I’ve been captivated by two legendary sports rivalries in my life.
One was personal.
The other, professional.
Both were about baseball, my first love.
Professionally, of course, nothing was more intense, heated, even hated, than the Red Sox and the Yankees.
They had been strong rivalries forever, but it became real in my world when I began telecasting Red Sox games in 1975.
This season they were the two wild-card entries in the American League playoffs.
So, they played one game to survive, and the Sox prevailed to move on in post-season and as of this writing they are still alive and kicking.
The Giants and the Dodgers were the personal rivalry for me that grabbed my attention in 1951, a magical year for sure, but lasted a mere seven years, until they both moved to the west coast.
That’s far too short for a youngster, passionate about baseball. But how could I realistically follow my team which played 3,000 miles away. I couldn’t see their games, and I couldn’t read about their games.
They belonged to another city.
That’s known as a bad long-distance relationship.
This past October 3rd, was the 70th anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world”, Bobby Thomson’s ultra-dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the 9th, to give the Giants a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers, in the third and deciding playoff game.
The Shot Heard Round the World
At stake was the National League pennant, There were no post-season playoffs back then. The Giants had stormed back from a 13 1/2 game deficit in mid-August to force the three-game playoff.
Imagine, 1951 was the first year I followed baseball, and I was a dyed-in-the-wool Giants fan.
What could be better than that?
So, the Giants and the Dodgers moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively, and their bitter battles continued and flourished.
That brings us to this season, which saw things neither team had ever achieved.
The Giants, never considered a threat to win their division, shocked the baseball world, winning a record 106 games in finishing in first place. They took sole possession of first place the last day of May and have never looked back.
Trailing right behind were the Dodgers, an outright favorite to capture the NL West.
The Dodgers finished one game behind the Giants, with a record of 105-57. Normally that kind of success would translate into a runaway. But not this year. It only meant a wild-card berth for Los Angeles. The 105 victories were the most ever for a team not winning its division. And the Dodgers had to beat the Cardinals to avoid elimination, which they did, setting up a match-up against you know who.
So now, the Giants and Dodgers are at it again. It’s best-of-five, and it was still going heading into this week.
The Dodgers are talent-laden. They have been dominant in recent years and were kind of expected to be there at the end.
They had the two ingredients champions need, pitching and power. Despite the heavy reliance on home runs in the new-fangled style of the game, pitching has always been the ultimate key to success.
So, the Dodgers acquired one of the greats, right-hander Max Scherzer, for the stretch-run and beyond.
At one point following the trade deadline, the Dodgers won 31 of 41 games.
But they couldn’t pick up more than 1 1/2 games on the Giants, whose story is truly remarkable.
The Giants established a dynasty a decade ago, capturing the World Series in 2010, 2012, and again in 2014.
Amazingly, they have stayed with the same core that formed the foundation of that success.
A prime example is catcher Buster Posey, now 34, who was the backbone of those teams that won three world championships in a five-year span.
Posey suffered a broken leg which took him out of the game in 2011.
A hip injury, resulting in surgery ended his season in 2018.
And in the COVID campaign of 2020, he opted out to care for his adopted newborn daughters.
This season, Posey became an All-Star for the seventh time. He hit .304, his on-base percentage and slugging percentage
were the second best of his career. Behind the plate, he was the fourth best in the NL throwing out attempted base-stealers.
In the first game of the series against the Dodgers, he hit his first October home run since the 2012 World Series.
There are other veterans of the glory days who have delivered in a big way. Brandon Belt, out with a broken thumb, and MVP-candidate Brandon Crawford, like Posey, 34-years old, are two others.
The plan was not to jettison the vets and their substantial contracts, go with young kids, take a year off or more as many teams in that position do, but keep the club competitive for the benefit of the fan base.
Perhaps the critical element to it all was building a deep roster. If the 30-plus stars of yesteryear were sufficiently rested, they could still be productive. And they were.
It was a unique method, and it paid off. But no one ever thought it could translate to the tune of 106 victories, and the best record in baseball.
So, the Giants and the Dodgers battle on. Just as they’ve always done.
It may be 70 years since Bobby Thomson’s heroics, but the two franchises are in the midst of their most spectacular tooth-and-nail, toe-to-toe struggle ever right now.
And that, my friends, is the definition of a sports rivalry at it’s very best.
How could we not let this time pass without a nod to the happenings in college football?
Before this past weekend’s games, the popular opinion was that not only were the same powers in control of the sport, but that it was all coming down to just two, Alabama and Georgia.
Forget the rest, the call came down. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs were on their way to as collision course that would see them face each other, first, in the SEC Championship game, and then meeting once more for the National Championship.
But something happened on the way to the party.
Mighty Alabama was stunned by Texas A&M, their first defeat since Nov. 30, 2019.
Aggies shock ‘Bama
It was their first loss to an unranked foe since 2007, and the first time Nick Saban had ever lost to a former assistant coach.
In this case, Jimbo Fisher.
The Tide, in losing to a team playing a backup quarterback, showed their were mortal, to say the least.
Georgia kept rolling along and are the new Number 1 team, but all of a sudden college football appears to be a wide-open affair, which is ideal for a sport that should always hopefully be national in scope.
If the College Football Playoff picture is muddled, that’s a good thing.
Five Big Ten teams are in the Top Ten. The Pac-12, Big 12, and the AAC sport contenders as well.
Alabama can’t afford another loss for them to land in the SEC title game.
The Big Ten, with Iowa, now the leading player, should be a battle-royal the rest of the way.
The usual powers, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State all have games against each other.
Oklahoma’s all-time best comeback win against Texas kept them unbeaten, if not a force to be feared.
The one team that appeals to me is Cincinnati. They were a basketball giant back in the 60’s winning back-to-back national titles and nearly winning a third straight.
But now their football team is undefeated, with a road win over Notre Dame, who only have dropped that one game.
Cincinnati is certainly an outlier when you talk of the powerhouses of college football.
The Bearcats are ranked second, having whipped second-level schools in the process.
But there they are.
They are not Georgia, however. The Bulldogs right now appear to be the best of the bunch. They’ve played six games and have allowed a total of 33 points. That means they have allowed an average of 5.5 points per game.
Number 1 Georgia
They haven’t been tested yet. Their schedule has been less-than-formidable. They face surprising Kentucky at home this week, in a battle of unbeatens.
It just may be we’re headed to a Georgia-Alabama SEC finale.
In the meantime, college football should be awfully entertaining from here on in.
Isn’t that what fans of the sport really want?