|Let's play the feud ...|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
Feuds R Us. Hatfields vs. McCoys. Jets vs. Sharks. Jets vs ... Dolphins? Jets vs. Dolphins ... hmm ... not quite right, is it?
A feud flows more bitterly, with more rancor and bad blood than a rivalry. A rivalry hints at acceptance, some mutual bond of respect. That's what you play for, really. Respect. The winning and losing are important, yeah, sure, but you play for respect. You watch for inspiration, communal tribalism, the rush of the bet, but, as I recall, you play because it feels good to play, and for respect.
Michigan vs. Ohio State in football is rivalry. Ditto Duke-UNC in hoop. Russell & Chamberlain was a rivalry. Russell would have Dip over for dinner the night before games, totally disarming him. If the Dipper had actually feuded with somebody, they'd be dead. Texas vs. Texas A&M is a feud. It got personal down there. Watch one of those College Station alums get all puckered up if you tell an Aggie joke. They act like they're laughing. They're not.
Cal vs. Stanford is a rivalry, a polite one, no matter how much they talk about burying an Ax in the neck. It's all just talk. Including the football. Cal hasn't shown up for football for several seasons. It takes two competitors to have a rivalry, two lunatics for a feud.
Then you have your basic faux feud. The WWF is full of those. The bowling guy -- "I am P... D ... W.!" -- he's a feud (and a laff riot) waiting to happen, only nobody seems to want to take him up on it. Nobody's home. You do have fake feuds in sports, often conducted for effect, as in the WWF. Sometimes you have combinations. To Muhammad Ali, him vs. Joe Frazier was a fake feud (until they got in the ring). Until here lately, since Ali lost motor function, to Joe Frazier it was a feud, a very real one.
Florida vs. Florida State in football, that's a real feud! Can't let any of the followers of those two camps near each other with blunt instruments, much less axes, in the run-up to the yearly bloodbath. Seen people sitting at a Bucs-Jets NFL game at Raymond James get into fistfights where orbital sockets were broken, fighting over not whose winning that game, but next year's UF-FSU tilt.
In a feud, a red mist descends over the eyes of participants and backers, and they can't be reasoned with. Not ever. You can try to reason with them, but they're gone. All you can do is let them go.
What is the best feud in sports? Is it one of these, you think?
Bobby Knight vs. Murray Sperber
Note to self: The high-ground ain't all it's cracked up to be. Just don't get these two together in a small room or the taco meat will fly.
Tony La Russa vs. Barry Bonds
La Russa thinks Bonds thinks he's better than the game itself. Bonds thinks La Russa is the one who thinks that; not only that, he tells LaRussa he's going against the laws of physics whenever La Russa orders his pitchers to pitch to Bonds in GW sitchies, instead of walking him, even walking him with the bases loaded, as ESPN analyst and former D'backs manager Buck Showalter did once -- and quite successfully too -- although the next batter almost gave him a heart attack by lining out. Give a dude an RBI to keep him from maybe beating you a game. Wow!
Never catch La Russa giving Bonds anything but the spiked Kool-Aid. Look in the box score for Bonds being HBP by the Cards this season ... then you'll know it's on again.
Jeff Kent vs. Barry Bonds
Al Davis vs. the NFL
Al wanted to move Raiders to Los Angeles. He thought Pete wanted the L.A. market for himself. The lawsuits flew. No love lost even today, Tags standing in for Pete. When reversal came down on Pump-Fake against Patriots in AFC semifinal, Al's first thought was it came down from way upstairs. (And by the way, I would not recommend that you wear another team's colors in amongst the Black Hole Faithful at the Oakland Coliseum. But if you do, make sure your insurance is all paid up).
Steve Spurrier vs. Jim Haslett
"That's the way they do bid'ness," Steve said. Bowden circled the wagons. Lawyers all over the Sunshine State queued up for that one. Steve moved on.
Like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Spurrier lives by the feud. Spurrier is from the blue-green hollers of east Tennessee, where feuding is breathing.
Immediately after giving Florida the gate for the NFL, he took on New Orleans coach Jim Haslett, hard-working ex-linebacker with Cro Magnon-like offensive tendencies. Spurrier doesn't think Haslett (or anybody else) can X and O with him. In mentioning that he doesn't like to work long hours, Ol' Steve mentioned Haslett shows up at the Saints' offices at 4:30 a.m. "Not that it's going to do him any good," said Steve. Whoa.
Note to self: Check NFL schedule. Gotta see this train wreck.
Bobby Clarke vs. the Lindroses
Lindros had concussions, and yet, when the Flyers got within sniffing distance of the Stanley Cup finals, he recovered enough for Clarke & Co. to be forced by popular expectation to put him out there in Scott Stevens' gunsights. Ask Clarke today, and he'll tell you Stevens is one of his favorite players. Wonder why? He's not even a Flyer. Clarke and the Lindroses can still curse each other's unholy names all night long and never repeat themselves.
Every time they face each other, Piazza launches a home run, or Clemens plunks him. Was over at Yankee Stadium for the last Piazza beaning, which preceded the later jagged broken-bat tossing event. Add the fact that these two play for the Yankees and Mets, respectively, and you have the potential for a bloodbath this October, if not sooner.
John Chaney vs. John Calipari
Jerry Tarkanian vs. the NCAA
Charles Oakley vs. Gen Z
Junior Griffey vs. Dmitri, Pokey, etc.
A-Rod vs. Jeter
Mark Cuban vs. NBA refs
"Monday Night Football" vs. Fox
George Karl vs. Doc Rivers
United States vs. Russia
Martina Hingis vs. the Williams sisters
Swiss Miss loves agitating the sisters, sniping away, realizing that getting under their skins is the only way she can affect them, since that dinky second serve sure won't. But since she's dating Sergio Garcia now, and is probably past her prime anyway, at least as far as the Williamses, Lindsay Davenport and Capriati are concerned, maybe she can teach some of her best feuding stuff to Sergio, so maybe he can get something going on with El Tigre. It would help if Sergio won the Masters. That would be sure to get Tiger's attention.
Video vs. print
And the winner is ...
Jim Brown vs. O.J. Simpson
The feud started back when Juice played; a lot of people said he was a better back than Jim Brown. Not to mention a more upstanding citizen. Jim just laughed in reply. Jim had a way of laughing about it that drove Juice crazy.
Jim never give O.J. any props as player or man. They bandied a few quotes back and forth in the papers whenever the strata of great running backs would come up over the passing years. Theirs was a quiet feud otherwise. A feud of philsophies. Crossfire in cleats. O.J. mostly avoided talking about Jim, preferring to talk about himself, and fooling a great many people into thinking that he had good character by doing it.
When Jim Brown was just being honest with people, he couldn't keep a job as a football color commentator. O.J. would wink about this "flaw" in Jim. O.J. could say a thing and make it seem like it was right, even if it was wrong. He said of himself, in counter-point to Jim. "Everybody can't be like Martin Luther King." No, I guess not.
"What are you doing here with him, little ------,? Jim asked me, after looking laser beams right through me on the set. "Not your favorite guy, right Jim? Well, he does seem to have to be the focal point of all life around him. You're right; something has to be wrong for me to be here, too, doesn't it? It doesn't add up. With Juice, one plus one equals He's the One. I just had an angel here, Jim. Trust me. I had a BRAVE angel."
Jim looked me up and down, then looked over at Juice, who was holding court with the bosses in his own charming, ingratiating, slime-sucking, shuckey-jivey way. "Watch out for O.J.," Jim said. "He can be a dangerous dude." Never forgot it.
Now Jim's in the joint. O.J. is on South Beach. Lunatic. This quiet feud isn't over.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."