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What It Means to be Part of This Rivalry


Tweet! Flag on the play. Repeated use of the Iron Bowl logo. 5 yard penalty, repeat the thread...

Hope everybody had a good turkey day. I'm back once again with one last chance to wax poetic before the big game, then it's time to snap on the chin strap and get it on. We've had some fun the last few days over at our sister blog, Roll Bama Roll--maybe too much fun, as their moderators had to close down a thread or two and put us all to bed without our dinner. Regardless, that's just a typical Iron Bowl week, especially since the advent of the blogging age. All's fair during rivalry week, and it's only funny until someone gets hurt. Then, as they say, it's hilarious--except if gun play is involved.

Whether you're Barner or Bammer, each program defines itself in large part by the intensity of the rivalry between us. Who among us doesn't take solemn pride in the fact that most people in the know around CFB rank this matchup as the most intense rivalry in the game, if not in all of sports? How did we ever reach such a lofty and envious position, two teams from the heart of Dixie, a place not normally given second thought by the rest of the country? Earlier in the year, I decided I wanted to try and find an empirical answer--something tangible to wrap my hands around, not something simply based on opinion--be it from learned individuals or not.

So, the first comparison I looked at was at the state itself. How did the state of Alabama compare with the rest of the nation when comparing the best two football teams contained within? I chose the best two teams in each state because I wanted small states to have a fair shot with the larger ones. I looked at each tandem's historical standing in CFB, and the results matched what I'd been saying privately for years: the Yellowhammer state had the best one-two punch of football teams in all the land, period!

In the second installment, I decided to compare intrastate rivalries on a bit more subjective basis, but ranked from a litany of categories that would hopefully point to an objective conclusion. Again, my suspicions were confirmed, but there was still a shadow of doubt that despite my best efforts, maybe I was still afflicted with a case of homerism. Regardless, I did convince myself that the Iron Bowl is indeed the best rivalry in all of CFB, and that to be a part of it was something very humbling and honorable.

The Crimson Tide's success in the annals of college football cannot be disputed. No rational fan can deny their achievements, even if they have been thrown in our faces for decades. Alabama currently ranks among the top three programs of all time, and #2 in my book. They're the most dominant team in the greatest football conference, the SEC, and their conference titles cast an even more imposing shadow than their national titles do. That being said, I never want it suggested that I am jealous of any of Alabama's accomplishments. I respect the Crimson Tide program, and like I told someone earlier in the week, nothing born of respect should ever be considered as jealousy.

I don't believe that the average Auburn fan even thinks much about all of Alabama's glory. Why should it effect who we are? We have a respectable program that has enjoyed success in it's own right. We're #13 all-time in Division 1-A wins and a top 20 historical program, once you factor in all major factors. We also have the 5th toughest strength of schedule ranking in CFB history. Going into this season, we ranked #4 in all-time conference winning percentage in the toughest conference in all the land and we have won a national title and come close on other occasions. And we've done all this despite living in the shadow of a heavyweight. We're not sexy--we're definitely a blue-collar team, but we manage to get it done.

But probably our greatest claim to fame is that despite constantly being measured against one of the all-time great programs, we've never let that Goliath put us away in the head-to-head competition. We have an opportunity Saturday to pull within 4 games of tying Alabama in the all-time series. No other intrastate rivalry is as close. Most of them are blowouts in the all-time records. As I write this tonight, Texas is beating Texas A&M in their 115th game together. Texas will improve their record to 74-36-5 against the Aggies. That's a 38 game lead over their fiercest in-state rival--they have more than twice the number of wins. That, my friends, ain't even close. Yet, Auburn is only 5 games behind one of CFB's greatest teams. Bama has a winning record against every other team in the SEC, but no one in the conference plays them closer than us. It may be hard to imagine, but we had a winning record against them before Paul Bryant, and after him. We just didn't do too well during his tenure. But time marches on...

So many fans view the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama as a zero-sum game. Basically, that means that one side can't be winning unless the other one is losing--the scales must always be balanced. Obviously, that scenario holds true with the game itself--there will forever be a winner and a loser on that day, but I'm talking more about the programs themselves during a given season. Why can't both teams have a successful year? Certainly, no one would argue that both can't have disastrous seasons the same year. Sure, only one team can win the west and go to Atlanta and possibly win the conference crown, but both teams don't challenge for the divisonal title every single year. The west is more competitive than the east, with 5 teams having played in the conference CG as opposed to only three in the east.

Again, why can't both teams have good years at the same time? Certainly, this season has no chance to buck that perception. Alabama's ahead-of-schedule rise eerily coincides with Auburn's slump, but I submit that it's pure coincidence at this juncture. I believe that momentum swings very slowly, and it should take longer for it to fully swing back Alabama's way if it exists at all, but most people point to this season as proof that the pendulum swings more in step with A-Rod than father time.

But suppose for a moment that Auburn was also undefeated going into this Iron Bowl. Would Bama fans be as confident? Would they be just as proud of their successful season to date or would it somehow be tempered by Auburn's successes, too? Why do you have to define your success through the prism of the other team? Sure, they're your rival, but other than that one game, what does it really matter? Can you look at your now vanquished foe, who just lost the Iron Bowl, and state emphatically that their season is now lost? That's something that each fan has to define for themselves, and that result will continue to define this rivalry, the fiercest in all the land. At least for this installment of the Iron Bowl, Auburn's season can be mended with a win over Alabama. Alabama's can be destroyed by a loss.