Can we stop? Seriously. You've all lost your composure.
"WELL PAWWWWLLLLLLLLLL, I THINK AUBURN FANS NEED TO STOP CALLIN IN AND TALKIN BOUT THE TIDE AN WORRY BOUT THEY OWN TEAM."
The Iron Bowl is the greatest rivalry in sports. To the chagrin of many, it's better than Red Sox/Yankees. This is it. It is such because we live with each other and we eagerly await one game each year. And I need not waste space with Rick Bragg cliches, but I will, because Rick Bragg cliches are hilarious.
"Here in the South, we take football as seriously as we take our religion, our women and our food. Whether we're buttering up a piece of cornbread hot out of the skillet or buttering up our neighbor after a good old-fashioned bickering we had on Saturday, we're always buttering stuff. Sometimes, we just pour butter on ourselves for the shine. Heck, down here, the thing that keeps us apart is what brings us together. We ain't got much in these parts, but our football is where we hang our hats; where we come to roost and rule it. We may not see eye to eye sometimes, but we shake a man's hand and look him in the eye after a good Saturday battle. He may call us some names that ain't Christian from his back porch swing, but we'll have the little lady bake him a pie and leave it by his screen door before he's woken on Sunday. Then bygones can be bygones, and we can leave our front doors unlocked and work hard plowing twelve hours a day, because that's what we do in the South. We work hard. Horseapples." [this Rick Bragg monologue is best read if you can internalize it read in the impersonation by @RickMuscles]
I'm a Barner. My old man was a Barner. He turned my mom into a Barner. And, welp, here we are. For most of a decade, I've had some sort of affiliation with Birmingham media. It's some juxtaposition, because I've seen it from both sides. Auburn graduates are not plentiful in Birmingham media, as Tuscaloosa is much closer and has a more renowned journalism school. So the opportunity to see how that works on both sides is interesting and unique.
Because of this and because of social media, I have become very good friends with many great Alabama fans. Here are some things I've learned:
- As noted by Peggy Tuesday, Alabama fans are irrational and impossible to argue with. That one will undoubtedly take something out of context in this blog post and rant about it for six paragraphs in the comments section will prove this point. To that guy, you're right. Whatever you are arguing about is right. Just leave me to my word jumbles and black coffee.
- Auburn fans are paranoid.
- Alabama fans feel entitled.
- Auburn fans feel slighted.
And here we are. What we fail to recognize is that while Alabama has the seventh-largest amount of wins in college football history, Auburn has the twelfth. The nearest in-state combination to that is Texas at No. 2 and Texas A&M at No. 18. So, yeah, Alabama fans, you're slighting Auburn. The reason this rivalry is so intense is because most of the time, this game has national implications. And even Saturday, it will. Those implications won't be two-sided, but however slight, Saturday's game will factor into the national championship.
As a result? Alabama fans are going to talk about Auburn. Auburn fans are going to talk about Alabama. That's how a real rivalry works. So get over yourselves.
On Saturday, when Alabama beats Auburn's eyes shut, drags the Tigers into the wilderness, sets them on fire and leaves them to die, Tide fans will celebrate it like they celebrated last Saturday. Because beating your rival by 12 touchdowns is super fun.
Last Saturday, I was watching the most epic collapse of the college football world in recent history with my pal @RBRTodd, the incredibly famous writer from our friends (yes, I said friends) at Roll 'Bama Roll. And we went real talk, gang. And I think the 30 seconds of real talk we shared pretty much sums up everything you need to know about why we all do the things we do in autumn.
"Real talk, Toddster, after seeing what happened tonight, surely you realize why everyone in America that is not an Alabama fan hates Alabama, right?" I inquired.
"Yes. Real talk: do you see why we don't care?" he replied.
And that's that. We're both right. But people HATE allowing other people to be right. Most of the stereotypes about both sides of this rivalry, while exaggerated and blown out of proportion, are based in fact. We all talk about each other, and we do so because we care. We care because we have a cousin that roots for the other team that really grinds our gears. We care because every now and then, we may date or (gasp!) marry someone that went to the other school. We care because that's what makes it fun. When apathy sets in, as it has in Auburn this year, we stop caring. We stop going to the games. And that's not fun.
At one point this season, in TAKES, I was piled on because I described Alabama football as boring. That cycled into a grand: "Y'all talk about us, nuh uh, y'all talk about us" cycle. But somewhere in the pointless argument, an Alabama fan made mention of why Alabama fans talk about Auburn's poor effort this season. Paraphrased, it was something like:
"Honestly? I think most Alabama fans want to see Auburn do well enough to make this competitive. To make this interesting. Because that's when this rivalry is fun."
And it's that moderate truth which makes this rivalry unique. We want to see each other lose enough, but not all the time. That's why there's a sudden interest in the other team's coaching hires. But we'll not admit that. I'm going to sit across the table on Thursday and share some killer mac and cheese with people I've known all of my 30 years that can't agree with where I chose to attend college. But somehow, we'll do it with civility. "Funning around" and "taking things personally" are lines often blurred here. The latter group needs to remember this is just a game.
(Note: That said, the trees are off-limits. That's when childish banter and silly arguments became more than "just a game." Everything else is open season. But you're going to make me mad if you talk about the trees. Not even in a sympathetic manner. I feel you. I understand what you're trying to do. And I love you. But let's just not broach that topic.)
I've seen storms brew on Twitter this week, and I'm sure they'll become more violent. But y'all play nice. Because when this thing is over, we're going to be filling our gas at the same station, buying our beers at the same bars and getting our McRibs at the same McDonald's. It's just football. And congratulations, The Tide fans, on your forthcoming victory and subsequent 60th national championship of the world. You earned it.*
*Backed into, again. Whatever.