Any sports league, whether established or new, needs the support of its fans for long-term success. One way that sports leagues use to generate this excitement is the formation of rivalries. They can either be created by the league or by being geographically close to one another.
They can also happen by long term competitiveness between two franchises. That got me thinking…what is the best rivalry in the NAL?
Many of us in the Lehigh Valley area were looking forward to the Jersey Flight joining the NAL and providing with a geographical rival. The same can be said with Jacksonville looking to renew their rivalry with Orlando. Though neither Orlando or Jersey ended up joining the NAL in 2018, we already have a great rivalry, and it has been around since before the NAL was even an idea – the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks and the Columbus Lions.
How is this the best rivalry? The Steelhawks and Lions have history, highly competitive games and many similarities between the two. Their history goes back to the 2013 season in the Professional Indoor Football League.
The Steelhawks won their first ever meeting on May 5 at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA, 54-42. The two teams have played a total of eight times with Columbus holding a 5-3 lead in the series.
Their competitiveness was evident in their inaugural season in the NAL. The two teams split two games last year. Both games were played at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA. Both games came down to the wire with the Steelhawks winning the regular season contest 60-54. However, the Lions went on to win the important rematch in the NAL Semifinals. They overcame a 22-point deficit to upset the Steelhawks, on their own turf, 52-50.
Not only do both franchises have a great history. They both have many similarities that have made them endure and be successful.
It all starts at the top as both teams have owners and a front office staff that have been consistent in creating franchises successful on and off the field. Both play in similar sized metropolitan areas and have very loyal and supportive fan bases.
It looks like the NAL sees this as a great rivalry, as well. Both teams will begin the season with a rematch of last year’s thrilling semifinal game in Columbus. They will also meet on May 20 at the PPL Center in Allentown.