My Dad Can Beat Your Dad: America's Love Affair with Competition
Perhaps more than any other country, America is obsessed with rivalry. From an early age, we're encouraged by our parents, teachers, and society as a whole to engage in the spirit of competition with our peers, siblings, and even ourselves. We place a premium on excelling in everything we do by setting goals, showing initiative, and celebrating our champions.
Our sense of rivalry is instilled and fostered by various social and governmental institutions. In grade school, 9-year-olds are pitted against one another in a subtle form of intellectual combat: the spelling bee. As we progress through adolescence into our teenage years, we yearn for inclusion at an awkward stage in our development by competing for acceptance and praise from our peers; teens can be vicious in the pursuit of popularity. Once we begin to move into adulthood, there's constant pressure to perform at the highest levels in our chosen professions, to advance our careers, and to ensure the security of our families.
Competition is as American as, well, Capitalism - which brings us to the # 3 rivalry in America...
#3: Democrats vs. the GOP
The squabbles between Republicans and Democrats predate the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation was written in 1781 as a way of creating a loosely unified nation to consolidate the power of the states. Eight years later, the Constitution sought to establish more power for the Federal government. The anti-Federalists were against a strong central government, and the party continues to push against Federal authority today under the moniker of the Grand Ol' Party, the Republicans. The Federalists, on the otherhand, are now known as the Democrats and are in favor of granting more power to Washington.
Today, partisan politics have reached a new low. There's virtually no effort by either party to cross the political aisle to work toward achieving the common good. Contemporary issues have divided the parties on everything from tax-cuts, foreign policy, gun rights, abortion, and the interpretation of the Constitution. Rather than unite the country behind our legislators in Washington, the recent elections have served to further entrench the divide between the two parties.
Ostensibly, this rivalry is between two political parties, but, at the heart of it, lies a contempt that transcends mere political theory. The debate is a philosophical one, involving a fundamental difference in personal values more than a divergent reading of the Constitution. Many of our lawmakers have made the split a personal vendetta against their cross-wing contemporaries, and it seems as though the two will never cease their bickering long enough to bring positive change to the country.
Maybe they should just have a Coke and a smile...
#2: Coke vs. Pepsi
The Cola Wars are alive and well throughout the country! Both brands trace their roots back to the 19th Century, but, historically, Coca-Cola has been the more successful of the two brands. These two companies have been competing fiercely since the dawn of the advertising golden age during the 1950s, but the rivalry went to another level during the 1980s as the brands sought to gain the upper hand once and for all. For all intents and purposes, Coke retained their title in terms of commercial success, but Pepsi was by no means squashed. They remain the second most profitable soda company in the world and surpassed Coca-Cola in monthly sales for the first time in December of 2006 .
While the two products taste remarkably similar, many people claim a diehard allegiance to either one of the two brands. I've always preferred Coke because it has that wicked bite that I crave in a soda, but Pepsi appeals to a lot of people who prefer a sweeter, less violent attack on their taste buds.
The Cola Wars prove that every great product needs a rival to continue to push them. Although Coke might sell more of their beverage, Pepsi is by no means willing to play second fiddle. They actively court the younger, hipper soda drinker as they continue to mount an aggressive advertising attack against Coca-Cola, attempting to draw people toward "The Choice of a New Generation." In fact, the Cola Wars are woven into the fabric of American rivalry to such an extent that Bravo is developing a new workplace television drama chronicling the competition between the two companies during the mid-80s.
However, the best drama on television only occurs once a year for three hours in the Midwest...
#1: The University of Michigan vs. The Ohio State Buckeyes Football Game
Maybe I'm a little biased on this one. Maybe. But I was raised in the Midwest and continue to live in this region. I watch the game every single year, and I'm way more invested in it than I should be. As it does for many people in the region, the outcome of these four quarters determines the overall quality of Autumn itself.
So, while I may be slightly partial to this rivalry for less than objective reasons, my preoccupation with it seems legitimate: It is the most heated, most personal, most intense rivalry in the history of sports. In fact, ESPN named it the greatest sports rivalry in North America in 2000.
By placing UM/OSU at the top of the rivalry class, I'm not necessarily discounting the many other great rivalries in sports. For instance, the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry gets more publicity, but that has more to do with the east coast media elite than it does with the actual level of competition that those two teams bring to the game. Also, throughout the 1980s the two winningest franchises in the NBA, Magic Johnson's L.A. Lakers and Larry Bird's Boston Celtics repeatedly squared off in some of the most memorable contests in history. Unfortunately, after Magic and Larry retired, both teams struggled in mediocrity for several years, effectively rendering the rivalry dead. Lastly, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought the greatest trilogy of bouts professional boxing will ever see, but their rivalry was destined to finite status because of their declining health and increasing age. The fights maintain a legacy, but can only be relived in our memory or on ESPN 2.
However, the core of the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry has NOTHING to do with media coverage, the records get tossed out the window once the whistle blows, and the palpable tension has a limitless shelf life. The two teams have competed once a year, every year since 1918 in what has become nationally known as "The Game." During that time, both teams have won several national championships and dozens of Big Ten titles. They both boast previous winners of the Heisman Trophy and repeatedly place their players in the NFL. For the last game of the season, though, all that matters is what happens on the field. The winner of this game reserves bragging rights, not just for the next year, but for eternity.
Voice Your Opinion
There you have it: America's greatest rivalries according to this guy. I know that many of you don't vote, drink soda, or give a damn about football, but the beauty of rivalries is that they help us carve an identity for ourselves. Choosing sides is about being informed and proactive, even if it just boils down to taking the "Pepsi Challenge." Therefore, I strongly urge everyone to cause a ruckus tomorrow at Aunt Wanda's Thanksigiving disaster by complaining about the recent elections, debating the many merits of both Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola Classic, and proudly wearing your Maize and Blue!
Please feel free to post any of your favorite American rivalries!