Special Report

20 Biggest Rivalries in Sports

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

20. Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders
> League: NFL
> Head to head leader: Raiders: 65-53-2

The AFC West rivalry between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders has influenced the course of NFL history for decades. Both teams are among the most successful franchises in the NFL, appearing in a combined 13 Super Bowls, winning six. Their success only heightens the stakes each time these teams face off.

There’s lots of bad blood between the teams for off the field reasons as well. Former coach Mike Shanahan worked as Denver’s offensive coordinator before leaving to take the Raiders’ head coaching job. Shanahan was fired after only got 20 games in charge of the Raiders. He eventually returned to Denver as head coach and led the Broncos to the franchise’s first two championships. The Broncos’ best ever player, John Elway, was almost a Raider himself. Former Raiders owner Al Davis reportedly worked out a deal for the rights to draft Elway, but the deal was blocked by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

19. Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins
> League: NHL
> Head to head leader: Penguins: 111-98-16

In 2004, the Washington Capitals selected Alexander Ovechkin with the first overall draft pick, and the following year, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Sidney Crosby with their first pick. Those two players have been the centerpieces of the thrilling rivalry between these two Metropolitan Division teams.

These teams have faced each other four times in the playoffs since they drafted the two superstars, and each time the winner went on to win the Stanley Cup. The first three series wins went to Pittsburgh, and Ovechkin’s Capitals finally won the Cup in 2018. The franchise rivalry goes back further than the current generation of stars. The teams have met in the postseason a whopping 11 times.

Source: Abbie Parr / Getty Images

18. New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles
> League: NFL
> Head to head leader: Eagles: 87-86-2

Few rivalries in sports are as even, or contentious, as the one between the Giants and the Eagles. The nearby NFC East foes have squared off since 1933. The Eagles hold a slight head-to-head advantage, with an 87-86-2 record against the Giants. The rivalry is noted for its tough play. In 1960, Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik hit the Giants’ Frank Gifford so hard he missed the entire 1961 season with a concussion.

For many seasons, the Giants were the dominant team in this rivalry, but that has shifted in recent years. As of December 2019, the Eagles have won six straight against New York. The Giants have only beaten Philly once since 2014.

Source: Tom Hauck / Allsport / Getty Images

17. San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks
> League: NBA
> Head to head leader: Spurs: 132-85

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the Lone Star rivalry between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks has become one of the greatest in the NBA. The Spurs franchise began in Dallas, as the Chaparrals of the ABA in 1967.

This rivalry became what it is thanks to Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. The all-time great power forwards battled each other for the better part of 20 years, starting in the late ’90s. They helped make previously downtrodden franchises the class of the NBA. Duncan’s Spurs won five titles in six NBA Finals appearances, while Nowitzki guided the Mavs to two NBA Finals spots, winning it all once. The Spurs and Mavs have ended one another’s playoff runs six times since 2001, with San Antonio holding the edge in playoff series victories 4-2.

Source: Elsa / Getty Images

16. New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils
> League: NHL
> Head to head leader: Rangers: 119-103-27

While they are in different states, the New Jersey Devils’ Prudential Center and the New York Rangers’ Madison Square Garden are only a half hour apart by public transportation or through the Lincoln Tunnel, which means that when they play, odds are fans of both teams will be in attendance, which can make for both exciting live hockey and also the exchange of unpleasant words.

Some fans may recall the 2012 line brawl between six players that kicked off before any actual hockey was played. Or the conflict between notorious Rangers winger Sean Avery and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, in which Avery pestered Brodeur, resulting in a goal (and an eventual rule change, which came to be known as the “Avery rule.”) These are only some of the more recent incidents in decades of hatred between the two teams and their fanbases.