“Just win, baby." Those are the words Al Davis would preach to his Oakland Raiders every time they were about to step out on the football field. Never do those words ring truer than against a most despised rival. Over the year, the NFL has offered some of the greatest rivalries in professional sports. These rivalries have helped make the game as interesting and as loved as it is today.
In today’s NFL, the biggest rivalry is between the NFC West’s San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. How would this rivalry compare to some of the other rivalries in the game’s history? It is way too early to tell. With only two years of hatred, it is not time to rank it as one of the best ever. Give it a few more years and it very well may be, though.
So with a nod to this current rivalry, we have compiled the top ten greatest rivalries ever. These rivalries were not only extremely exciting to watch, but they had a very important impact on the game as a whole. Some of these rivalries are still very much in existence today. Whether they carry on two times every season or died out long ago, these were the matchups everyone looked forward to and that made the NFL the most popular sport in America
10 Steelers and Ravens
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens are two AFC North teams primarily know for hard-hitting, intimidating defences. The two rivals first met on September 8th, 1996. The Steelers won that matchup 31-17. Since then they have played each other twice each year. The teams have met up three times in the playoffs and all three games were won by Pittsburgh. Like all great rivalries, there are heated arguments in almost every game they play. Their last was no different. Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin was accused of blocking Ravens’ punt returner Jacoby Jones. Tomlin was standing too close to the field of play and the league fined him $100,000 for his mistake.
9 Raiders and Chiefs
The rivalry between the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs goes all the way back to 1960 when the AFL was first formed. The two teams have played each other twice a year from the time they were established. The first game played between the two teams was September 16th of the AFL’s inaugural year. The Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans. The Texans won that game 34-16. In 108 meetings the Chiefs lead with a 57-51-2 record.
8 Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb
Before everyone was going on about the Patriots’ dynasty, people thought the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s and then the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1990s and early 2000s would be as close as a team could get to a dynasty. The Eagles had been in the NFC Championship Game multiple times prior to acquiring Terrell Owens. It was believed Owens was the final piece of the puzzle to get Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb a Super Bowl. The team made it to the big game finally, but the Patriots claimed the Lombardi.
The next offseason began one of the longest in team dramas in league history. Fans and teammates were outraged when Owens appeared in public in a Dallas Cowboys Michael Irvin jersey. Soon, Owens lashed back at teammates. The star wide receiver’s career in an Eagles’ uniform came to a close when Owens stated publically the Eagles could be undefeated with Brett Favre, but McNabb is not good enough. The Eagles should have seen this type of controversy coming. This was the second quarterback he lashed out publically against. He was kicked out of San Francisco for accusing Jeff Garcia of being a homosexual in an interview with Playboy. This really was the first time we saw the idea of a single player becoming a “cancer” in the locker room. After the T.O. problems, the Eagles were never able to regain their dominance in the NFC.
7 Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry
Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry are two of the greatest NFL head coaches of all time. Before roaming the sidelines of the Packers and Cowboys, the two coaches were assistants for the New York Giants. They both worked for head coach Jim Lee Howell. Lombardi was the Giants’ offensive coordinator and Landry was the defensive coordinator. The two coaches would later compete for a chance to bring their respective team to Super Bowl I. In seven meetings between the two coaches, Lombardi proved to get the better of Landry. The Packers’ coach won five of the seven games.
6 Redskins and Cowboys
The funny thing about the rivalry between the Cowboys and Redskins is that is goes back to before the Cowboys were even a team. Clint Muchison Jr., who later became the Cowboys’ owners, was going to buy the Washington Redskins from George Preston Marshall. A day before the deal was to be made official, Marshall changed the terms of the contract. Outraged, Muchison decided to cancel the deal altogether. Muchison then founded the Dallas Cowboys. The teams have played each other twice a years since the Cowboys were put in the NFL. The rivalry really started in 1961, when a group of Cowboys fans broke into the Redskins stadium and put chicken feed all over the field. During the following day’s game, the fans release 75 white and one black chicken onto the field at half time. The act was done to bring light on the fact Marshall refused to sign African American athletes.
5 Peyton Manning and Tom Brady
What was formerly a rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots has become a competition between two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other 15 times over the years. Brady has the edge in these matchups, winning ten of them. The argument over who is the better quarterback is heavily debated. Brady has three Super Bowl rings and Manning is a record-setting five-time MVP. Regardless of who is better, both these guys are future first ballot Hall of Famers.
4 Raiders and Steelers in the 1970s
Even after 40 years, these guys still do not like each other. Starting in 1972, the Raiders and Steelers went on to meet each other in the postseason five consecutive times. These were some dirty games. Players would fight, punch, curse, and spit on each other after every play. In fact, Raiders’ defensive end George Atkinson even tried to sue Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll in 1977. This whole hatred reached its breaking point over the Immaculate Reception. With the Raiders up 7-6 with seconds left on the clock, Terry Bradshaw threw a pass and it bounced off its intended receiver. Franco Harris scoops it up and runs the ball in for the go ahead score. It is an unresolved controversy as to whether that pass actually hit the ground before Franco Harris caught it. Either way, it was ruled a touchdown and the Steelers won.
3 Cowboys and 49ers in the 1980s and 1990s
The road to this rivalry started in the 1970 and 1971 playoffs. The Cowboys and 49ers faced each other in the NFC Championship both years. Then it went flat for a number of years. Ten years later, in 1981, the two teams met again for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Joe Montana completed a pass to Dwight Clark that would go down in history as “The Catch." The play is shown more times than any other, even the Immaculate Reception. It is still a sore spot for Cowboys fans. The two teams would face other many times in the playoff over the years. Eventually both teams would go on to win five Super Bowls each. The high point of the rivalry was when they faced each other in the NFC Championship game three years in a row from the 1992 to 1994 seasons.
2 Bears and Packers
The Bears and Packers rivalry is the oldest and longest lasting in professional football. These two teams first met in 1921. In 188 meetings, the Bears lead with a 93-89-6 record. There will be many more games played between the two NFC North members who have faced each other twice a year since 1934. In their most recent game on December 29, 2013, the Packers walked away victorious with a 33-28 lead. Over the years these two NFL charter teams have claimed 22 championships, five Super Bowls, and sent 48 players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is no wonder they are always competing to get one up on the other.
1 AFL and NFL
The rivalry between the NFL and AFL may not have lasted very long or been nearly as interesting as some of the others on this list, but it is without a doubt the most important. The NFL has been in existence since 1920. There have been many professional football leagues that tried to challenge it. None were more successful than the American Football League. The AFL was started in 1960 by Lamar Hunt. Hunt petitioned against the NFL in 1959 to allow him to start an expansion team in Dallas since there were no teams in the south. The NFL refused and Hunt went on to start a new league.
At first the NFL laughed it off. After all, they already had a name for themselves and major network coverage. However, Hunt’s new league placed teams is strategic locations. These locations did not have access to pro football and the AFL’s popularity quickly increased. Soon, teams from both leagues were bidding over players. Players coming out of college would get drafted into two pro football leagues. On June 8, 1966, the merger was announced. This merger would not take place until 1970. The most important thing that came out of this rivalry is the annual championship game between the AFL and NFL (now the AFC and NFC). The Super Bowl started in 1967 and is still pro football’s biggest game.