It’s not about anything that’s going on outside. It's not about what happened last year. None of that really matters. It’s about this week, this time, this game.
––Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, 11/22/2010
The team that it was believed would give Alabama a tough fight and play the Crimson and White to a standstill, was crushed and battered by a mass of muscle and educated chain lightning.
––The Birmingham News, after Alabama’s 30-0 win in the Iron Bowl, 105 years ago
First, to be clear, I hate Auburn.
Now, that being said, I once endured the company of a Michigan supporter who stated flatly how his school’s rivalry with Ohio State was the greatest rivalry in college football, perhaps in all of athletics. In his imaginings, he offered a rather piquant metaphor of two neighbors, whose guard dogs, anchored in their respective yards, pawed the dirt year-round for a chance to snap off the leash. This was the game. How could any rivalry surpass this?
I said nothing to counter him.
Once, entertaining a lady from Tallahassee, I was told that Florida State’s rivalry with Florida, or was it Miami, was the premier contest in the South. And this rivalry with the Hurricanes, or was it the Gators, determined the future of college football in the state of Florida. And, furthermore, whoever controlled Florida had an inside track to the national championship. And, yes, she would like another martini, or was it a Manhattan?
I covered her tab, but I did not correct her.
From time to time, I will encounter those aged dignitaries among my own tribe who are still unaccepting of any rival for Alabama save Tennessee. Their number grows fewer every year, yet they affirm their position and will not yield. Perhaps they find such temperament romantic, or perhaps they are just hateful bastards and too old to change.
Nonetheless, I salute their fortitude and—honestly—am tempted to agree with them.
Again, to be clear, I hate Auburn. It’s just that, if we’re being completely honest, I resent hating Auburn. Hating Auburn is like having a shitty job, or, again being completely honest, it’s the shitty part of an otherwise great job.
After all, who is Auburn? How many Rose Bowls have they won, or even been to? Where are their national championships? They have won the conference six times. That’s only once more than Georgia Tech and three more than Tulane, who left the SEC over four decades ago. Were they not in the same state as my school—let’s be honest, a football school—what would they aspire to?
But maybe that’s who they are. Maybe they are the “other school” in the state, fielding the “other team.” And maybe after a century of that—even after a decade they, if we’re being completely honest, pretty much owned Alabama football, from the grass growing out of the turf on up—they’re kind of pissed about it.
And maybe, when you’re that pissed, and you see the school that made you the “other school” drop a cool forty mill-plus on a coach who reverses your world order in three short years, well, maybe you get desperate too.
Desperate enough to shitcan your coach and bring in an empty headset who’ll look the other way while the good ol’ boys throw around enough C-notes to wallpaper a church in Newnan, Georgia, because “family takes care of family.”
Desperate enough to say “boys will be boys” when your linemen leg whip, chop block, or spear tackle the opposition.
Desperate enough to lawyer up and take your shot at a Heisman trophy and a national title even if it means they’ll never appear in the record books because your star player spent the better part of his recruiting visits escorting an agent around campus and will be ruled ineligible by the NCAA.
Desperate enough to say that even if that’s true, you’re “all in” because—if we’re being completely honest—the star player is headed to the NFL and the good ol’ boys won’t be around for much longer either.
What I know for certain is that sports make lousy parables. At best, they offer a testament to the individual’s will or the group’s endurance. At worst, they simplify every dilemma to might makes right.
So it is with some uneasiness that I even broach the following territory, but I offer a simple point of comparison. In doing so, I openly discourage any myth-making or object lesson. Let be be the end of seem, as it were.
In one corner stands our quarterback, Greg McElroy, who this Sunday lost his opportunity to become a Rhodes Scholar to a graduate of Harvard and the Naval Academy, respectively. In the other, Cam Newton, a player—if we’re being completely honest—who is superior to our ginger-haired fascist in every observable way.
But this is really about those things that aren’t observable, isn’t it? Otherwise, why would the FBI be involved?
Were I afforded the opportunity, I would answer my Michigan partisan’s question by saying, “put those dogs in the same yard and you have the Iron Bowl.”
I would inform a certain lady from the Panhandle that the road to the national championship goes through Tuscaloosa whether your trip began in Dade, Alachua, or Lee counties.
And I would politely offer to the old guard, who’ve forgotten more about Alabama football than I’ll ever know, that, yes, I hate Auburn and—if we’re being completely honest—it’s a pleasure.