Is Alabama-Auburn Really A Rivalry?

Everywhere we turn we are reminded that this is Rivalry Week (unless it was last week, which was the case for some). The Alabama-Auburn game is one of those rivalries, one that has often been selected for television, including this year by CBS. But is it really a great rivalry?



Two things may have colored my perspective of Alabama's annual season-ending game against Auburn. One of those factors was suggested by Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom after his Bulldogs beat a highly-favored Auburn team. "Beating Auburn is no big deal," Croom said. "I've done it lots of times." And he had, as a player and assistant coach at Alabama.

In the nine years I worked in Alabama's athletics department, the Crimson Tide won that game seven times. As is the case under current Bama Coach Nick Saban, there was never a chance that the Auburn game would be taken for granted under Paul Bryant. That was true for every game. But I never had the feeling Coach Bryant had any doubts about the result.

The big games were those that influenced or determined championships. In 1971, Alabama (10-0) and Auburn (9-0) met in one of those games. Alabama won 31-7, even though Auburn had the Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Pat Sullivan.

(The reason Bama had one more game in 1971 is that Auburn did not think much of a rule passed in 1970 that allowed college football teams to schedule an 11th regular season game. While Alabama was adding to its national reputation—and bank account--in games against Southern Cal in 1970 and 1971, Auburn was sitting home.)

I have to admit another thing that makes me think this is not a great rivalry is because Auburn has won six in a row. I'm in denial.

Actually, I think this is a big rivalry game—for Auburn. Auburn seems to measure itself by how it does against Alabama. Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville's great success against Alabama is the reason he has a magnificent contract. In 10 years he has won one Southeastern Conference championship, which is about what the law of averages would have anyone winning as long as Vanderbilt and Kentucky are in the league.

Recent failings notwithstanding, Alabama measures itself against the nation. That has made the Crimson Tide a national team. When Alabama is undefeated, there is a good chance Bama will be ranked number one, as is the case today. Even if many don't believe Alabama is the best team in the nation, they are voting for the Crimson Tide. It fits. When Auburn was undefeated a few years ago, it was almost an afterthought. "If we had a playoff, Auburn should probably be in it." Instead, Auburn was left out.

Harvard and Yale played for the 125th time Saturday. That's a rivalry. Alabama and Auburn didn't even play between 1906 and 1948. Today Alabama has a 38-33-1 lead in the series, and that's with Auburn having won six in a row and also having built a three-game bulge in those classic games between 1892 and 1906. It's a total of only 72 games.

Number 73 will be Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama, 11-0 overall and 7-0 in the SEC and ranked number one in the nation, will host Auburn, 5-6 overall, 2-5 in SEC games) at 2:30 p.m. CST with CBS televising the game.

Regardless of how I rate it, I concede Alabama-Auburn is considered a rivalry game. Alabama-Auburn as a rivalry, however, is based primarily on geography, the simple fact that both are in the same state, covered by the same newspapers and television stations. Children in kindergarten wear Alabama and Auburn sweatshirts into the sandbox. Alabama fans and Auburn fans work together. Alabama vs. Auburn is a state championship game.

More than a rivalry, though, it's the next game in the Crimson Tide's march to a possible national championship, and I consider that more important than, say, playing for a Wooden Bucket or the Egg Trophy. Now those are rivalries.

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