This Saturday, October 20, the third Saturday in October, has been circled on the calendar for a long time. Actually it has been circled on most of the calendars that I own for a long time. This game is special. It always has been, at least to me, and that is because on that date The University of Alabama Crimson Tide meet the University of Tennessee Volunteers in one of the grandest of southern traditions.

It is Tradition. It is Rivalry. It is the epitome of College Football. And I cannot get enough of it.

This is the game I think of in the off-season when I think of football, and that is quite a lot. It is the game that hurts worse to lose and brings more joy to win. Hearing Rocky Top during defeat is that much more painful or Rammer Jammer after a victory is that much sweeter. Everything builds to that one day and on that day, everything else stops.

Maybe I’m crazy to put such importance on one single game and one single opponent and there are certainly others in Crimson Tide fandom who disagree with me but it is the pinnacle in my book and in a few other’s books as well; Holly, an occasional contributer to EDSBS and of Ladies… fame, and unabashed UT supporter agrees with me and has said so(at least in print) before I did. This game means so much to some that they keep a whole blog devoted to it.

Why all this fuss? See, first of all you have to know a little about history. Auburn, who most people assume, and who certainly has a claim, to be Alabama’s biggest rival has not really come into their own only recently. Sure, they had a few good runs, but the two Alabama schools didn’t even play that contest for 41 years in the early part of last century and after Coach Bryant came on board the series got kind of lopsided for a while. Beating them wasn’t such a big deal. But it’s much more than that because while Auburn is across the state and bragging rights are important, the annual contest with Tennessee typically has had far bigger stakes, like conference or national titles. For the kiddies, Alabama has not always been the model of mediocrity that they have been for the last decade. A quick looks at the stats show that in the SEC, Alabama has been outstanding and our closest competition is the second team there in the conference title and win columns:Tennessee. Sure, recently, and this year especially, this game does not have the national significance that it used to, and all it takes to confirm that is that the “Daves” will be calling this one, but that doesn’t keep it from being a great game.

Other than actual recorded history, there is also my personal history with this game. The first one I went to was in 1995 at Legion Field. I was student at the Capstone at that time and we had not lost to UT in ten years. I was as fired up about a game as I have ever been. Well, in case you don’t remember, we lost that day. Peyton Manning threw for like 6,000 yards, most of which came on the first play.

I was sick. Like the way I am now after watching that again only many times worse and with a beer buzz. The next day, the mother of a friend of mine, who was a Vol fan, sent me a sack of oranges. I don’t even like oranges so as they sat there for a few weeks rotting it was a constant reminder about how sound that defeat was and how much it hurt.

Since that game I have only missed one and that was the next year in Knoxville. There were seven straight years of misery, punctuated with UT students taunting us as my pregnant wife and I left the ’00 game in Knoxville and the one we were leading going into the 4th quarter in ’01 which was and probably will be the only game I will attend with my Mother-In-Law (I mean that in a good way; I really love her. No, seriously, I do) and we sat in agony as Tennessee snatched away the victory. Winning there in ’02 was a highlight of my fan resume’ as was this jewel:

One of the things that has made the rivalry so interesting is the interactions with UT fans. I’m not joking. For the most part we have been treated well by fans in Knoxville (excluding the pregnancy game). The parents of a friend of ours are big Vol fans and they (I should really say her mom) kept it spicy for a while. When our first child was born they sent some white leather baby shoes with a big orange “T” embroidered on them. The attached note said “May his first steps be toward God’s Country.” Needless to say he never wore them. Then one year when we were adding on to the office she went to the Home Depot and had them mix a quart of Tennessee Orange paint, then she had a friend custom make a label with a big “T” on it. The note said, “I thought you might want this for your new office.” We’ve gotten UT cocktail napkins and sundry other UT paraphernalia and then after the ’03, 14 overtime calamity she sends huge blow up posters of her wearing the “Volun-tears” t-shirt I sent her the previous year holding a “before” before sign and another with her decked out in her orange holding an “after” sign. I’ve still got all the stuff. I think it’s great. That, my friends is how a rivalry is done with class. Miss Maxine, you’re the best, even if you are a Vol.

One of the other great things about the game is that you can tell that fall has definitely arrived. The air is usually clear, hopefully with a little chill (maybe not this year- Thanks Al Gore!) but it just seems like football weather. Driving through Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Alabama you can see most of the turning leaves are the same color as the Crimson and orange jerseys and helmets. It is also usually when I declare open season on bourbon after swearing it off in the hot, summer months. It’s just the best thing about the best time of year.

And so it is upon us again. While we throw words around like hate, I don’t know of a single true fan that really hates another person over a football game (Phil Fulmer is a definite exclusion). Sure we loathe the opposition on this day and will be quick with barbs and sarcasm but at the heart of it when civil conversation starts with another fan who loves his university as much as you, deep down, wouldn’t you rather be shaking hands, and complementing running backs or linebackers and campuses with someone who actually knows something about competition and winning? I know I do. I want the UT fans to enjoy our town, campus, stadium, and atmosphere and remember us as classy, gracious hosts. So do your part Alabama. But above all I want all the Vol faithful to leave here remembering one thing:

Roll Tide! Beat the Vawls! We’ll see you on the quad.