Traditional rivalry tarnished

A memo to Avis Car Rental: <br><br>Yes, I will be renting from your fine, esteemed company next October 26, with intentions of driving from Birmingham to Knoxville, Tennessee, for the annual Alabama-Tennessee football game, one of the best rivalries in the South.

I have always enjoyed renting from Avis, and have never had problems with your company. But I must warn you -- I have conditions for this particular trip.

Should I receive a crimson, or red, or maroon-colored car, there is no way, no chance I will accept it.

In fact, I'd rather walk to Knoxville in the pouring rain than drive in a crimson-colored car.

My reasons for refusal don't concern school allegiances for Alabama, Tennessee, or any school that wears crimson or orange. I'm a journalist. I'm neutral, as I should be.

My reasons are simple -- reasons you'll agree with.

If you rent me a crimson-colored car, there are no guarantees I'll return it undamaged late Sunday afternoon.

In fact, there are no guarantees I'll be able to return it at all.

Forever labeled now with the unflattering nickname "Fatlock" for his inexplicable turn as private investigator of the Tide program, Volunteer head coach Phil Fulmer has badly poisoned the atmosphere between the two storied programs. (AllSport)

Don't blame me, good employees of Avis. Blame what has become bar none the nastiest, most hate-filled rivalry in college football.

Recent developments involving Montgomery attorney Thomas Gallion and allegations he has made against Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer have convinced me of such.

Gallion -- who is representing former Alabama assistants Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams in a wide-ranging suit against the NCAA, NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier and Alabama compliance officers Gene Marsh and Marie Robbins, among others -- dropped a major bombshell last week.

He released NCAA affidavits that allege Fulmer acted as a secret witness against the Alabama football program in the investigation, funneling the NCAA information on what he believed were illegal activities by Mike DuBose's coaching staff.

Cottrell and Williams were both DuBose assistants.

The probation that resulted from the investigation -- which began in 2000 and resulted in serious penalties against Alabama, including a two-year bowl ban, five years of probation and 21 lost scholarships over three years -- has turned an already-strained relationship between Alabama and Tennessee into full-out hate.

Auburn might still be the Tide's best traditional rival, but the orange-and-white Volunteers are surely Alabama's fiercest.

Quite frankly, it is getting scary.

I've been to Knoxville, with its orange and white coloring virtually every corner in town.

Lovely place -- unless, I suppose, if you're an Alabama fan.

If the wrath of the NCAA somehow gets pointed towards Tennessee, Alabama fans could feel the aftershocks in the third (or fourth) Saturday of October.

This rivalry has gotten so nasty that it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see it carry beyond the field and into the stands -- and onto Peyton Manning Boulevard and Knoxville's barrooms -- after the game clock hits triple-zero. This is no indictment of Alabama fans or Tennessee fans.

It is simply me putting what I know about human nature into play. Throw 100,000 fans, passion for college football and alcohol into the mix together and chaos is bound to result.

Especially next October in Knoxville.

Tensions between the schools -- and their fans -- are at a boiling point that hasn't been seen in years, if ever.

And I fully expect it to boil over this fall, when Tennessee fans welcome their crimson brethren to town. Just imagine how ugly it could get, particularly if ESPN picks the game for an evening telecast.

The only thing that can save Knoxville from boiling over into a frothy, crimson-and-orange cauldron is the fans themselves.

If Alabama and Tennessee fans realize that this rivalry is just a football game, not a matter of life-or-death, then the greatest college football rivalry in the South can be saved from becoming a messy shell of what it once was. is pleased to feature regular columns from Greg Wallace, one of the most talented writers on the Bama beat.

An avid sports fan whose job "just happens" to give him a seat in the front-row, Wallace is entering his third year writing for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of Iowa, where he was a journalism and history major.

You can contact Greg at:, and read his work daily at

Perhaps if rival fans act with maturity and realize it isn't worth it to get thrown in jail just because the thing you were punching was wearing orange or crimson, the relationship between Alabama and Tennessee can return to what was once the classiest rivalry in the South.

Of course, when actions like what Fulmer is alleged to have done take place, that's tough to do.

We in the media can talk until we're blue in the face and type until we get carpal tunnel syndrome, but nothing will change until the culture of negativity reverses itself.

Do I see that happening anytime soon?

Well, let's put it this way:

I just got a great deal on bulletproof vests and an armor-plated tape recorder.

First come, first served.

See you in Knoxville -- I'll bring the riot gear.

BamaMag Top Stories