Every major sport needs a major rivalry. Every “golden age” of a sport has been dominated by that rivalry. In some cases instead of a rivalry a sport might have a transcendent superhuman figure, and that works just as well. But the average fan needs SOMETHING to fire up their interest in the game.
Examples are easy to find:
Tennis – Borg vs McEnroe, Evert vs Navratilova
Hockey – Wayne Gretzky, later Mario Lemeux
Baseball – Babe Ruth, DiMaggio vs Williams
Basketball – Michael Jordan, Bird vs Johnson, Russell vs Wilt
Football – Jim Brown, Smith vs Sanders, and most recently Brady vs Manning
Just a few examples. These rivalries give fans a reason to care about the games. Bragging rights are on the line. Week in and week out the exploits of their favorites are compared to the rest of the league or against their rivals…
But what is that NFL rivalry or superstar now?
Brady missed a year and was understandably slow to return to his standards after a serious injury, and Manning is now out and my never return. There really isn’t a transcendent football player at the moment, and with Brady/Manning becoming a memory, there isn’t really a clear rivalry to replace them.
Sure there are a lot of interesting players, but most are only beloved and championed by their team fans. Roethlesberger is mostly despised outside of Pittsburgh, Vick is despised by most of the nation, there hasn’t been a dominant running back in a decade, there isn’t even a Lawrence Taylor type player on defense.
Once you get past Brady and Manning, the NFL landscape gets pretty bland and uninteresting, and while Brady and Manning might have a year or two left in their rivalry, when that’s done, what will be the major story line in the NFL? Cam Newton vs Andrew Luck? Maybe so, but I don’t really see that. My suspicion is that Luck will be a solid NFL quarterback, but the second coming of Peyton Manning… I don’t think so.
A few decades ago the NFL was overrun with interesting rivalries. Elway vs Montana vs Marino; Rice vs well… just Rice; Sanders vs Smith…
Is there any such rivalry on the horizon for the NFL? Who will carry the torch into the next decade?