Tide Vs. Vols Still Important Rivalry

Rivalry? What rivalry? Alabama vs. Tennessee. Third Saturday in October. Once upon a time it ranked among the nation's top college football rivalries. So what happened? Alabama players and coaches insist it's still big. Statistically it's still the most meaningful game in the SEC. But somehow it doesn't seem the same.

It is not because Alabama has won four consecutive games against Tennessee. There have been winning streaks longer than that by the Crimson Tide and the Vols over the years, and that didn't diminish the importance of the game.

It lost a little luster when the braintrust at the Southeastern Conference couldn't – or wouldn't – figure out a way to keep the South's greatest college football rivalry on its traditional date, the third Saturday in October. Books had been written with that theme. Everyone who followed college football knew the implication.

Phil Fulmer's perjury against Alabama with the NCAA, and the collusion of former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, who moved to the Knoxville area after his retirement, probably did more than anything to poison the fertile field of competition that had been nurtured by the likes of Paul Bryant and Gen. Robert Neyland and hundreds of outstanding players in Crimson and Orange.

Nevertheless, all time in SEC play, it is still Alabama and Tennessee at the top.

That's true in SEC championships (Alabama 22, Tennessee 13), all-time SEC standings, all-time victories and winning percentage in all games, bowl appearances, bowl victories, and undefeated and untied regular seasons. In every category it is Alabama first, Tennessee second.

When the NCAA issued four paintings to illustrate the first 100 years of college football history, one of them was Alabama's Dixie Howell passing to Don Hutson (with Bryant the player in the background) against Tennessee.

On Saturday – the fourth Saturday in October, thank you SEC – the Crimson Tide will host the Volunteers in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff will be at 6:21 p.m. CDT – thank you ESPN2. Alabama is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in SEC games and ranked second in the nation. Tennessee is 3-3 overall, 0-3 in the conference.

Bama and UT will be meeting for the 93rd time, the first game between the two played in 1901. Alabama has a 47-38-7 lead in the series.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he considers the game an important traditional rivalry. "It's important to a lot of people around here," he said. "Rivalry games are always games you have to be ready for."

He recalled that Alabama had to block two field goals, both by Terrence Cody and both in the fourth quarter, including the final play of the game, for the Tide to escape in 2009 en route to the national championship.

Saban said, "Derek (Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley), has done a very good job with this team. Yes, they have had some misfortune this year in terms of personnel. But they're really doing a good job with the players that they have in every phase of the game.

"We have a lot of respect for this team and what they can do. We certainly need to take care of our business so we can take care of business."

Saban was asked about the possibility of SEC expansion ending rivalries such as Alabama-Tennessee. He said, "I don't really know much about that stuff. Whatever the league decides to do I'm very hopeful that all the traditions and rivalries, and I've said this before, are something we can hold dear. Those are the things that are important to fans. They're important to programs on both sides, and I think games that players look forward to. I would certainly not be in favor of something that did not allow us to continue to have those kinds of rivalry games in the future."

Alabama players are conscious of the rivalry.

Chance Warmack, who came to Alabama from Atlanta, said, "You come in as a freshman and they're already telling you about the rivalry. So you pretty much already know what you have to do to get ready for Tennessee as a team. It's been like this for a long time. I'm looking forward to the match-up."

Nico Johnson is an Alabamian. He said the out-of-state players understand the rivalry "very well. Not to mention it's the next game and we want to keep our season going like it's going. But we understand it's Tennessee week and we're going to work hard and try to do our best this week."

He added, "Coach (Saban) pointed out after the game on Saturday that the way the game ended in '09, we weren't ready. We had a good week of preparation, but we weren't mentally intense, flying around, having fun. I think this week mentally we'll have every aspect of that."

Josh Chapman said the game is a "great rivalry" that means much not only to the fans of both schools, but to the men who played in previous games. "I love playing in this game," he said. "You're not just playing for yourself or your team. You're playing for all the guys who have been at this university and in this program and for the state.

"It's bragging rights. It means a lot."

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower is from Tennessee, from Lewisburg. He said the last few years the game has come down to a big play. "It's a big time rivalry," he said. "Those guys are going to come out with a lot of juice, so we've got to go out and execute our game plan."

He said that those in his town seem to include a lot of Florida fans as well as Tennessee supporters. "So I kind of get it throughout the year," he said. "They tell me, ‘I root for you, but whenever you're playing Florida or Tennessee," then they are going to have to switch sides on me.

"This is a real big rivalry, maybe even bigger than the Iron Bowl. A lot of people don't ask, ‘What was your record in the Iron Bowl?' They always ask, ‘What's your record against Tennessee?' So this rivalry is a real big rivalry and definitely one of my favorites going back and playing against my home state. Hopefully, we'll come out this week, play well and get a ‘W'."

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