On Tuesday and Wednesday night, ESPN aired a three-part special titled “Best of Enemies: Celtics/Lakers”, another installment in their popular ’30 for 30′ docu-series. In it, the riveting rivalry between the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers is discussed at length. Unquestionably one of the best rivalry in all of sports – a rivalry that spread all across the nation and ultimately saved the NBA.
The two teams have met in the NBA Finals an all-time high 12 times for a total of 74 games. The legendary list of players to have been a part of this rivalry include greats such as Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and so many others.
With the average three-to-four year career of a collegiate athlete, the only consistent in college football story lines are that they are consistently changing. While guys like Magic and Bird would remain story lines for decades, college stars change year in and year out, bringing with them a new set of headlines.
Much like the dominance of the Celtics in the 60’s, the past decade of success celebrated by Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide may ultimately be unprecedented. Since his arrival in 2007, Alabama has been a betting favorite every year to raise the crystal ball (or golden statue) at the end of the season.
For every great television-made competition, however, there is always a second part to the story. The Lakers had the Celtics, and the Celtics had the Lakers. The Yankees had the Red Sox. USC had the Rose Bowl. Harry Potter had Voldemort. Gandalf had Sauron. Batman had the Joker.
Most recently, the Clemson Tigers made a run at being that second story. After two of the most exciting championship games ever televised, the Tigers and the Tide are in need of a tiebreaker as they split the first two at one a piece. The magic of Deshaun Watson versus Bama’s daunted defense made for some entertaining television, but that magic may disappear back into the magician’s hat.
After carrying the Tigers’ offense for two years, Watson will no longer be suiting up for the purple and orange. The Houston Texans will make use of his services next year, and for Clemson to remain relevant in this story line-heavy sport they will need another superstar quarterback to step up and shine through.
Alabama may not return to the championship again this year, but they will be the favorites to do so until proven otherwise. It is, in itself, a testament to Nick Saban and his ‘process,’ that no matter who he puts on the field and who he has to replace his team is unanimously expected to preform at a championship level.
The only other coach to have proven the ability to do that is Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
His three national titles are a testament to the fact that he can restock and reload with the best of them. Had he never left Florida, the SEC Championship games of late may just as well have been an extra game in the college football playoffs. With Meyer in Ohio, the only way the teams can play each other is if they schedule each other a few years out, or by meeting in the postseason.
They did just that in 2014, when Ezekiel Elliot and the Buckeyes ran over the heavily favored Crimson Tide to advance to – and ultimately win – the national championship game. Last season, Meyer’s team staged a return to the playoffs but fell in the most dramatic way possible: a 31-0 shutout against Clemson.
Despite the failure, a hidden message remains in the bottle: Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer is the headline that could ignite the nation. Alabama vs. Ohio State. North vs. South. Blue Blood vs. Blue Blood. Mastermind vs. Mastermind.
Both teams could realistically make the playoffs six or seven times over the next ten years if both coaches stay put. Should they meet each other again, especially if in a national championship game, the news media would burst at the seams with tantalizing headlines. If they were to meet more than once – oh, man – the title of ‘all-time best coach’ could also be on the line as well.
We may never get that dream match up. And we certainly may not get a dreamy rematch of that dream match up. If not, it would be a true shame, but college football is great the way it is. If we do, we would see college football in a way that it never existed before.
Admittedly, it would take a whole lot more than just a few games to get remotely close to the level of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry. Yet, it would be college football’s version of that, and it would be just as beautiful a thing to experience. For all we know, Dabo Swinney could end up being Saban’s true rival for the title of best college football coach ever, but he has a lot of proving to do now that his star is gone.
Magic vs. Bird. Kobe vs. Garnett. And, if the college football gods truly shine among us, Meyer vs. Saban.