While Chicagoans hold their greatest vitriol for the Packers, we can take solace in the fact that no matter how the Bears perform, we at least get to live in what we consider to be the greatest city in the world as opposed to Green Bay. As I’ve noted before, Chicago has across-the-board pro and college sports rivalries with all of the teams in Detroit, but anyone that’s ever lived in the Windy City would never willingly move to the Motor City. (Granted, any that’s ever lived anywhere would probably not willingly move to Detroit.) There’s really only one town that Chicago is constantly comparing itself to in terms of life in general: New York City. Chicago has always competed with New York in terms of sports, pizza (as a certified pizza connoisseur, I have a deep respect for the thin slice that you can fold over, but there’s nothing that compares to the deep dish), the arts, comedians, writers, mobsters, politicians, financial markets, skyscrapers, rappers, and pretty much everything else.
Since New York holds an unparalleled place in the world’s psyche along with carrying a whole lot more sizzle, though, Chicago has a bit of an inferiority complex with its East Coast rival as displayed in the “Second City” moniker, albeit the harping about New York here is not nearly as acute as the afflictions in Boston and Philadelphia (I’ve seen firsthand how neurotic those people are towards NYC). In the age of geographic alignments of sports leagues and divisions, Chicago-New York matchups don’t take on the gravity or frequency today as they did compared to even only a decade ago, yet there’s still some glamour associated when the two largest sports fan markets in nation meet up on the field, court, or ice. (Don’t waste my time, L.A. “fans”.) Thus, in honor of the Bears’ being in the midst of two consecutive trips to the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa, here’s a ranking of the Chicago-New York sports rivalries from top to bottom:
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks – Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind are the heated battles in the early-1990s between Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the Pat Riley-led Knicks, who were essentially the Bad Boy Pistons minus basketball skills other than hard fouls. While the Bulls got the best of the Knicks more times than not with several dispositions in the playoffs and Jordan’s “Double Nickel” game at Madison Sqaure Garden from his 1995 comeback (years ago, the late Gene Siskel wrote this nice retrospective on #23′s top performances at MSG) , I’ll still go to my grave believing that the MJ-less Bulls of 1994 would have made it to the NBA Finals that year if not for the egregious phantom foul call by Hue Hollins on Scottie Pippen in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. (Only the 2000 Illinois-Michigan football game could compare in terms of me being violated by an officiating crew – Illini fans know what I’m talking about.) Outside of just those ’90s games, these two NBA franchises are amazingly intertwined in terms of players and coaches with Phil Jackson, Charles Oakley, Bill Cartwright, Jalen Rose, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Antonio Davis’ crazy wife, and, of course, John Starks (at the time of that signing, Jerry Reinsdorf obviously felt that he didn’t piss off Chicago fans enough by bringing Albert Belle into town) just off of the top of my head. Plus, Isiah Thomas was nice enough to give us the draft pick that turned into Tyrus Thomas along with the chance to grab Greg Oden next year in what could turn out to be the NBA version of the Herschel Walker trade between the Cowboys and Vikings. This rivalry is certainly in a down period with Zeke’s historic ineptitude, but I’m sure that it will rise again in the near future.
(2) Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets – This was one of the top rivalries in the National League before the divisions were realigned following Major League Baseball’s expansion in the 1990s. The Wrigley Field Bleacher Bums were among the most frequent users of the “Dar-ryl” chant against Darryl Strawberry while the most infamous Cubs moment this side of Steve Bartman was the black cat running in front of Ron Santo at Shea Stadium in 1969, which subsequently led to Chicago’s historic collapse to give the Mets the pennant. In fact, when the Cubs challenged a proposed realignment during the 1980s that would have sent them and the Cardinals to the NL West when there were still only two divisions, the Tribune Company cited the team’s rivalry with the Mets as the main factor. (The fact that West Coast road games would start at 9:30 Central Time on WGN was only a minor consideration, right?) While the two teams have suffered a number of of poor seasons over the past decade, the eventual three-division realignment is what really took a lot of the steam out of this rivalry. Still, there seems to be a bit of mutual disdain between the two clubs and fan bases that isn’t quite there with my White Sox and the Yankees (as I’ll explain later).
(3) Chicago Bears vs. New York Giants – A classic old-time NFL matchup that, in my opinion, the league ought to be scheduling every year the way they currently have the Colts-Patriots annual tilt or the 49ers-Cowboys games from the past. Seeing that these are marquee teams with national fan bases from the two largest media markets in the NFL, it’s a no-brainer on paper. There’s a substantial amount of history between these two franchises, particularly in the pre-Super Bowl days when the clubs met six separate times for the NFL Championship (which is still the most any two teams have met in the title game including Super Bowls). Of course, the most memorable Bears-Giants moment from my lifetime, however, was the infamous whiffed punt by Sean Lendetta in the 1985 NFC Divisional Playoff Game (if anyone has found footage of this on YouTube, please let me know) that the Bears returned for a touchdown en route to 21-0 shutout.
(A couple of notes on this past Sunday’s Bears-Giants game: (a) Rex Grossman has certainly been on and off, but I don’t believe that it compares to the schizophrenic play of Devin Hester. The Bears punt returner seriously either fumbles/muffs/runs backwards for a loss or takes it all the way back to the house – there’s seriously no in between. I was cursing his performance all game, which he thereupon ran back a missed field goal for that tied for the longest play in NFL history, which is amazingly held by another Bear in Nathan Vasher. Hester’s like the Kirsten Dunst of football; and (b) The way that Eli Manning was shell-shocked to the point where he threw an interception right back to Bears in the series after that Hester touchdown, thereby sealing the game, cannot be much of a comfort to Giants fans. Rex was on the ascent by the end of the third quarter after playing a horrible first half while Eli got progressively worse as the night went on.)
(4) Chicago White Sox vs. New York Yankees – I always like to compare the Yankees with the Michigan Wolverines in terms of rivalries since, just as everyone in the Big Ten considers Michigan to be a huge rival, all of the American League teams circle the New York games on their respective schedules. However, Michigan really only considers Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan State to be rivalry matchups, while the Yankees limit their emotions to the Red Sox and Mets. The point here is that White Sox fans (and I am most definitely one of them) might put a great deal of importance on the games with the Yankees, but I know well enough that this feeling certainly isn’t reciprocated. This was certainly different in the 1950s and 1960s when the Sox and Yankees were perennially battling each other for the AL pennant (with the Sox on the short end every time with the exception of 1959), yet in this age where the two teams rarely play more than six games per year due to the unbalanced scheduling in baseball, it’s unlikely this matchup is going to be much of a rivalry again unless they start meeting in the postseason on a regular basis.
(5) Chicago Blackhawks vs. New York Rangers – I’ll freely admit that I know little past the basics of hockey, but, as I’ve mentioned before in my Modest Proposal to Save the NHL, I do have to take issue with the fact that the NHL has essentially ignored its “Original Six” rivalries ever since they stopped using those wacky names for conferences and divisions. Thus, in the infinite wisdom of league schedulers, the Blackhawks and Rangers played each other only once last year and will play against one another only one time this season. Instead, Hawks fans get to enjoy plenty of tilts with the Columbus Blue Jackets (at least when they aren’t being blacked out on television in Chicago). So, this once great matchup sadly barely registers anywhere anymore.
(6) Chicago Cubs vs. New York Yankees – This isn’t a rivalry at all other than being baseball fans’ (if not everyone’s) universal benchmarks for failure and success and a Fox executive’s wet dream of a postseason matchup, but it’s an opportunity to remind Cubs fans that Babe Ruth’s alleged called shot came at Wrigley Field against the Chicago National League Ball Club in the 1932 World Series. Ahhh… it’s great to be a White Sox fan.