In the wake of an Alabama fan poisoning the venerable Toomer’s Oaks on the campus of Auburn, I thought it instructive to present another example of when the Alabama-Auburn rivalry goes too far - to help outsiders understand why UA-AU is, in my view, the most vicious rivalry in sports.
Appearing on his Learfield Sports radio show on Oct. 14, 2010, Alabama Coach Nick Saban told a statewide audience that his home had been vandalized.
“I ask them (Alabama players) the question ‘what are you going to do to affect winning? How do you feel about what you just accomplished, like over at South Carolina (a recent loss to the Gamecocks)?
“‘How do you like it when you don’t win? How does it make you feel? How do you like it when people are banging on the (team) buses and yelling obscenities at you and running over our fans and everything else, how do you like all that?’
“They also papered my house and painted it in Georgia too but that doesn’t bother me any.”
If you don’t know who Saban is referring to when he says “they“, you don’t know much about college football in the state of Alabama. Though Saban did not say when the vandalism happened and provided no further detail, it’s very safe to assume he’s referring to an Auburn supporter or four.
For five years I worked at the flagship station for Ohio State football in Columbus, WBNS-AM, hosting a weekday afternoon talkshow on the station and anchoring statewide Buckeye football broadcasts in the late ’90s. I experienced the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry as intimately as anyone in the media during that period.
Similarly, I anchored USC football broadcast coverage on the Trojan radio flagship in the early ’00s in Los Angeles and was thoroughly indoctrinated into the ways of USC-UCLA and USC-Notre Dame.
My first job out of college was hosting statewide Univ. of South Carolina football broadcast coverage on the Gamecocks flagship WVOC-AM in Columbia, so I know all about USC and Clempsun’s annual get-together.
And as an alumnus of the University of Georgia, I’ve obviously got first-hand experience with the yearly Georgia-Florida Jaxtown throwdown.
But from my experience personally covering both teams over the years, none of those rivalries compare to the disdain between Alabama and Auburn followers.
Two reasons for that:
1) No major league sports in the state.
2) Of the two biggest schools in Alabama, one football program takes its cue from the unparalleled legacy of Bear Bryant while the other has been ruled by hyper-competitive booster Bobby Lowder for nearly 30 years.
To the fans of Alabama and Auburn, their brand of football is “college” in name only. They look at their teams the same way a Redskins or Cowboys fans looks at his/her team, while injecting a level of emotion into their loyalty not present in pro sports fandom.
Being a college football fan in Alabama isn’t a pastime, it’s a lifestyle. You can say the same about fans of other certain schools, like Ohio State, but Buckeye fans don’t have another school to engage in year-round debate like Alabama and Auburn fans do. (Michigan fans aren’t interested in dignifying Ohio State’s existence. They’d rather pick a nit with so-called little brother Michigan State.)
The UA-AU deadlock is a deep-seated cultural phenomenon in which fans often attach their entire personal identity. That obsession then bleeds into real life, which is why Toomer’s Corner happened yesterday. And at Saban’s house in 2010.
Sadly, that devotion may also soon lead to some manner of retaliation by Auburn loyalists on the Alabama campus.