Monday, November 19, 2012

There Are Rivalries, and Then There Are RIVALRIES

Why do I have a soccer picture leading this post off? You'll find out shortly.

This coming Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day, the football team at East Brunswick High School will face Old Bridge High School for, depending on how you measure it, either the 19th or the 52nd time.

With their 15-7 loss in a "consolation game" to Freehold Township on Friday night, EB goes into "The Battle of Route 18" at 2-7.  OB are now 7-2, and (due to Hurricane Sandy messing with the schedule) are still in the State Playoffs, when another round should have been played by now (i.e. this should be their 11th game, not their 10th).

The game will be played at Vince Lombardi Field, at what is now Carl Sandburg Middle School, formerly Old Bridge High West Campus, Madison Central High and Madison Township High.

I know, naming a school after a poet in a town where most of the people are illiterate, it's weird.  It's also weird that the stadium is named after Lombardi, who has no connection to the school, or even to the town.

If you count the school only under its current name, mascot and colors -- Old Bridge High School, the Knights, purple and black -- then we've played them every year, and always on Thanksgiving, since 1994.

If you count their previous incarnations, then we've played them every year since they started playing football in 1963, 50 regular-season meetings, plus 2 Playoff games.  They were named Madison Township High School from 1963 to 1974, and Madison Central High School from 1975 (when the name of the town was changed to Old Bridge) until 1993 (when it was reconsolidated with Cedar Ridge High School, which was broken off from them in 1968).  Their mascot was the Spartans, their colors navy & sky blue.  They were an early-season game from 1964 to 1979 (except for 1974), and again from 1982 to 1987; they were a late-season game in 1963, 1974, 1980 & 1981, 1990 & 1991, and a Thanksgiving opponent since 1994.

If you count only under the OBHS label, the Purple Bastards lead us, 15-3.  If you count under all labels, they lead us 29-20, with 2 ties.

East Brunswick and Old Bridge, adjoining towns, have their schools 8.3 miles apart -- since OB's stadium is at the old school, now a middle school, from stadium to stadium it's 6.4 miles.  Most high school rivalries, including those played on Thanksgiving Day, are roughly that close.

Among the classic, some no longer played, Middlesex County football rivalries, here's the distances in miles:

Woodbridge vs. John F. Kennedy (crosstown rivals): 1.6
Madison Central vs. Cedar Ridge (the two former OB schools): 1.8
New Brunswick vs. St. Peter's (NBHS' crosstown rival is now closed): 2.3
South Plainfield vs. North Plainfield (Union County): 3.2
South River vs. Sayreville: 4.7
Highland Park vs. Metuchen: 5.5
Edison vs. J.P. Stevens (crosstown rivals): 5.7
Perth Amboy vs. Carteret: 5.7
East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge: 6.4
Piscataway vs. Franklin (Somerset County): 6.9
North Brunswick vs. South Brunswick: 8.7

New Jersey and a few other Northeastern States still have Thanksgiving Day rivalries.  But most States that used to have them have dropped the tradition for State Playoffs.  New Jersey has tried to have its cake -- or, rather, it's turkey -- and eat it, too.  Some other big ones from around the State include Newark's Barringer vs. East Orange (first played in 1897), the Paterson matchup of Eastside vs. JFK (formerly Central), Hackensack vs. Teaneck, Westfield vs. Plainfield, Roselle vs. Roselle Park, Union vs. Lindon, Bloomfield vs. Montclair, Belleville vs. Nutley, Clifton vs. Passaic, Irvington vs. Columbia (which serves South Orange and Maplewood); the Jersey City battles between Ferris and Snyder (now an early-season game), and Dickinson vs. St. Peter's Prep, which would be played at the old Roosevelt Stadium, a 24,000-seat minor league ballpark; Hamilton Township of Mercer County having Hamilton vs. Steinert; the Shore Conference battles of Middletown North vs. Middletown South, Long Branch vs. Red Bank, Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson (school size prevents RB & RBC from being regular opponents), Asbury Park vs. Neptune and Lakewood vs. Toms River (now Toms River South); South Jersey crosstown rivalries such as Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West, Camden vs. Woodrow Wilson, Pennsauken vs. Bishop Eustace, Haddonfield vs. Haddon Heights, and Hammonton vs. St. Joseph's; Gloucester City (which is actually in Camden County) vs. Gloucester Catholic; Atlantic City vs. Holy Spirit of neighboring Absecon; Ocean City vs. Pleasantville; and the oldest one in the State, in South Jersey, the Cumberland County classic between Millville and Vineland, which dates back to 1894.

The State of New York isn't big on the tradition.  Xavier of Manhattan and Fordham Prep of the Bronx have been playing since the 19th Century, often at the Polo Grounds, and after its demolition at Downing Stadium on Randall's Island.  These days, when Fordham Prep is the home team, they play at Fordham University's Jack Coffey Field; when it's Xavier, they play at a stadium at Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport in Brooklyn.

In The Bronx, Cardinal Hayes and Mount St. Michael play each other on Thanksgiving.  In nearby White Plains, public White Plains takes on parochial Archbishop Stepinac.

With the exception of Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs, Pennsylvania has mostly abandoned the tradition.  But one such matchup is worth mentioning, because it straddles the Delaware River and thus the State Line: Easton vs. Phillipsburg, annually played at Fisher Field at Lafayette College in Easton.  They've played each other every year since 1905 and on each Thanksgiving since 1916.

The New England States used to be very big on it.  But Vermont doesn't do it anymore, and Maine is down to just 1 such game, in the State's largest city, Portland: Portland vs. Deering, every year since 1911.  Massachusetts remains the pace-setter for high school football on Thanksgiving, with matchups such as East Boston vs. South Boston, Boston Latin vs. Boston English (played since 1887 and usually at Harvard Stadium), Medford vs. Malden and Winchester vs. Woburn.  (No, Winchester High was not named for the Boston native M*A*S*H surgeon or anyone in his family.)

Connecticut still has 47 such games, some dating back to the 19th Century.  New Hampshire is no longer all that big on the tradition, but the State's largest city, Manchester, hosts its city championship on the day.  Rhode Island has a few.  A cross-State game is played between Stonington High of Connecticut and Westerly High of Rhode Island, just 2.6 miles apart.  There was a time when these 2 schools played twice a year, and with this year's matchup being the 150th, it is the most played high school football game in America.  Overall, the Stonington Bears lead 68-65-17, but on Thanksgiving, the Westerly Bulldogs lead 47-40-11 -- either way, it's quite close.

In Baltimore, Calvert Hall and Loyola used to be part of a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium.  They still play every Thanksgiving, now at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens.  But Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute -- a.k.a. City vs. Poly -- while still being played in November at the big football stadium in town, is no longer played on Thanksgiving.

The cities of Washington, D.C., Buffalo, New Orleans and San Francisco used to have their city championships on Thanksgiving.  D.C. still does, and also hosts Gonzaga vs. St. John's on Thanksgiving.  San Francisco also still hosts its city championship on Thanksgiving, at the new version of Kezar Stadium, built on the site of the original home of the 49ers in Golden Gate Park.  But the only true T-Day rivalry played west of Missouri is nearby, in San Jose, between Abraham Lincoln High School and San Jose High Academy since 1945 at a neutral-ground college's field.


College football usually isn't played on Thanksgiving anymore.  There've been a few such rivalries, such as Alabama vs. Auburn, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Mississippi (Ole Miss) vs. Mississippi State.  Mostly, though, these games are now played the Friday or Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.  This year, the only game being played on T-Day is Texas vs. Texas Christian (TCU) -- not Texas A&M.  Louisiana State (LSU) and Arkansas, Arizona and Arizona State, Washington and Washington State, and the new rivalry Nebraska created with next-door Iowa by joining the Big Ten, are on Friday.

Saturday will see some biggies: Ohio State vs. Michigan, Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, South Carolina vs. Clemson, Tennessee vs. Kentucky, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, and, while it isn't a particularly big rivalry, it could decide the Big East title: Rutgers vs. Pittsburgh.

The NFL has had Thanksgiving games almost from the beginning, formerly including Bears vs. Cardinals when both were in Chicago, and the New York Giants playing the Staten Island Stapletons, before the latter went out of business due to the Great Depression in the early 1930s.  Starting in 1934, the Detroit Lions have played on the day every year except during World War II; for a long time, in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, the Green Bay Packers would be their opponent every time.  The Dallas Cowboys started the tradition in 1966, and a third game has been held in prime time since 2006, although it's not the same teams every year.


But most college and pro sports rivalries in America aren't as close as high school rivalries.  And they're certainly not as close as international club soccer rivalries, with several pairs of rivals flirting with danger by "groundsharing": Both teams using the same stadium, including in Milan, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro.  In North America, the only MLS teams that do it are the Los Angeles teams, L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA.  It's also done in the Mexican league.

USC and UCLA -- the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles -- have their campuses 10.7 miles apart.  They played each other this past Saturday, UCLA winning 38-28 to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

There's a few college basketball rivalries that are that close, or thereabouts.  The best-known is Duke in Durham vs. North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who, of course, also play each other in football.  They're almost exactly the same distance as USC-UCLA: 10.8 miles.  Throw in North Carolina State in Raleigh, and it's about 25 miles from both Duke and Carolina.

Boston University's arena has Northeastern University's 2.1 miles to the east and Boston College's 3.3 miles to the west.  In Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier are less than 3 miles apart.  Philadelphia's Big Five? The University of Pennsylvania's Palestra is 3.5 miles from Temple's Liacouras Center, 4.3 from St. Joseph's Michael J. Hagan Arena (formerly Alumni Fieldhouse), 7.4 from LaSalle's Tom Gola Arena, and an even 10 miles from the Pavilion at Villanova.  And, while their football rivalry went by the wayside over 30 years ago, Rutgers and Princeton, the original college football rivals, still play each other in basketball (Rutgers won this week), are just 17 miles apart from Old Queens in New Brunswick to Nassau Hall in Princeton.

But most of the biggies in college football are not that close.  Observe:

California vs. Stanford: 40 miles
Southern Methodist vs. Texas Christian (SMU vs. TCU): 41
Oregon vs. Oregon State: 43
Utah vs. Brigham Young: 47
Michigan vs. Michigan State: 65
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: 70
Kentucky vs. Louisville: 79
Texas vs. Texas A&M: 105
Indiana vs. Purdue: 115
Penn State vs. Pittsburgh: 136
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: 137
Iowa vs. Iowa State: 137
Florida vs. Florida State: 150
Alabama vs. Auburn: 160
Tennessee vs. Kentucky: 171
Michigan vs. Notre Dame: 177
Indiana vs. Kentucky: 179
Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt: 181
Ohio State vs. Michigan: 185
Grambling State vs. Southern University: 216
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: 265
Washington vs. Washington State: 289
Iowa vs. Minnesota: 303
Florida vs. Georgia: 345
Texas vs. Oklahoma: 369
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: 454
USC vs. Notre Dame: 2,100

Each of those, as my Grandma would have said, is a fur piece.


As recently as 1952, there were 5 cities with at least 2 teams in Major League Baseball: New York (3), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis.  From 1958, the first year the Dodgers and Giants were in California, to 1961, the year before the Mets began play, it was 1, Chicago.  When the Athletics moved to Oakland for 1968, it was back up to 4 metropolitan areas: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Wrigley Field to U.S. Cellular Field: 8.6
Yankee Stadium to Citi Field: 10.1
AT&T Park to Oakland Coliseum: 17.0
Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium: 30.9

But until Interleague play began in 1997, these teams did not play each other in the regular season.  Their fans may hate each other's teams, and each other, but they're not real rivalries.

Take a look at the distances for these major rivalries in the "Big Four" North American sports -- remember, I'm measuring between the stadiums/arenas, not the city centers:

New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets: 6 (also Rangers-Islanders starting in fall 2015)
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers: 12 (it was 8 from the Garden to the Meadowlands)
San Francisco 49ers vs. Oakland Raiders: 21 (not a real rivalry anyway)
New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders: 28 (as long as they Isles are in Uniondale, anyway)
Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks: 31 (Lakers & Clippers share Staples Center, so that's 0)
New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers: 89
Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings: 89
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 96
New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies: 109
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns: 135
Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames: 190
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs: 192
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: 206
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots: 207
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers: 213
New York Knicks (and Rangers) vs. Boston Celtics (and Bruins): 216
Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic: 234
Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets: 242
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 253
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings: 286
Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs: 271
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators: 279
Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons: 294
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues: 298
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals: 303
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: 308
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins: 308
Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: 337
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors: 367
San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: 380
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings: 391
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: 470
San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders: 484
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs: 610
Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys: 1,366

Aside from the ones in the same metro area, they're all pretty far.

Mets vs. Atlanta Braves was never a real rivalry.  Neither is Knicks vs. Miami Heat.  Neither was Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche: These were all high on hate, but burned out quickly, partly due to one team or the other falling off, but mainly due to distance, the kind of proximity that could keep it alive.  There's only 3 rivalries in all of North American sports that can truly overcome that much geographical distance: USC-Notre Dame, Lakers-Celtics, and Redskins-Cowboys.


But the intensity is so much greater in club soccer.  I'm not even going to get into the ones in Europe and South America.  Just the ones in Britain.

Imagine that, instead of playing each other 6 times a year, every year since 1999 (and 3 times a year in 1997 and 1998), the Yankees and Mets have been playing each other 18 times a year, as often as the Yankees and Red Sox (or the Mets and Phillies) do.  And instead of them playing in ballparks 10 miles apart in adjoining Boroughs, imagine that they played at opposite ends of Central Park, at 81st Street, where, in real life, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History actually stand.  Just ONE mile apart, across a park.

That's Liverpool Football Club and Everton Football Club: Playing for the acclaim of the city of Liverpool and England's Merseyside region, just one miles across Stanley Park from each other.

The intensity of these British "football" rivalries is off the scale.

Liverpool vs. Everton, Liverpool: 0.9 miles
Aston Villa vs. Birmingham City, Birmingham: 3.1
Sheffield United vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 3.8
Arsenal vs. Tottenham, North London: 4.1
Manchester United vs. Manchester City: 4.3
Celtic vs. Rangers, Glasgow, Scotland: 4.3
Bristol City vs. Bristol Rovers: 4.4
West Ham United vs. Millwall, East to South London: 7.1
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. West Bromwich Albion, West Midlands: 10
Newcastle vs. Sunderland, North-East: 13
Derby County vs. Nottingham Forest, East Midlands: 16
Watford vs. Luton Town, Hertfordshire vs. Bedfordshire: 19
Portsmouth vs. Southampton, South Coast: 20
Liverpool vs. Manchester United, North-West: 31
Cardiff City vs. Swansea City, Wales: 40
Manchester United vs. Leeds United, the old "War of the Roses" Lancaster vs. York: 41
Norwich City vs. Ipswich Town, East Anglia: 43

And nearly every one of these matchups goes back to the 19th Century, at a point when baseball's American League, organized professional football, organized professional hockey, and pretty much the game of basketball itself did not yet exist.

And you can't get away.  The supporters of the other club are all around you.  You run into these bastards at work, on the way to work, on the way home from work, on your lunch hour, when you go shopping.  Lose to your hated rivals, and they get in your face with the result until the next one.  Win, and you hold the hammer over them, and tell them they have nothing to say... which never stops them, of course, the wankers.

In contrast, think of how few Red Sox fans live in the New York Tri-State Area -- or how few Yankee Fans live in New England in general and Boston in particular.  They may be noisy, but they know they can't act up too much, because they're well outnumbered.  And while Washington is the nation's capital, any Dallas Cowboy fans living there are going to be surrounded by people who despise the Cowboys.

It's not that way in soccer.

Except for a very few college rivalries, it's not even close to being the same.

Certainly, a high school rivalry can't match that.

No matter how much my Big Green self hates those Purple Bastards.

And while Old Bridge will almost certainly lay waste to my beloved E.B. Bears on Thursday, I'm still basking in the glow of this past Saturday's North London Derby, where Arsenal, as they did the last time the teams faced each other (February 26), came from behind at home to beat Tottenham 5-2.  It was Groundhog Day at New Highbury.

Good thing, too.  Not just for my fellow Gooners.  But because I couldn't have taken Arsenal losing to Tottenham AND East Brunswick losing to Old Bridge within a span of 5 days.

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