It's finally happened. So much for Toomer's for Tuscaloosa and Alabama fans lining up to donate money to help the Auburn trees. Who were we kidding? The actions of the past seven days have destroyed any good will from those gestures. The day that many sane Auburn and Alabama fans feared has arrived.
The two largest universities in Alabama are at war. They've been battling each other for more than 100 years, but now things have changed. These are no longer skirmishes; we've crossed the threshold to near full-on combat. Radicals from both sides are no longer interested in dominating the other; they want each other wiped from the map.
The latest salvo came on Wednesday when noted oddsmaker and Alabama graduate Danny Sheridan blew into Birmingham for SEC Media Days and shouted from Red Mountain that his "sources at the NCAA" told him they have identified the "bag man" in the Cam Newton case; and if so, Auburn would likely have its national championship vacated and Newton would lose his Heisman Trophy.
As one writer here said, the bigger story is that an oddsmaker has a relationship with an NCAA investigator. But low and behold, 24 hours later, Sheridan's story unraveled faster than the Alabama defense in the second half of the Iron Bowl.
To borrow a term from Roger Clemmons, Sheridan misspoke. On second thought he didn't have a source at the NCAA, but rather had a friend who had a source. At least that was his story a day after he dropped this bomb at the opening of the conference's biggest annual event.
Are you kidding me?
Sheridan told a local radio show that he'd come to town to say hello to some of his friends. Yeah, pull my right leg and it plays jingle bells. Since when did the SEC begin issuing press credentials to oddsmakers?
Unfortunately, despite the questionable motives of the newsmaker, the damage to Auburn was done. It became the story of Media Days and shows just how far some in the Tuscaloosa circle will go to bring down Auburn.
Writer and radio host, Clay Travis wrote last week that Alabama fans are contributing to the lengthy NCAA investigation into Newton...
"The NCAA's ten-month investigation is further complicated by the continuing fount of allegations, many untrue, levied by Alabama fans in the state. These allegations have thrust ordinary citizens into the forefront of the rumor machine. One such individual, Thomas Buckelew, a tailor at Buckelew's Clothing for Men in Montgomery, Alabama, finds himself buffeted by allegations that he provided high-priced suits to Cam Newton at reduced costs. The very suits, you guessed it, that Newton wore at the Heisman ceremony.
According to sources, Newton's suits, ties included, cost in excess of $4,000 each. NCAA investigator Jackie Thurnes was informed of this allegation, and the NCAA has spent time investigating its validity...
In a state as football crazed as Alabama, with fans as passionate as Alabama and Auburn, how in the world do you determine what allegations have any merit and which do not? Particularly since we're talking about a state where, in the wake of the poisioning of the Toomer's Trees, truth is often stranger than any fiction."
How Did Things Go So Bad So Fast?
State writers and historians have warned for years that the Auburn-Alabama rivalry could reach apocalyptic levels if left unchecked. The success of both programs in recent years has raised the stakes. Simply put, Alabama people never believed Auburn could win another national title. Last year's title knocked the breath out a still recovering Alabama program.
In the span of two years, the state has witnessed Alabama claim a national title; win its first Heisman Trophy; begin the following season as consensus preseason number one and then watch Auburn steal its thunder with yet another Heisman winner and a national championship at year's end.
Despite being one of the great traditions in all of college football, Alabama people never dreamed it would be playing second fiddle to Auburn a little more than 25 years following the death of Paul Bryant. For Alabama extremists, it’s something that simply can’t be tolerated.
Since Bryant’s final season in 1982, Auburn is 17-12 against Alabama, including a six game winning streak from 2002-07. In that span, Auburn has claimed six SEC titles to Alabama’s four. Probation cost Auburn another title in 1993 when Terry Bowden’s first team went 11-0. Since 1982, Auburn has gone undefeated three times, more than any other school in the SEC.
The arrival of Nick Saban and his $4 million salary was supposed to change things and it did – for a while. Then came the unlikely duo of Gene Chizik and Jay Jacobs. Together, they have turned the state on its head and again put the Auburn program back on top in Alabama.
Is Alabama Big Enough For Two Successful Programs?
For years, Auburn’s M.O. has been to take its three-star athletes and beat your five-star players. Chizik disregarded that philosophy from Day One. He and Saban are now widely considered the two best college recruiters in the game. They not only battle in-state, but now take their recruiting war nationally.
With millions of dollars in revenue hinging on the whims of 18 year-old kids, this rivalry is no longer about orange and blue or crimson and white; it’s about green – and lots of it. While both coaches preach calm and restraint, below the surface, the fighting has never been worse.
Noted Auburn writer and senior editor of Auburn Undercover, Phillip Marshall has also taken note in recent days of the change in the rivalry.
In a weekend blog entry, Marshall wrote...
"It is my heart-felt opinion that we have come to a college football crisis in the state of Alabama. If it’s not someway, somehow brought under control, this might be remembered as the last great era of college football in a state where it means so much.
I’m not talking about using words like Barners and Bammers. I don’t have any problem with a fan wearing a "I hate Auburn (or Alabama)" t-shirt. Those kinds of things are harmless and have always been part of the rivalry. This crisis isn’t about any of those things. It’s about very real efforts to destroy the other side.
For months, there has been a widespread message board campaign to convince the world that Auburn’s national championship is tainted at best, temporary at worst. It certainly has been successful in convincing a lot of people who don’t know better. Now we are starting to see signs of retaliation from the Auburn side. No one cares who gets hurt, as long as he wears the colors of the other team.
Word is that the NCAA has received an unprecedented number of emails, faxes, etc., from Alabama fans claiming Auburn is dirty. Like-minded Auburn fans aren’t going to take it lying down, so now they’re doing all they can to fight back."
Auburn Fans Forced To Fight Back
Marshall’s points are well taken. Auburn’s elevated standing in the college football world is at the center of this ground war. From the poisoning of Toomer’s Corner to the almost daily accusations of wrong doing on Auburn’s part, there’s no doubting the origins of this orchestrated attack on the Tiger football program.
At the same time, Auburn fans have not been sitting idly by – and they shouldn’t in these troubled times. Over the weekend, photos of Alabama running back Trent Richardson signing jerseys with tags still on them at a local store have quickly found their way into the hands of NCAA officials. Was the store selling those autographed jerseys? It certainly appears that way.
In an era of message boards, cell phone cameras, Twitter and Facebook; both sides are working day and night to keep the other in check.
How Does This All End?
Despite the tornado relief help, money donated for new trees and alumni flag football games between the schools, this rivalry is in serious trouble. There is strong distrust among alumni from both sides. Both have tasted success recently and want more of it.
Auburn people feel a need to respond to the allegations leveled against them by Alabama fans. And while it would be politically correct for me to sit here and say Auburn should exercise restraint in dealing with Alabama, the truth is, it simply can’t in this environment.
Auburn must protect itself and that means keeping Alabama in check. It’s hard to imagine this having a happy ending. The events of last week means things are likely to get much worse before they get better.
It’s hard to envision a winner on either side.