Every high school, university, politician, rapper, superhero and company has one. It’s what fuels their rage, motivates peak performance, creates often-counterproductive hysteria and elicits unimaginable heroism. It comes in all shapes and sizes but usually possesses ironically similar qualities to its owner. It can inspire, enrage, ruin and build up all at the same time. It is what the Red Sox are to the Yankees, Florida State to Miami, Nas to Jay-Z, Lex Luthor to Superman, and — most importantly — Harvard to Cornell. It is The Rival.
The notion probably first entered your mind as a young child, watching your favorite hometown team take on its most hated enemy. It always played its best against this particular foe and the games were always unbelievably close.
Then you went to middle school and probably took on your first personal rival. The kid who picked on you at lunch, the athlete that always got picked first in dodgeball, the geek who somehow always beat you by a single point on spelling tests or the jerk across the street that once got you arrested.
Then you went to high school, played on your first real athletic team and quickly realized your entire town’s rival. The locker room was a little crazier before the game against their high school, the music blaring during warm-ups was a little louder, there were more security guards at the doors and the crowd seemed on edge from the tip-off. When you won, the town rejoiced and when you lost, they mourned.
Then, you trekked your way up Route Whatever to cold-hearted Ithaca to find the trend alive and well. During my first week on campus, way back in Y2K, I remember walking up the slope, looking down at the ground (what else would a freshman do?) and seeing “Harvard Sucks!” written in crimson paint on the pathway.
My hometown of Bellport, Long Island has its very own rival: Patchogue-Medford. We hate Pat-Med. No one really knows why, but we do. Their high school colors are red and black and ours are red and white. Their football team is always good, their basketball team is always lacking, they have a diverse student population, their academics are so-so, and their girls are hot. Same in Bellport. Our fans always rumble when Pat-Med comes around and inter-town fights are a natural part of the weekend party scene. Throw into the mix that our towns are separated by a single street and you have yourself a tried-and-true rivalry. So I knew a thing about rivals coming here, but vandalistic hatred? What was this, a gang war?
After seeing the crimson writing on the walkway, I wondered about the extent of hate for our Cambridge counterparts on campus. I had always known that the two hockey programs are the most competitive in the ECAC and had heard about the craziness of Lynah Rink when they came to town. The best two teams in any athletic league always hate each other. But this went further than the ice. I also realized that it departed from the normal rivalry criterion in that it was overwhelmingly one-sided. I have a friend at Harvard and she often snickers at our hatred for her school.
“You’re just jealous,” she says. I’m starting to think she’s absolutely right.
They have the mystique, the inflated grades, the higher SAT scores, the No. 1 U.S. News ranking, Al Gore