When I was a little boy, the Deep South's Oldest Football Rivalry was played in my hometown - Columbus, Georgia. Every year the atmosphere was festive and exciting. The game was all the talk in the schools, the workplace, the barber shops, and the churches. I can still remember women coming to church decked out in their orange and blue or their red and black.
I was just two months shy of my 10th birthday when I was taken to my first game. The anticipation the night before was as great as any Christmas Eve I had ever experienced. Auburn defeated Georgia 21-6 and for a little nine year old boy, I was smitten. Ever since that day November 15, 1958 Auburn vs. Georgia has been the most important game of the year for me.
This Saturday in Athens the two storied SEC programs will meet for the 119th time.
For the most part the rivalry has been a brotherly affair between two schools that mirror each other in a lot of ways. However, there have been times when the game has produced some embarrassing scenes like last year's game, won by Auburn 49 -31, which produced 10 personal fouls (5 on each side).
Auburn Tight End and Georgia native Phillip Lutzenkirchen said this week that he sees last year's game as a bell weather to another hard hitting physical contest,
"Everyone kind of thought it was a friendly rivalry up until last year when it got a little heated at the end, we know that they remember that from last year, and we remember them kind of coming after us towards the end, so I think it's going to be another physical game."
Maybe so but this game has always been a war. With a 118 years of history, usually a fourth of Auburn's roster made up of players from Georgia, and championship implications often on the line for one or both teams; the game has more often than not been a high-stakes event. And this year is no different.
That's why the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" has always been so close. Only two games and 38 points separates the series with Auburn holding a narrow lead at 54-52-8.
Auburn Coach Gene Chizik addressed the closeness of the rivalry in his weekly press conference,
"Just look over time, the margin of points that were decided in wins and the number of wins back and forth between the schools. It's so close it has to be a great rivalry. Usually rivalries are made when both sides are equally involved in winning. And that's certainly been the case with the Auburn-Georgia rivalry."
Speaking about how this game has impacted championships, Georgia Coach Mark Richt said this week,
"I know, historically... many times Georgia didn't make it because of Auburn and many times Auburn didn't make it because of Georgia. So there's a spoiler element to this series over the years ... Our plan is to have the guys understand that no matter what happens in that game we've got to beat Auburn."
That sentiment truly characterizes Auburn - Georgia for the past 118 years. "We got to beat those guys."
With a win over Auburn, Georgia could etch their eighth consecutive win, and keep their Divisional Championship hopes alive. While Auburn in the role of the spoiler is playing for their seventh win, a victory over their oldest and second biggest rival might propel them into a New Year's Day Bowl.
Being the spoiler for a young Auburn team is a tall order. Noted journalist Phillip Marshall of 24/7's Auburn Undercover.com has said he believes the No.14 Bulldogs are just as talented as LSU or Bama. Besides since Georgia lost their first two games, they have played about as well as any body in the country. It's no mystery then why Auburn is a 121/2 point underdog.
However, in Auburn's favor, this makes the seventh time this season the No.20 Tigers have been made the underdog. Moreover their three losses have come at the hands of the No.1, No.8, and No.9 teams in the nation. In addition this series is famous for the 'away team' holding the edge in victories. So underdog status aside, I'm still optimistic.
And just like when I was a little boy, my anticipation for this game will make Friday night be like Christmas Eve all over again. I plan to be in Athens and I can hardly wait to see my 53rd Auburn - Georgia game ...
We just got to beat them Dawgs!