Fierce Football Rivalries
Football is big in the South, but nothing compares to the in-state rivalries that can make grown men cry.
At the state auto tag station, there were three lines: Alabama, Auburn and Other. When I arrived at the window of “Other,” I inquired about the station names. The answer: “Well, we figured if you weren’t for Alabama or Auburn, you must be from out-of-state.” For the record, I say “Go Heels.” (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – a basketball school.)
I should have entered the Alabama line, since I had a daddy who attempted to call in plays to Bear Bryant during bowl games and an ex-husband who cried when Alabama lost, fortunately, not a frequent occurrence. And, I have been known to, in airports where men were vehemently discussing college football, to interject, in passing, an “all I gotta say is Roll Tide.”
Full disclosure, I do live in Alabama. I generally shop during the Iron Bowl, a time when you can roll a bowling ball down the aisles between me and the soccer fans. A couple of years ago, I fell and broke my arm during the captivating game. I could barely find an ambulance to pick me up, much less induce a friend to answer a phone call. I have been banned from a friend’s Alabama game day party because I mistook it as a social event rather than a gathering of Bama monks. Last year, I watched the Alabama/Auburn game with two War Eagles. When the Tide rolled to victory, Cindy Peavy, a Birmingham schoolteacher turned to me and said, “You have no idea how bad my day will be tomorrow.”
Auburn’s coach Gus Malzahn has earned the respect of sports writers as only one of three coaches in America to have beaten Nick Saban at Alabama. And he has prevailed twice.
THE IRON BOWL
The Iron Bowl name comes from the upstart post Civil War city, Birmingham, where Legion Field once hosted a 50/50 game – Auburn and Alabama. Many mourn the days when the opposing forces were equal, making for an exciting game in the city that teethed on steel. Alabama and Auburn have swapped national titles a couple of times and are ranked as the top rivalries in the nation. Nick Saban, with five national titles in hand, channels his inner Paul “Bear” Bryant to a new generation of football fans. At Christmas time, houses celebrate the two great religions – with a Santa, nativity scene and giant red “A.”
The Crimson Tide moniker dates back to 1906 in a muddy challenge against Auburn, the favorite in the game. What had been called a “thin red line” morphed into a Crimson Tide by a sports writer describing the unexpected win. The hate was so great, they would not play each other again until 1948 – and only on neutral ground – in Birmingham.
THE EGG BOWL
The SEC provides formidable competition in Mississippi. The Egg Bowl dates back to 1901, when Mississippi State (the Aggies back then) defeated the University of Mississippi, more commonly called Ole Miss in football families. The game was delayed by 40 minutes as officials resolved for whom Norvin E. (Billy) Green really played. He had flipped his allegiance from Ole Miss to Mississippi State.
The MSU Aggies dominated until 1926, when Ole Miss pulled out a victory and celebrated by attempting to destroy the Aggie goalposts. The Aggies defended their territory with cane chairs, sacrificing the seats. To avoid future discontent, the Golden Egg Trophy was created to define the victor. The early footballs were more ovoid in shape and resembled the eggs valued by the Aggies, and all breakfast fans. A sports writer in Jackson dubbed it the Egg Bowl, which has been dominated by Ole Miss since the coming of Johnny Vaught in 1947.
Mississippi State, now known as the Bulldogs, challenges Ole Miss and also the Crimson Tide in what is called the 90-mile drive. In 2007, they defeated the mighty Tide, but lost in a hair-raising finish in 2017.
THE VOLUNTEER STATE RIVALRY
My brother deserted Alabama and UNC by attending Vanderbilt and has evaded donating to the college fund by saying he was waiting for a winning football team. The Commodores have saved him a lot of money. He did have to cough up during the Coach James Franklin days of 2012 and 2013 when bowl games were actually won.
“Go Vols. Poor Vanderbilt, bless their hearts. It’s a good thing they have great academics,” said Peggy Bonfield, a Tennessee fan.
It is the rest of the SEC’s pastime to detest the University of Tennessee ― Vandy’s rival. For one thing, orange does not look good on just anybody. But it was picked, quite literally, from the American Daisy that grew in abundance on The Hill in Knoxville.
The Volunteers have an annoying habit of winning, especially in their own stadium, sufficient to strike fear in the hearts of opponents. In a sea of orange, Neyland Stadium claims the highest win rate: 464 victories in the nation’s fifth largest football stadium. Tennessee claims six championships although only two are recognized by sports writer polls. Playing since 1891, they rank fourth in all-time bowl game wins behind Alabama, a California team, and Georgia. They used to battle with Kentucky over a Beer Bottle Trophy from 1925-1999, a rivalry many would consider worth renewing.
PEACH STATE RIVALRY
To the east there’s Georgia Tech and the ACC – the Atlantic Coast Conference, which some consider inferior to the SEC. The University of Georgia (UGA) clings to the SEC and claims its rivalry with Auburn as the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Georgia’s disdain for Tech is called “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate,” an in-state rivalry dating back to 1893. Tech is 100 years younger than UGA, which was founded in 1785 and claims to be the oldest university in America.
“How ‘bout them Dawgs?” is a popular refrain at games and as well as the day after a big win. Georgia’s mascot is named Uga, which started when Savannah attorney and UGA alumnus Frank “Sonny” Seiler brought a white English bulldog to a game in 1956. A long line of Ugas have served, including one sub brought in for an away game after the mascot jumped off of a hotel bed, injuring himself. Uga’s statue has been stolen by Tech students, who have hoisted a variety of novelty items onto poles, such as an entire Volkswagon Beatle.
UGA coach Kirby Smart lost the national championship in 2017 to Alabama, but the Georgia Bulldogs have won 66-41 in games against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In retort, Tech can claim four national championships over four decades. Coach Paul Johnson leads in the ACC, which garners little regard.
“He plays a bunch of basketball schools,” sniffed Tom Moore, a Georgia fan.
In the South, beware when planning any competing event come fall, like a wedding. Grooms have been known to sneak away from their own wedding receptions to catch the scores. In Mobile, they say there are three seasons: Mardi Gras, hurricane and football. It’s our grand tradition to celebrate the sport with barbecues, tailgating, cheering, teasing and friends.