What is the greatest sports rivalry in Colorado history?
That’s the question The Denver Post sought to answer with this Top 10 list. The rankings were calculated by assessing the impact of the rivalry, its longevity and its popularity among local sports fans.
10. Broncos vs. Patriots
Though in different divisions of the AFC, at its zenith of Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, the Broncos-Patriots rivalry was among the best showdowns in pro football. The Broncos and the Patriots rotated being AFC Champions from 2014 through 2017. Denver beat New England twice in the game during that time frame to advance to the Super Bowl. The two teams haven’t played since 2017, although Denver is scheduled to go to Foxborough this year, and the Broncos lead the all-time series 30-23. The teams have met five times in the playoffs, with the Broncos winning four of those.
9. CSU vs. Wyoming
“The Border War” is a Colorado classic dating back to 1899, when Wyoming traveled 66 miles down Highway 287 and lost to the Rams (then the Aggies) 12-0. The rivalry introduced a traveling trophy in 1968: the Bronze Boot, a battle-worn combat boot that belonged to a CSU professor who was a Vietnam veteran. CSU leads the all-time series 57-48-5, but the Cowboys (winners of four straight) hold a 28-24 edge since the Bronze Boot was introduced. Every year, both university’s ROTC outfits meet at the border and exchange the game ball before running it back to the host stadium.
8. Cherry Creek/Valor vs. Everybody
Cherry Creek and Valor Christian: the two schools that Colorado prep fans love to hate. As the state’s largest school, the Bruins have won a CHSAA-best 207 state championships all-time, more than double its next-nearest competition. And since Valor Christian opened its doors in 2007, it has established itself as the state’s premier private-school athletic power. In football, the programs met in the title game in 2018 and are the state’s preeminent powerhouses, as Cherry Creek has 10 titles (more than any other big-school program) and Valor Christian’s already won eight in its brief history.
7. Air Force vs. Army/Navy
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series, the brainchild of Air Force Lt. Gen. and former athletics director George B. Simler, began in 1972. The Falcons have won the series the most times (20), while Navy has won it 16 times and Army eight. The Midshipmen won the trophy seven straight years from 2003 to 2009. The series, a rarity in college athletes in that it’s a three-team competition, has also been shared four times and features a trophy that weighs about 170 pounds. Games at Falcon Stadium when Navy and Army come to town are always a can’t-miss affair.
6. CU vs. Nebraska
This inter-state rivalry went defunct when the Buffs jumped to the Pac-12 in 2011, but was revived for a home-and-home set over the past couple years as CU prevailed in one-score games both times. Nebraska leads the all-time series 49-20-2, and won the first meeting 23-10 in 1898 in Boulder. Though conference realignment stole away the heart of the rivalry over the past decade, there’s still plenty of animosity between the fan bases. Quarterback Steven Montez underscored that lingering bitterness after CU rallied to beat Nebraska last fall: “They got what was coming (to them).”
5. Centennial vs Central
The oldest high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi River, and surely Colorado’s most historic, Pueblo’s “Bell Game” had its 71st annual contest (and 119th overall) last fall. The battle for the bell — which was reclaimed from a locomotive that delivered coal to Pueblo’s steel mill and has been exchanged as a traveling trophy since 1950 — occurs at Dutch Clark Stadium, the state’s largest football venue. The winner gets to paint the bell’s pull cart its school color, either red or blue. The heated rivalry was paused between 1908-1921 after a fight broke out at the 1907 game.
4. CU vs. CSU
Colorado and Colorado State won’t play the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” this fall for the first time in a quarter-century due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t take the shine off a series that began in 1893 (when CSU was known as Colorado A&M) and is the oldest in-state rivalry between two public universities. CU holds a dominant lead in the series, 67-22-2, which was played on a nearly annual basis from 1899 to 1958 before moving to Mile High Stadium in 1998. The Buffs won 13 of 19 games there. The series is scheduled to return with a home-and-home in 2023 and 2024.
3. Avalanche vs. Red Wings
Perhaps the most intense rivalry in all of pro sports at one point, there was ample blood spilled between the Avs and Red Wings as the teams combined to claim five Stanley Cups from 1996 to 2002. The ill-will had seeds in the 1996 Western Conference finals, won by Colorado en route to the title, when Claude Lemieux checked Kris Draper face-first into the boards. The hatred bubbled over on March 26, 1997: “Bloody Wednesday” saw the teams combine for 148 penalty minutes and multiple fights, including one at center ice between Patrick Roy and Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon.
2. DU vs. Colorado College
In the second-most active rivalry in the history of college hockey, DU and Colorado College first met on Jan. 6, 1950, and have played 324 times since. The Pioneers lead the “Gold Pan Rivalry” 183-120-21, and have a 14-13 edge in the series since the traveling trophy was instituted during the 1993-94 season. DU won 22 straight from 1959 to 1963, but the Tigers dominated initially, winning the first game 15-0 and rattling off nine consecutive victories to open the series. The annual meetings between these storied programs act as a showcase for some of college hockey’s top talent.
1. Broncos vs. Raiders
Colorado’s most popular team has cultivated an extreme state-wide distaste for its preeminent rival. Denver and Las Vegas (nee Oakland) first met in 1960 — a 31-14 Broncos win at Bears Stadium in the franchise’s inaugural year. But the series, led by the Raiders 65-54-2, was not kind to Denver at first. The Silver-and-Black dominated the Broncos through the first 17 seasons, going 26-6-2 against them. But the Broncos have made up some ground in modern times, including winning 12 of the last 17 since 2011, and Denver diehards still relish teaching their kids how to be “Raider Haters.”
Broncos vs. Chiefs, Rockies vs. Dodgers, Rockies vs. Diamondbacks, Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake (Rocky Mountain Cup), Columbine vs. Pomona, Nuggets vs. Lakers, Nuggets vs. Jazz, Mullen vs. Regis Jesuit (The Holy War), George Washington vs. Denver East (basketball), Adams State vs. Western State (track/cross-country), Boulder vs. Fairview.