This is Part III of a three part series on the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry originally published in the 2009 edition of Rocky Top Tennessee (2010 edition here). It was written by Alabama fan Todd Jones Background here.
If you just can't get enough on the Third Saturday in October, check out the piece I did for the Alabama MSP annual three years and re-published here last year.
You Done Us Wrong!
You know, I just don't have it in me to go into detail over the specific animosity Alabama fans have for Tennessee because of Phillip Fulmer or the gasoline that's been thrown on the ol' rivalry fire in the last decade. It's old news at this point and, like the man said, the best revenge is living well, or in our case, hiring the best coach we've had since Gene Stallings, stocking the cupboard with two top-rated recruiting classes, and garnering back to back blowout wins over Tennessee. He was right; it's a particularly satisfying form of revenge.
This, my friends, is where rivalry gets weird. We could sit and talk about how much we absolutely despise one another's programs from sun up to sundown, and yet in the back of my mind and in the back of yours, you know it's true. We hate because we know the other is worth hating. Simply put, there is only one other program in the SEC that even comes close to touching the history and tradition of my beloved Crimson Tide and, as painful for me as it is to admit, that program is your own Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams share remarkable achievements throughout their history and have had some of the best players and coaches to ever stand on a college sideline grace their rosters.
For example, Alabama and Tennessee are the only two SEC teams to represent the east in the Rose Bowl before it became a strictly Pac-10/Big Ten (or, at the time PCC/Big 9) affair. Of course, we went 4-1-1 in the Rose Bowl and, in doing so, put southern football on the map while y'all were 0-2. Just being invited is an honor, though, right? Further, Alabama and Tennessee are the only two SEC schools in the top ten in all time wins (Nos. 7 and 9, respectively) and winning percentage (Nos. 6 and 10, respectively). Alabama and Tennessee have more National Titles (we claim twelve, y'all claim six, and Florida is a distant third with three), more conference titles (Alabama has 21, Tennessee 13, and Georgia is a close third with twelve), and more bowl appearances (Alabama with 56, Tennessee with 47, and Georgia in third with 44) than any other team in the SEC.
Going beyond the considerable achievements of both programs, let's look at the star players that made those achievements possible. With 168 All-Americans between the two teams, one would be hard pressed to name even a fraction of the legends that have squared off against each other in late October. Just from my own lifetime names like Shaun Alexander, Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, and Peyton Manning instantly spring to mind, and I won't even try to begin to start rattling off names like Joe Namath and George Cafego. Even beyond the players, though, there are two names left to mention that are the biggest reasons both Alabama and Tennessee are considered two of the preeminent football powers in the history of college football. I'm speaking, of course, about Robert Neyland and Paul Bryant, two of the greatest coaches to ever walk a sideline. The SEC is littered with "legends" like Johnny Vaught and Shug Jordan, sure, but no two coaches in the SEC's history have built the kind of juggernauts and secured such high esteem for themselves even to this day that Neyland and Bryant did. When you take all that into account, there's really not much else to do but tip our caps to one another, wish each other well ‘til October, and then bring the knives out. Roll Tide.
Todd Jones is an editor and author of the popular and influential Alabama blog Roll Bama Roll. He owns nothing that is orange.