I was talking to some guys in Seattle at my book signing last week and I said, 'You know, Patriots-Colts is a lot like Yankees-Red Sox.' For a while, the Red Sox were everyone's favorite and people wanted them to beat the Yankees, but after a while, people were so sick of the whole thing that anyone who isn't a Red Sox or Yankees fan despises both the Red Sox and Yankees. I think we're about four months and five billion Peyton Manning ads away from hitting that same point with the Colts and Pats. Right now, everyone is out to get the Pats, but in a few months, they'll hate the Colts just as much and be desperate for someone like San Diego or Pittsburgh to win something.'
This seems exactly right. It's clear, I think, that dynasties are good for the health of sports overall. Yes, parity is important, but so is familiarity and the joy of having someone to root against come playoff season. Thus baseball in the late '70s, with the Big Red Machine giving way to the dysfunctional Yankee dynasty, and a bunch of consistently good teams (Phils, Royals, Red Sox, etc.) nipping at their heels, was better than baseball in the '80s, when the only thing you knew going into spring training was that last year's division winners wouldn't be repeating.
But two-team rivalries, on the other hand, tend to only be interesting to the fans of the two teams involved, particularly once the weaker half of the rivalry finally pushes itself over the top. The Yanks-Dodgers combat of the '40s and '50s stopped being interesting to anyone who wasn't personally invested in the two teams the moment Sandy Amoros ran down Yogi Berra's liner in '55; for anyone outside the northeast corridor, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry died in October 2004; and the same will go for Pats-Colts from now on, I'm sure.
This means that having either the Red Sox or the Yankees in the playoffs is good for baseball: They're the big kids on the block, and someone for the rest of baseball to measure themselves against. But having both of them - not so much. So last year, as painful as it was to watch, was good for the health of the sport. And now, of course, it's the Yankees turn to take an October off - except that being the Yankees, they don't seem to have realized it yet.
Photo by Flickr user Brent Danley used under a Creative Commons license.