Unlikely athletic friendships

Even sporting enemies have forged bonds

Thundar, sadly, did not share his bike with his friend Jack.

If the beauty of sport is its uncanny ability to bridge even the widest of gaps to bring people together, it should be no surprise that at every turn it does just that. Still, some of the bonds shared between rivals are no less stunning.

Thundar and Jack the Jackrabbit

Although the two are symbols of rival athletic institutions, Thundar and South Dakota State’s Jack the Jackrabbit couldn’t help but have some fun during a break in some football action.

While the Bison and Jackrabbits were locked in a tense matchup, the two mascots met up in the north end zone of the Fargodome for a good old-fashioned dance contest.

The fans threw their support behind Thundar, creating a massive advantage for the home mascot. Jack did his best, but Bison fans voted at 100 decibels to declare Thundar the winner.

The Bison football team also wound up winning, but the true victory was knowing that two furry symbols of the Great Plains could set aside their differences to share a moment of levity.

Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard

In June 1980, Duran and Leonard quickly struck up one of boxing’s most famous rivalries. Leonard squared off with Duran to defend his world welterweight title in Montreal. Duran stole the title from Leonard, setting up one of the more peculiar episodes in sports history.

The two agreed to a rematch just five months later in New Orleans. The fight was on Leonard’s terms as he taunted the Panamanian throughout the match. Duran was grossly out of shape as a result of a partying binge following his initial win. Midway through the fight, Duran quit, saying, “No mas,” to the referee.

Duran immediately retired, but eventually came back. The two fought again in 1989, but Leonard beat up an over-the-hill Duran. Now, however, the once vengeful rivals are close friends. Two movies were made on the duo’s intriguing paths, “No Mas” and “Hands of Stone.”

Luz Long and Jesse Owens

Owens is inarguably the greatest track and field athlete in American history. Against the stark backdrop of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Owens took Berlin by storm at the 1936 Olympics. Owens hauled four gold medals back to the U.S., but it’s likely his medal count would have been one short were it not for the assistance of an unlikely friend.

Leipzig-born Luz Long competed against Owens in the long jump. During the preliminary round, Long had secured passage to the finals while Owens floundered. Owens fouled on his first two attempts, and one more foul would have cost him a shot at the gold.

It was then that Long approached the American to offer a bit of advice. Long told Owens to begin his jump from further away to avoid the risk of a foul. Owens advanced, only to defeat Long in the finals. Long settled for the silver, and the two embraced in full view of Hitler.

Unfortunately, the friendship was short lived. Owens and Long never saw each other again, as Long died in Sicily during World War II. Owens later went on to remark that his brief kinship with Long was worth far more than any of his medals.

David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez

Fox Sports may own the exclusive broadcast rights to the World Series through 2028, but the network’s most valuable asset might just be its trio of baseball analysts.

For each of the past two World Series broadcasts, Fox has turned to Ortiz and Rodriguez (along with others) to bring viewers pre-game and post-game analysis. The grouping has been nothing short of a home run for Fox.

Ortiz and Rodriguez were once bitter rivals on the field, playing for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, respectively. In studio, however, they form a pairing that makes viewers forget about the logos they used to wear on their caps. Ortiz and Rodriguez frequently exchange barbs, especially during this past season when Boston and New York squared off in the American League Championship Series.

Frank Thomas remains the balancing force in the broadcast, a role which has also been played by legends Keith Hernandez and Pete Rose. No matter the combination, Ortiz and Rodriguez have been a delight to watch.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Kylian Mbappe

It should come as no surprise that two of the planet’s precocious stars somehow managed to cross paths. This past week, Mbappe posted a picture of him and Beckham holding up a Paris Saint-Germain jersey with “OBJ” written on the back.

Beckham and Mbappe both know a thing or two about fame at a young age. Mbappe has taken Europe by storm since his magical 2017-18 season with AC Monaco. He’s won the World Cup with France and joined Pelé as the only teenager in World Cup history to score a goal in the final, doing all this before turning 21 years old.

Beckham meanwhile is no stranger to immediate success. He took home the 2014 NFL Rookie of the Year award, and his one-handed catch at the age of 22 turned him into an instant star.

Beckham also rubbed shoulders with PSG stars Dani Alves and Edinson Cavani while in Paris. He’s also visited with Bayern Munich in years past, showcasing soccer skills that nearly made him a member of the U.S. national team. It’s no wonder Beckham and Mbappe hit it off.

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