The goings on at EDSBS today have really got me thinking. College Football is a very big love of mine as has been stated here over and over again. The rivalries are a very large part of that experience. Beating Tennessee, LSU, or Auburn are big deals. They are not earth-shattering events mind you, but a win puts a little pep into my step and a loss makes it a hard to smile, but only for a while in either event. It is also fun to tell silly jokes about your rivals, but it appears to me that some take it too far. I can include myself in that category because I am passionate and I love to argue. It is not hard to carry it too far, which is something that happens far to often it seems, especially on threads of college football blogs.

I don’t hate any person because they pull for a team that opposes the team I root for. Hate is a strong word and it gets thrown around far too much. I want your team to lose when it plays mine but that does not mean that I believe you are a loser or winner either way. How you behave makes that definition. I try, and often fail, to follow the guidelines of “win with class and lose with pride.”

What goes on a lot between fans of Alabama and Auburn is especially disturbing to me. Auburn is often referred to by Alabama fans as “little brother.” I am sure that this moniker is just as insulting to them as “bammer” or “UAT” is to me and my ilk. Not name calling here but it seems to me like that little brother is an accurate description because in my observation there is always a need, most especially in success, to compare itself with Alabama. “You were on top once but never will be again- you worship a coach that was a drunk and has been dead over twenty years- all your national championships don’t even count – and you live in the past” are all ways of saying that Auburn is better than Alabama. I don’t believe that the rest of the college football loving world looks at Auburn’s recent success and says those things about Alabama. Granted, there are a portion of Alabama fans that don’t help matters but they are, form my observation, not the portion of the fan base that I generally come into contact with (which is a large part of the reason I refuse to listen to sports radio). There never seems to be a reckoning with their own past. While I am sure that there is, every time it comes to my attention it seems to be about how bad Alabama is.

Here is an admission: I was once a student at Auburn. I also actually enjoyed my time there and left with good memories of the place. See, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I finished high school. I enrolled there, moved into a place, and actually went to all the home football games in the fall of 1991. I went so far as to pull for Auburn while I was at them.  I wasn’t ready however, for college life. I left after a quarter and moved out west to work for a couple of years and thus ended my time as an Auburn student.

When I returned home to Tuscaloosa, I had every intention of returning to Auburn and finishing a degree but one thing led to another and I stayed in T-town to finish my education. While I grew up an Alabama fan it wasn’t hard for me to pull for both schools for a period of time. In fact it was kind of confusing for a while; I cheered when Auburn shocked Florida in the Swamp in ’94 and had a great night when Alabama came from behind and beat Georgia that same year. Things really started changing in ’95 when I enrolled full-time at Alabama and went to every home game though I admit that the Iron Bowl was hard that year because I still didn’t know who to pull for. I watched it at a party and just kind of sat in the corner taking it all in without emotion. It wasn’t right. I felt that Alabama had always had my allegiance but at the same time I would be untrue to the campus and people that had taken me in as a baby-faced freshman.

The final straw came in ’97 when I made my first trip back to the Plains since my days as a student. My future wife and I and some other friends were at the Iron Bowl and Alabama was leading a game the experts said they had no chance to win. It had been a long, hard year after Coach Stallings left and Alabama had been in Atlanta to represent the West in the Championship game. I had gotten caught back up with Alabama and being in Auburn as they were doing the improbable had me thrilled. At halftime I went to the concession line and as I was standing there these two Auburn fans were standing behind me and talking about “kicking some of these Alabama fan’s ass if they didn’t stop being so disrespectful.” I was taken aback. We were just cheering our team, we wern’t insulting your mother.

It was at that point that  I really started noticing the resentment and vitriol that came from a segement of the fan base. The bitterness had gotten to me.

Now, I can’t claim to be innocent in all of this. In the waning moments of the ’04 game I did start a “13-0 and no where to go” chant and told an Auburn fan leaving the game to have fun in New Orleans and thereby taunted him about the fact that Auburn was going to the Sugar Bowl instead of the National Championship game. His reply: “have fun in Shreveport asshole.” Touche sir, touche. But that incident excluded I have always tried to handel myself with class, win or lose and I have to admit that it is a little harder with Auburn though.

It shouldn’t be. One of my two very best friends in this world is an Auburn grad and fan, as are several people that I am proud to call friends. But you see, when I was on the other side of it, as a student there in Auburn, the teasing from my friends back here was minimal. I didn’t feel the need to justify Auburn to them. It was (and is) a good school. In my flawed observations most of the ill-will flows east to west in this state. I really believe that is because while Bryant was coach Auburn very rarely mattered. Not in the overall picture any way. Everyone believed Alabama was going to beat them and they usually did. That type of domination doesn’t sit well  with the little brother.
So now we have come to this modern age. Alabama has struggled. Auburn has become, to a point, what their fans want them to be. They have had several good seasons, they have won several big games, they have had generally good talent and dare-I-say great coaching. Most importantly I think if you polled them they would say they have done what has not been done at any other time by them and only once by another team, beaten Alabama six times in a row (I know Suwanee  did it but that was so long ago I don’t think it counts). Not only did they beat Alabama but they were favored in everyone of those wins except the first. They have been the better team. Times are definitley different. Little brother has grown up.

The funny thing is though that no one (at least not many) Alabama fans have given up and cashed in. There is still a belief that we can pull up out of this mediocrity and there is good reason to believe that; top notch facilities, a proven coach, excellent recruiting, and a fan base that still cares and lends both its cheers and (maybe more importantly) its money (for legal fundraising and capital improvements – not buying players). I personally don’t think that any team will be able to dominate again in the way that Alabama did in the 70’s but by looking at USC, Oklahoma, and LSU it is obvious that once mighty teams can rise again. I also don’t believe that we are crazy to think that. Obviously Auburn would like for us not to rise again. I think it has to do with the fact that the two teams have never been dominant at the same time. I haven’t checked facts on this but I am pretty sure that they have never met while both were undefeated. Maybe it is fear that our success would mean their failure but I don’t really understand that. I can imagine nothing better for the respective schools, the state, or college football in general if the two teams met in late November undefeated.

I guess my question really is this: Can’t we just all get along?