baseball, Jacoby Ellsbury jumped to the Yankees in December and Michael Pineda has already turned the Sox/Yankees regular season into a hilarious pile of bad-blooded goo.
In the NFL, the Patriots grabbed the cornerstone of Sexy Rexy’s once-vaunted Jets defense and — for the second straight year — lost their supposed No. 1 offseason priority to the Broncos. This all coming after Tom Brady and Peyton Manning spent the whole season building towards an inevitable AFC Championship showdown.
Meanwhile, in the NBA, the Celtics and Lakers fought neck and neck all season, like brave (also, drunk and blind-folded) warriors, in the race to be horrible.
As for hockey, we’ll get there in a second. For now, here’s a quick commentary on the state of the rivalries already mentioned in the space above:
Maybe not when plopped down along the entire spectrum of professional sports, but for what they are and what they’ve been . . .
Red Sox/Yankees: The Ellsbury situation was supposed to take things up a notch, but I’m not sure it has. Or maybe it’s just hard to tell. On one hand, Ellsbury certainly heard some boos when he returned to Fenway. On the other hand, the booing fans were outnumbered by empty seats.
Either way, it’s been 10 years since the Sox and Yankees met in the playoffs, and until they meet again, the rivalry will be living in the shadow of its prior greatness. Celebrating it, too. Last year, it was Mariano Rivera. This year, it will be Derek Jeter and the entire 2004 Sox team. More signs that one of the most historic era’s in one of sports’ most historic rivalries is coming to an end — and we’re still waiting for the next one to begin.
Celtics/Lakers: It was a sad season for both teams, and that was only magnified the two times they met. Those games were like watching Ali and Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle, only if they held the fight next weekend.
Patriots/Jets: As long as Rex Ryan is around, this rivalry will have life. And obviously, the acquisition of Darrelle Revis adds another layer to the fun. But until the Jets get back on track and present themselves as a legitimate contender in the AFC, it’s sort of joke. When Rex opens his mouth, it’s like the Pats are being taunted by Stillwell from A League of Their Own.
Patriots/Broncos: This rivalry is pretty good. Probably the best of all that have been mentioned so far, especially with Aqib Talib switching teams. But here’s the thing about the Patriots/Broncos rivalry. It’s not really about the Patriots and Broncos. It’s about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
And on that level, it’s hard to stir up any real, purely genuine animosity when everything between the two is so hunky dory. Not that it was ever contentious, but in 2014, its like Brady and Manning, despite all the hype, have made peace with their rivalry. After all, they already know how this story ends.
Peyton will have better numbers. Brady will have more rings. But at the end of the day, they’ve both won a Super Bowl, they’ve both lost a Super Bowl; they’re both going to retire in the Top 5 of every major statistical category. They’re both all-time greats.
And at this point, they’re far more concerned with winning another ring in the time they have left than they are with whom those wins come against.
Speaking of winning, let’s finally talk about the Bruins. More specifically, the Bruins and Canadiens, who kick off their second-round playoff series tonight at the TD Garden. And just because he understands it a lot better than I do, let’s have Milan Lucic do the talking:
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I’m sure if you asked them about us you’d get the same answer. Being here for seven years and being a part of this organization, you just learn to naturally hate the Montreal Canadiens. The battles that we’ve had the last couple of years have made us hate them, and this being the first time we’re meeting them beyond the first round will even take it up a level.”
In this case, Lucic was answering the question:
Do you hate the Montreal Canadiens?
But he was also indirectly answering this one:
What’s the best sports rivalry in Boston?
And I know, that answer was pretty obvious. And I know, it’s probably not fair to play rivalry favorites while one is about to kick off a second round playoff series. Had I asked this question six months ago, the answer would have probably been different. If I ask it again six months from now, the answer will probably be different.
But at this very moment, we can’t deny the utter greatness of the Bruins/Canadiens rivalry. It’s hard to even grasp all the emotions that are about to unfold over these next two weeks of hockey. And in the end, it’s an important reminder that while great rivalries aren’t always great, when they are, there’s nothing better.
Then again, maybe that’s the point.
That's what makes them rivals.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine