Red Sox-Yankees. Bruins-Canadiens. Patriots-Colts. Celtics-Lakers. Lynn-Swampscott.
Which of the aforementioned does not belong? Answer: They all belong.
If I’ve learned anything in my almost-40 years working at this paper, it’s that Lynn and Swampscott have a healthy rivalry in all things sports, and it goes back. Way back.
Naturally, the proximity of the two towns has a lot to do with that. But it’s certainly not the only reason. Those are many and varied. They include the fact that the Jaurons and Toners hopped the fence in time for both families to establish deep legacies in Swampscott.
Anyone with an ounce of sense would have to put Dick Jauron as one of the top two or three athletes ever to come out of the North Shore (Harry Agganis would obviously be in that conversation as well), and Tom Toner would have to be fairly high on that list too. Both starred for Swampscott High, and both went onto play pro football.
In Jauron’s case, he went onto coach three teams in the NFL, and was Coach of the Year with the Chicago Bears in 2001.
But this rivalry is only marginally about the Jaurons, Toners and their contributions to Swampscott’s glory days of the 1960s and ’70s, or the fact that Swampscott has more than its share of Lynn expatriates who have crossed the border.
This is a rivalry born out of Little League.
You wouldn’t know it unless you’ve been there and saw it up close and personal. Lynn Little Leagues, however many of them there were at any particular time, have fought tooth and nail against each other. I once covered an all-star game involving two of Lynn’s six (at the time) teams, neither of which was Wyoma.
After the game, I approached the winning coach, who declared — loudly — that he had no intention of talking to me because I’d covered Wyoma two days earlier than that, and relegated his team to the roundup.
(It didn’t occur to him that we were spreading the wealth and it was his team’s turn; that’s how angry some of these Little League people get over slights real and imagined.)
The point, though, is however much the Lynn leagues might bicker among themselves (and back when I was involved there was plenty of it), we were all united as one whenever we crossed the border to play Swampscott. And every year, it invariably happened that one of Lynn’s teams would end up playing the mighty Swampscott, winners of nine straight District 16 titles from 1991 through 1999.
There’s a natural tendency to develop jealousy toward consistent winners. All you have to do is see the hatred for the Patriots among teams and fans in other cities. Do you think anyone would have cared if the Detroit Lions took the air out of footballs so that Matthew Stafford could get a better grip on the ball? If you really think so, you’re hopelessly out of your mind.
Swampscott’s dominance in Little League in the 1990s grated on more than one Lynn Little League coach and administrator. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times, “if we had one all-star team the way they do, we’d beat them every year.”
That was always a big bone of contention too — the fact that Swampscott could draw from its entire town while Lynn was split into six districts. Six was probably too many, considering the population limit per district is 20,000 (Swampscott clocked in well under that figure at 13,000).
It’s no doubt less of an issue now since Swampscott has only won a handful of times since 1999, and both East Lynn and Wyoma have won district titles.
But boy, there used to be some real wars, both with West Lynn American and Wyoma. Playing Swampscott was like playing the Patriots if you were the Tennessee Titans. Just the mere presence of those Swampscott uniforms threw the other team off its game just enough to make it easy prey.
Anyway, when something is ingrained in you at a young age, it stays with you. Last fall, English played Swampscott in a meaningful football game, and quite a few Bulldog folks told me that while Classical was their official rival, Swampscott had to be 1A.
The same goes for Classical. After English, any game with Swampscott is extra-special for the Rams too.
Thursday, at 8:15 p.m., weather permitting, the two towns will square off in a bonafide major event: The Division 3 North boys hockey semifinals. The winner goes on to the sectional final, with a chance to play at the TD Garden. The loser goes home.
You cannot judge anything by the two games the teams played this season, as they were both 3-3 ties (Swampscott actually won in overtime in the Christmas Tournament game in Lynn because there had to be a winner, but for the purposes of seeding, it was a tie). Both teams have high-powered offenses, so we could see some real fireworks at the Chelmsford Forum.
This is Lynn vs. Swampscott because all three of the city’s public schools have merged into one hockey collaborative. It’s what the Little League organizations in Lynn have always wanted. And it has all kinds of potential to add to this longtime rivalry.
Let’s hope so.