In the 2009 edition of Rocky Top Tennessee (2010 edition here), Alabama Crimson Tide fan Todd Jones contributed a great four-page feature on the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry. Yes, like the Georgia article from Doug Gillette that we posted during Georgia week, this article is a year old, but it's definitely worth re-publishing here (with permission from MSP). We'll do this one in three parts.
In May of 1999, a friend and I made our way to Knoxville's Thompson-Boling Arena to take in a concert. Said friend had recently moved to Birmingham from a place that doesn't treat college football and its many grand traditions with due reverence and, even worse, he didn't much care for any manner of sports, and therefore the concept of "athletic rivalry" was lost on him. The concert we were attending featured a group that was very popular with the southern college student crowd at the time, and I'm willing to bet that a good 98% of the attending crowd came from the UT student body, not to mention that it was actually on campus and there were throngs of students simply hanging around to enjoy the atmosphere (by which I mean "get loaded and try to pick up the many attractive girls who flocked to such events"). While driving onto campus and searching for a place to park, something strange started happening. People began to take notice of us, some pointing, some yelling, some laughing, but all making sure we were well aware that they saw us. I could tell my friend was starting to grow uncomfortable, but decided not to say anything because even though he didn't understand what was going on I knew why they were treating us this way: I had a crimson tag on the front of my car that proclaimed "Alabama/1992 National Champions" in bold white letters surrounding a beautiful script A.
We finally found a place to park in a deck close to the arena, and as we exited the car a good-natured fellow that had been in front of us warned, "You better take that tag off and put it in your trunk, son, or it won't be there when you get back. Car might not be either!" We shared a laugh and I told him I'd be a little more worried if Alabama hadn't dropped four in a row at that point.
"A hundred in a row wouldn't make us stop hating THAT tag!"
As you may expect, we continued yammering back and forth about the relative virtues and faults of each other and our respective teams, states, relatives, choices in automobile, attire, and just about anything else we could think of until we reached the crowd outside the arena and parted ways with a "we'll see you in October!" My friend was understandably perplexed and asked what that was all about, so I tried to explain as simply as I could by telling him, "It's a football thing. We hate Tennessee and they hate us."
"Why? I thought you hated Auburn?"
"No, we don't hate Auburn. We pity Auburn because they so desperately want to be Alabama that it's pathetic. We HATE Tennessee."
"Because they suck," was my succinct reply.
"I thought you said you'd lost four in a row?"
And that was how my friend was introduced to one of the greatest rivalries in college football. Witnessing first hand two total strangers so instantly and completely loathing one another and yet still sharing in some good-natured ribbing and a sense of knowing camaraderie was a strange thing for him. Here was someone he knew to be a reasonably friendly, fun loving person suddenly spitting fire over something "as trivial" as the game of football, constantly making references to all the orange surrounding us (I'll give it to you UT fans, no matter where you go, you represent) and how he couldn't believe the fact that Thompson-Boling Arena was on campus never crossed my mind when planning the trip or I wouldn't have even come. I'm sure I looked quite foolish to him but what he couldn't understand was that virtually every single person surrounding us would have likely felt the same way if we were in Tuscaloosa. He simply didn't understand the true nature of rivalry and its terrible beauty, that two groups can so thoroughly and completely revile one another while simultaneously testing and comparing their own strength on the field and, dare I say it, emulating one another and their respective achievements. For that is the true meaning and nature of rivalry, to settle the ongoing question of "who is better?" Considering that Alabama and Tennessee play every year and will likely do so until college football ceases to exist, that question will certainly never be "settled" to the satisfaction of either side. But that's what makes it fun, right?
UP TOMORROW: Why the Hate?
Todd Jones is an editor and author of the popular and influential Alabama blog Roll Bama Roll. He owns nothing that is orange.