Another Aspect of Tigers Vs. Bulldogs Rivalry

Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn vs. Georgia football rivalry.

Auburn beat Georgia last week, and even the losing team had a good time. A lot of the athletes weren't in the best of shape. Some had gray hair. Some didn't have any hair at all. Some were more than a few pounds over their ideal playing weight. It didn't matter.

The event was the 12th annual golf tournament between members of the Auburn Football Letterman's Club and the Georgia Football Letterman's Club. It's another sign of why the Auburn-Georgia rivalry is something special. The Tigers and the Bulldogs have the longest continuous series in the South. Unlike some other rivalries, this one is truly like brother playing against brother. The lettermen's golf tournament started in 1992 to commemorate the 100th year of the football rivalry.

"We had the idea and went up to Athens and sat down with some guys up there," says Rusty Deen, the executive secretary of the AFLC. "They liked it and we came away with a golf tournament scheduled. We've been doing it ever since." It started off on a home-and-home basis, but in recent years it has alternated between Columbus and Noonan.

Deen, an All-SEC defensive end who played at Auburn from 1972-74, grew up in Gainesville, Ga. He is one of hundreds who have made the decision to cross state lines and play for the Tigers over the years. The Auburn-Georgia connection goes deeper than players. Vince Dooley, now the Georgia athletic director, played and coached at Auburn before becoming Georgia's most legendary head coach. Pat Dye was an All-American at Georgia and won four SEC championships as head coach at Auburn. Shug Jordan was a Georgia assistant when he was hired as Auburn head coach. The list goes on and on.

"The two schools just have so much in common," Deen says. "As soon as we played the first tournament, we found out the players had a lot in common and got along. We played it again. It's fierce competition, but it's shake your hand and go on about your business when it is over. There are a lot of competitive guys out there, and everybody still wants to win. But nobody is going to sling mud or anything like that."

In many ways, it's that way on the field when Auburn plays Georgia. Few games are more intense, but there is respect that is missing in many other rivalries. "There was never any animosity on the field when I played," Deen says. "It was a hard-fought game, as hard-fought as any. Tempers flared sometimes, but no words were ever spoken like they are in some other games. It was just a huge game, especially for those of us from Georgia. The Georgia and Georgia Tech games meant just as much to me as Alabama did."

Deen, owner of First Team Construction in Auburn, has devoted much of his life to Auburn football. He was the resident counselor at Sewell Hall for most of Dye's years as head coach. After that he was in charge of athletic facilities. He was one of the driving forces behind the Lovelace Museum and Hall of Honor.

The AFLC was formed in 1981. Before that, there was no separate lettermen's organization for football. "Several of us had been talking about it for many years," Deen says. "When I got back to Auburn, it was natural for me to pursue it. Coach Dye was all for it."

The AFLC is involved in numerous charities, most significantly its scholarship fund. Others, including Georgia, have used it as a model. "When we started ours, Coach Dooley, being an Auburn alumnus, got all our publications," Deen says. "He wanted them to do it, too. They named theirs the Georgia Football Lettermen's Club."

The AFLC sponsors the Celebrity Classic golf tournament every fall to raise money for charity. The showdown with the GFLC is just for fun. "There is some talk about trying to do something as an invitational thing to make some money out of it, but right now it's just a fun thing," Deen says. "If you are a member, you can play."

The football series between Auburn and Georgia is remarkably close. After 106 meetings, Auburn leads 51-47. There have been eight ties. The lettermen's golf series? Auburn leads 7-5.

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