Colorado sports teams are lacking many real rivalries lately. Except for the Rapids, of course. In fact, I'd argue that they have the most 'Real' rivalry of any Colorado team, ever.
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Eric Goodman of Mile High Sports penned a piece late last week titled, "Colorado sports fans have no one to hate". Following the Colorado Avalanche's loss to the Detroit Red Wings -- two teams that may have participated in one of the fiercest rivalries in Hockey for about a decade -- he rightly pointed out that there was no fire there any more. No passion. Nothing at all, really.
Avs fans have no team to hate, no team to circle on the calendar and no team to get excited about.
Yet, the Avalanche aren’t the lone Colorado team desperately seeking a rival.
There’s nothing in Denver to rival the Yankees vs. Red Sox, Packers vs. Bears, Lakers vs. Celtics, North Carolina vs. Duke or Michigan vs. Ohio State.
He then went on to say that, really, there wasn't much of a rivalry culture anywhere in Denver sports any more. The Nuggets have the Lakers, but everyone hates the Lakers. The Broncos had the Raiders, but there hasn't been much of a fire there in a while. The Rockies really just hate whoever happens to be the best team in the NL West at any given time, and usually just sink to the bottom of the muck behind all of the rest in the division.
While I do disagree a bit with his idea of what a 'Rivalry' is -- saying that both teams involved need to be good when counting Yankees - Red Sox as an example is a bit confusing -- the idea is pretty much sound. Just about every team in Colorado lacks a team to get fired up about. Just about.
Ah, the Rapids, being the forgotten child as always. We may have the only real rivalry of any major sports team in the state, and not nearly enough people know about it.
I know, I know. "Nobody actually cares." That's the word, right? Nobody cares about soccer, nobody cares about the Rapids, nobody cares about Real Salt Lake. Well, I implore you to go to DSGP or Rio Tinto on a rivalry day and tell anyone, regardless of what colors they're wearing, that 'nobody cares'.
Remember back to the old days when the Red Wings would come to town. If you were at the Pepsi Center for a game during the glory years, there was electricity in the air. There was a tangible buzz, and no matter what happened during the game it was always going to be there. The Can would be stuffed to the brim with what seemed like a 50/50 split of bandwagon Wings fans and Avs fans who were ready to see another chapter written. Sure, there were really more Avs fans than Wings fans, but the Wings fans were always the drunker ones, the louder ones, the more obnoxious ones. You never knew what would happen -- since it was hockey, there were fights, there was blood, there were crazy goals and crazy finishes.
That's the sort of thing you want from a real rivalry. None of this manufactured bullshit, including some of the ones that Eric Goodman names. When you go to a Yankees game against the Sox, you're liable to hear some jackoff screaming 'Ey, da Yanks suck!' and some other jackoff respond with 'Ey, 27 Woild Championships, muddafucka!'. But you don't feel like a fight is going to break out at any moment.
Well, maybe you do, but that's just because you're in New York or Boston. There's no real vitriol, no real seething hate there.
Regardless of how many times we see them play each season and get every game shoved down our throats by ESPN, how many memorable games have there really been from the two sides in the last several years? There was the 2004 World Series comeback, and -- well, there was the 2004 World Series comeback. When's the last time that something truly shocking happened between the two sides? The Babe Ruth trade? Come on.
I'll take a rivalry that might not fit the strict ESPN standards any day of the week. A rivalry that creates a buzz where fanbases and players dislike everyone's guts. Where both teams play harder than in any other game of the season. In a good rivalry, it shouldn't matter if one team is better than the other one, because there should be insanity every single game.
That's the problem with with the American idea of rivalries -- they can end, easily and suddenly. When two teams are really good, they're 'rivals'. When one team stops being good, rivalry over. Different people have different opinions on who teams 'rivals' are around here. Ask a Buffalo Bills fan who they hate, you'll get every AFC East team and probably two or three from the NFC East as well. Ask an Avs fan who they want the Avs to beat down more than anyone, you'll get people saying the Wings of course, but some Sharks, Blackhawks, Wild and Canucks probably thrown in the mix as well. Really, just whoever happens to be beating them every time at the moment. As soon as the Avs start beating them again, 'rivalry' over.
There's no feeling of real vitriol between the two teams any more when those rivalries end. It happened with the Wings and the Avs. There's none of that feeling.
Dick's Sporting Goods Park, however, has that feeling when Real Salt Lake comes to town. You can go into the parking lot and see Salt Lake tailgaters screaming 'Fuck the Rapids!' at small children walking past. Barra Real and Salt City United are escorted into the side entrance so that intersections with the Terrace dwellers are kept to a minimum. Going into the stadium, it's louder than any Nuggets or Avalanche game has been in years, in an open roofed stadium to boot. The terrace is full and rocking, as is the away section. 18,000 seats are filled, with mostly Rapids fans but fans of both colors scattered throughout. Busses get tagged outside when nobody is looking, supporters play pick-up games with each other and scream about goals and referees as though it was far more than a pick-up game they were playing.
Mormons Utahans (?) have naturally hated each other for a long, long time. There's not much history for either of the teams involved in this. There doesn't need to be. It's only an 18-year-old league and the second team in the picture has only been around since 2005. Doesn't matter. It was a match made in heaven right from the beginning, MLS' manufactured attempt at a rivalry between us and the Wizards never stood a chance. We quickly got history. Kyle Beckerman being traded for peanuts. The giant inflatable penis with the Pablo Mastroeni jersey on it. Close game after close game, supporter altercations, controversial finishes. The fire was already raging, and fuel was naturally thrown on top simply because we couldn't help but hate each other.
Colorado dominated the series for a while, and RSL has dominated it since. When one team started dominating in Avs vs. Red Wings, the fans stopped showing up. Every time the Rapids lose to RSL, we re-group and show up louder and in better numbers than we ever had before to help drive the team to that success we crave. We had already lost the cup and the playoffs were already out of sight, but there was still no cheer louder at DSGP last year than the one that erupted when Joseph Nane ended the winless streak with his only goal as a Rapid in 2012.
I think that's the mark of a true rival. None of that pissy 'when one team stops being good, we give up' crap. Just as Patriots-Broncos will die off when Tom Brady leaves, just as Patriots-Colts already did with Manning fleeing the coop, just as, again, the Rockies will stop hating the Giants as soon as they stop winning World Series rings and get replaced by another team at the top of the NL West, Red Wings-Avalanche was never meant to last forever. And what sort of a rivalry is that, really?
Every game between the Rapids and Salt Lake is unpredictable, fierce, and features a well-stocked away end. And they always will be. If you're in the press box, you can hear both sides singing their songs and gasping with every touch of the ball. It's a beautiful sight, a football rivalry. More beautiful than any Lakers vs. Nuggets game or Rockies vs. Giants game will ever be. The fiercest of rivalries in the beautiful game are always different, they don't peter off, because they can't peter off. Rivalry is ingrained into the very fabric of footy, and with RSL in existence Colorado will always have a sports rivalry because of it. When they get a ball rolling, that ball continues to pick up speed, no matter if a team goes down for a while and doesn't come up again for five years. The hate bubbles deep, even if they must stick it in Tupperware while they secretly root for their foes to come back up even as they laugh when they go down. Sometimes they even have Cups that they exchange between fans -- meaningless bits of tin to any other fan in the world but sometimes the most important cup of all to us.
Crystal Palace and Brighton hate each other. Millwall and West Ham hate each other. United and City hate each other. Barca and Real Madrid hate each other. Mexico and the United States hate each other. S-Pulse and Iwata hate each other. Seattle and Portland hate each other.
Most importantly, the Rapids and Salt Lake hate each other, to the cores, now and forever.
If an argument is to be made that there are no good sports rivalries in the state of Colorado, I will make a counter-argument: the best is yet to come from the one that you may never even have seen.