The Patriots vs. Colts Is the Best Rivalry in Sports Right Now

At least we can thank Deflategate for something.

The concept of an honest-to-goodness rivalry in professional sports is kind of an antiquated idea. The advent of free agency means most players change teams with regularity, and revenue sharing models tie every organization together. There is plenty of manufactured animosity on sports talk radio and social media, but it is usually as shallow as the talking heads who spew it.

The so-called Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is perhaps the best example of this. There used to be a palpable disdain between the two organizations and fan bases. But the two clubs haven’t met in the playoffs for more than a decade, and seldom seem to play a meaningful game anymore. Watching Red Sox and Yankees games—often tedious affairs that last well past three hours—has become a chore rather than a joy.

Or, in other words, it’s probably the antithesis of how you will feel when the Patriots head to Indianapolis to take on the Colts Sunday night, October 18.

It’s not a stretch to say this is the most anticipated regular-season game in Boston sports history—and we’re still roughly two months out. The Patriots and Colts have been rivals ever since Tom Brady and Peyton Manning first dueled more than 10 years ago, but it has been elevated to the next level over the last seven months. This is now the best rivalry in professional sports, and there isn’t a close second place.

The Colts, of course, started the whole Deflategate saga. Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson said in February he told league officials prior to the AFC Championship Game that he thought the Patriots may have been playing with deflated footballs.

The Colts have seemingly felt a longstanding paranoia against the Patriots. Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy said in a radio interview last week Manning used to think the locker rooms in Gillette Stadium were bugged, and Indianapolis sports writer Bob Kravitz reported recently the Colts still sweep for bugs whenever they play in Foxborough.

Ah, yes, Bob Kravitz. He’s the man who originally reported the NFL was investigating the Patriots—no issue there. But then he turned into a crazy person and starting firing off late-night tweets in which he questioned Robert Kraft’s integrity and called Bill Belichick a “cheat.” Kravitz eventually apologized for spouting such foolishness.

Gregg Doyle, a columnist at the Indianapolis Star, has hammered the Patriots organization as well. He even went as far as to ask in a recent column whether legendary Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is a traitor for signing with the Pats.

Yes, traitor. This rivalry is so fierce it even causes a distinguished member of the often jaded, “no cheering in the press box” sportswriting brotherhood to act like…wait for it…a fan.

If Doyle’s column is any indication, some Colts fans may not react kindly to Wayne if he’s still on the Patriots when Week 6 rolls around. Patriots fans, for their part, have booed kicker Adam Vinatieri ever since he signed with the Colts in 2006.

It takes some real deep-seeded hatred for a fan base to turn its back on the man who booted through three Super Bowl-winning kicks in four years.

Over the last 12 years, the Patriots and Colts have met in the playoffs five times, including thrice in the AFC Championship Game. That might be why it’s been so difficult for Patriots fans to swallow Vinatieri’s departure. He didn’t just leave for a rival; he left for the team that the Patriots so often have to defeat in order to reach the Super Bowl.

That’s one of the things that separates the Patriots and Colts from the pack. These two clubs have arguably been the best teams in the AFC since the start of the new millennium. Hostility alone doesn’t constitute a great rivalry, or else the Patriots and Jets would take the cake. The resentment has to be shared between two heavyweights, or else it just comes across as a fight between an older and younger brother.

Patriots/Colts doesn’t have the history of Red Sox/Yankees, Bruins/Canadiens, or Celtics/Lakers, but right now it has all of the momentum. When they match up in week six, it could be Brady’s first game back from his Deflategate suspension against the team that started it all, Wayne’s return to Indianapolis, and—oh, yeah—a rematch of last year’s AFC Title Game. That’s third on the list.

And if the Patriots’ gigantic preseason TV ratings this summer are a harbinger of things to come, we’ll all be watching. The amount of bad blood between these two teams, fan bases, and even media members is currently unmatched.