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There is no Atlanta/Boston rivalry, but we can change that

If you will it, it is no dream.

The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards - After Party
We still won’t be cooler than them, though.
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

For a while last decade, MLB’s interleague schedule included a “Rivalry Weekend” in which each AL team was paired with a rival NL team. This was great for Yankees/Mets, Angels/Dodgers, Giants/A’s, etc., but left a few teams out in the cold. The Red Sox got to play the Braves every year, and the league tried to push it as a legitimate rivalry. Good try, I guess?

It’s too bad that there isn’t a bigger Atlanta/Boston rivalry heading into the Super Bowl, because there’s a ton of sociocultural material with which to theoretically work. As far as the actual sports go, have to go back a long, long time to find something truly relevant. As Bill Simmons will tell repeatedly tell you, the Dominique Wilkins/Larry Bird face-off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is probably the heretofore best moment between the cities:

Of course, to Simmons-the-Celtics-fan, this game is basically the moon landing and the discovery of the human genome all in one so of course he imagines Atlanta feels the same way. But it’s a known known that Simmons feels as such, and in fairness to him, he has been particularly compelling in the last, oh, 13 days or so, when many supposed known knowns have rapidly dwindled. Life in the his bubble is ridiculous, privileged fun, but at least it’s consistent.

Anyhow, while he might overstate the ‘Nique/Bird showdown from an Atlantan’s perspective, it certainly is one of the few times Atlanta and Boston sports have overlapped with any sort of significance. Sunday’s Super Bowl will go down as the de facto biggest moment in the “rivalry,” such as it is, now and forever, because the preconditions for establishing a new rivalry between cities are pretty simple and unlikely to be met in the near future. They could:

Play in the same division

It’s not enough to play in the same conference, as the Hawks and Celtics have proven. The current iterations of the Wizards and Celtics are a good example of a division rivalry, as they play often enough to keep players angry from one game to the next.

Have a sustained run of success at the same time

For the Red Sox, this adds the Cardinals, Indians, Tigers, A’s and Rangers to the AL East teams. For the Patriots, you get the Colts, Broncos, Steelers, Giants and Seahawks basically in place of the AFC East teams. For the Celtics, you get the Cavs, Raptors, Pacers, Wizards and, yes, Hawks. There is an argument that the Hawks and Celtics have had a nice give-and-take over a decade, having played one of the best 1-versus-8 playoff matchups in history during the KG/Paul Pierce years and the Celtics, more recently, having spirited away Al Horford, but honestly, that’s not much. Still, remember this one?:

Hate each other for no reason

I can’t think of many examples of this off the top of my head, but I know they exist. (Please enlighten me in the comments.) I mean this besides the “Everyone hates the Patriots” angle, which goes without saying.

Basically, Atlanta and Boston have barely met the on-field preconditions for a rivalry, so it’s not surprising they don’t have one. But they do share a history, and Boston baseball is a part of it. This is a baseball blog; let’s baseball!

So yeah, the Boston Braves were founded in 1871 and played, starting in 1915, at what is now Boston University’s Nickerson Field until 1952, when they moved to Milwaukee. They moved to Atlanta in 1966, but they left some stories back in Boston. Among them:

The 1914 miracle

They basically executed the plot of Major League, and God help me, I’m gonna blockquote Wikipedia here.

After a dismal 4-18 start, the Braves seemed to be on pace for a last place finish. On July 4, 1914, the Braves lost both games of a doubleheader to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The consecutive losses put their record at 26-40 and the Braves were in last place, 15 games behind the league-leading New York Giants, who had won the previous three league pennants. After a day off, the Braves started to put together a hot streak, and from July 6 through September 5, the Braves won 41 games against only 12 losses. [1] On September 7 and 8, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the New York Giants and moved into first place. The Braves tore through September and early October, closing with 25 wins against 6 losses, while the Giants went 16-16. [2] They are the only team to win a pennant after being in last place on the Fourth of July. They were in last place as late as July 18, but were close to the pack, moving into fourth on July 21 and second place on August 12.

Despite their amazing comeback, the Braves entered the World Series as a heavy underdog to Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's. Nevertheless, the Braves swept the Athletics—the first unqualified sweep in the young history of the modern World Series (the 1907 Series had one tied game)--to win the world championship.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth played for the team in 1935 but started to physically break down quickly, at which point he found that the special administrative provisions in his contract — provisions that amounted to, hey this is Babe Freakin’ Ruth, please come play for us, you cand do what you want — were basically meaningless. He retired on June 1935, rather than stick it out, and his bitterness with the city is infamously still raw:

Pray for Rain

The 1948 team both won the National League pennant and was the inspiration for the famous “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” refrain; they’d lose the World Series in six games to the Cleveland Indians, who beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff to scuttle an all-Boston World Series.

That’s about it. The pity here is that Atlanta and Boston could be great rivals, and this year provides a potential inflection point for their general fortunes. As Simmons notes in the ‘cast above, Atlanta, as a city, is as culturally ascendant as Boston is increasingly bloated as one, and it’s hard not to notice the Falcons are fighting for their first title in the season they closed out their old home, not unlike the Patriots did. It means nothing... but, like fake pumped-in crowd noise, it’s just sort of there.

Finally, on a personal level, I know a large number of people from Atlanta and like them all. I have been to the city several times and love it. That said, both my friends and not-yet friendly residents of The A can kindly eat it this Sunday, rivalry or not. It’s always a good time to start beef. If you will a rivalry, it is no dream.