Tigers Vs. Tide and Meet The Freshmen

Phillip Marshall writes about the start of the 2003 season and the tradition of the Auburn vs. Alabama rivalry.

It's been a popular refrain in some places this offseason. Auburn, the thinking goes, might be good. It might be better than Alabama for a short time. But Auburn will not dominate Alabama over the long term. The truth is either Auburn or Alabama might be very good at any given time. Either Auburn or Alabama might dominate the other for a little while. But unless another Bear Bryant shows up, neither is going to dominate over a long period of time.

That is a lesson of history.

Bryant, for sure, dominated football in this state like no one ever has. He beat Auburn 19 times in 25 tries. A lot of those games were blowouts. He had winning streaks of four, five and nine games in the series. His teams won six national championships. As bad as it was for Auburn, only Tennessee among SEC schools beat Bryant more than the Tigers did. But outside of the Bryant years, the Auburn-Alabama series has been one of the nation's more hotly contested rivalries. Both teams have had their winning streaks. Both have had times when it seemed they were poised to take over. Neither has been able to do it.

Tommy Tuberville, shown speaking to an Auburn club this year in Pensacola, Fla., is looking for two straight vs. the Tide in his role as Tiger coach.

Auburn won five straight from 1954-58 and four straight from 1986-89. Alabama won four straight from 1950-53 and three straight from 1990-92. Since then, neither team has won more than two straight. Since the series was renewed in 1948, Alabama holds a 34-21 edge. But if you take out the Bryant years, it's 15-15, a dead heat. Since Auburn broke through in 1982, ending Alabama's and Bryant's nine-year winning streak, Auburn leads the series 11-10.

You can't take out the Bryant years, of course. What Bryant did was truly remarkable. But the point is that dominance is something Bryant and his players accomplished. It is not a sign of some inherent superiority in Alabama's football program. I agree with my colleagues who write that history says Auburn will not dominate the series over a long period of time. But history also says Alabama will not dominate the series over a long period of time. And that's the way it's supposed to be. That's why the rivalry is so special. It is a unique thing for a state as small and as poor as Alabama to have two football programs as historically strong as the Tigers and the Tide.

Wide-eyed freshmen reported to both campuses, and to other campuses across the country Monday. Ready or not, football season will be here three weeks from Saturday. They arrived full of hope and excitement. For some, the college football experience will be everything they dreamed it would be. Some of the young men who met the media at the Auburn Football Complex on Monday will become stars. Some will be role players. And some will be long gone, their dreams shattered by reality.

Most of the young men who make up Tommy Tuberville's fifth Auburn signing class are impressive physically. To a man, they were well-spoken and polite Monday. Some were nervous and some weren't. Some spoke of being eager for early success and some were prepared to be redshirted. All were starting a grand adventure.

Wednesday, the entire Auburn football team will go to work on preparation for its season of promise. No one knows if the Tigers will live up to lofty expectations, but there can be little doubt the plan Tuberville put into place when he arrived in November 1998 is on schedule. Auburn is talented enough to win a championship. Auburn has the right kind of people to win a championship. Auburn has the maturity to win a championship. We will find out on the Saturday afternoons of autumn if those things are enough.

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