Why Do They Call It a Rubber Match?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Apr 4, 2020 12:53:25 AM ET

The sporting term "rubber match" refers to the final and deciding game in any series and traces its origins back to the 16th century English game of lawn bowling. Somewhat similar to bocce ball, the object of lawn bowling is to roll wooden balls across a flat field toward a smaller white ball so they stop as close as possible to the smaller ball without hitting it. Most experts agree that the term refers either to two balls rubbing together, a game-losing mistake or to the final game's potential to "rub out" or erase the losing team.

Although the term would seem to be related to the elastic material rubber (a common component in sports balls), this is not the case, as rubber was unknown in medieval England. At the time, "rubber" was used to refer to something that cleaned a surface, like an eraser. Most sources date the use of the term "rubber" to refer to a tie-breaker as far back as 1599, and the term had migrated to card games by the 18th century. Referring to a tie-breaking game as a "rubber match" is common in a variety of sports and games from bridge to baseball. A three-game set in bridge is still commonly referred to as a rubber.