If you’re ever in the mood to start a bar brawl, the best plan I can think of is to walk into a sports bar, identify the team associated with it, and then suggest their team’s rivalries are lame. Nothing stokes the coals like someone telling you their rivalry “means” more than yours. Sports fans bleed for their teams, and so hating the teams we play most often is as traditional as–well–Easter Eggs!
Collegiate rivalries carry a ton of weight due to the intense emotional attachment their graduates have to their schools, however baseball fans everywhere will tell you their biggest rivalries are part of the history of the country itself! Every sports fan can and will weigh in on the question of, “what is the greatest rivalry in sports,” but no matter what team they root for or which sport they favor, they’ll ALL agree that when it comes to the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks versus the Detroit Red Wings is at the very top of the list.
They’ve played against each other 723 times in the regular season. And while I’m confident I’ve never done anything 723 times—ever—that means these two clubs have faced each other more than any other two clubs in NHL history. Only the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens rivalry exceeds them in total games played when playoffs are included. The Wings have the series edge 398-315-84 thanks in large part to head coach Scotty Bowman, who led the Wings to three cups in the 1990s by walking over the Hawks every year.
Over the last 87 years, the legends that played for each team built the rivalry into what we know today. Names like Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidström, Esposito, Osgood, Savard, Belfour, Federov and Ciccarelli have dominated the headlines when these two giants have collided. And yet it always seems to come back to the fans—only separated by interstate 94—which have gone ahead and pushed the rivalry into the stratosphere.
I was at the Hawks game last Tuesday and mid-way through the 2nd period against the CALGARY FLAMES the crowd broke into a “Detroit Sucks” chant! And I’ll never forget the first time I saw my father lose it was during a game at the old Chicago stadium in the late 80s when as a child, a couple of rowdy Wings fans behind us wouldn’t ease up on the cursing, so pops had to turn around and let em have it.
To make matters worse, several high profile players have gone the extra mile to torment fans by trading one team’s jersey for another. Way back in the 1950s, Hawks defenseman Bill Gadsby specialized in busting up Red Wings, and so naturally the moment his contract expired Detroit picked him up looking to deliver a little payback.
Legendary goon Bob Probert spent much of the late 1980s beating the hell out of the Blackhawks and anyone else who wanted a shot “at the belt” (Probert was doing the “Championship belt” dance that Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has now immortalized 25 years ago). He then devastated the Detroit faithful when he switched sides and worked the lines for the Hawks from 1995 to 2002.
And Chris Chelios…how could you! Chelios anchored the Hawks defense through most of the 1990s (the era of my childhood) before accepting a trade—a rarity between the two clubs—to the Wings in 1999 which OF COURSE led to his second and final Stanley Cup. And now Marian Hossa, a 40 goal guy for Detroit in 2008-09, is the latest star to turn traitor as he left the Wings for the Hawks the following season and led them to the Stanley Cup.
Passion. That’s the overwhelming emotion that comes to mind when teams with this much history do battle. On Sunday as sweet little children everywhere search for candy filled eggs, Hawks fans will be licking their chops at the thought of knocking the Red Wings out of the playoff race. Meanwhile, every Detroit fan on the planet would like nothing more than to play spoiler to the Hawks and their magical season. So go ahead and walk into a bar in Detroit this afternoon and tell em the Cubs and Cardinals have the best rivalry; just keep your head on a swivel and your guard up.