The Third Saturday In October, 2018
Editor’s note: Well, well, well – here we are again. One of my favorite dates on the football calendar. It may not mean as much as it used to, but it means a whole hell of a lot more in 2018 than it did in 2017. With Jeremy Pruitt at the helm, these Vols are looking like much more of a tough-minded team. In my book, he’s the guy for the job, and you’re starting to see his change in culture paying off.
The Vols upset a ranked Auburn team in Auburn last week. Still, there’s a long way to go before they’re challenging what could be one of the greatest Alabama teams of all time. Plus, we know what Nick Saban’s record against his former assistants look like. The Crimson Tide is currently a 28.5-point favorite. But, this Vols team could hang around. Zanier, more magical things have happened, lest we forget. Back to you, Poppa Bear.
It’s that week. The one week every year that seems as old as fall itself. When the college football schedule is announced before the start of the season, I, like millions of others, study every aspect of it. And every year, we all circle the big games.
We note the bye weeks, the season openers, and the out-of-conference games. Most importantly, we note the rivalries. Whether you wear crimson or orange, every year, you mentally note the third Saturday in October.
How important is this game? Weddings, births, and even funerals are planned around it. When the conference split into East and West divisions in 1992, the game was preserved as a permanent cross-division game. It might also be the one game every year that purposely violates NCAA rules because of the traditional victory cigars. There’s definitely something special about watching the cloud of smoke fill the air above the student section after a win.
In my humble opinion, it’s the best rivalry in college football. But what makes it the best?
The hatred? If you want blind hatred, look at Alabama/Auburn or Tennessee/Florida. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of hatred there, especially when you examine the “85%” of each fan base. But, let’s be honest, if you put enough orange and crimson in the same bar, sirens aren’t too far behind. And let’s not forget “Alabama/Tennessee Hate Week.” Jokes, pictures, and hatred of the opposing team litter message boards.
Hate can’t be the only fuel for this rivalry. There’s more that bind Alabama and Tennessee: history and respect. When the Vols and the Tide collide, it’s like watching the two oldest warships of the Southern sea battle it out. It’s that moment when the two biggest kids on the playground of the SEC finally come toe to toe.
Maybe that’s what makes this rivalry so passionate; the similarities between the two schools. That might sound ridiculous and even anger some of the more avid fans, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Look at the stats: Tennessee has recorded 38 wins over Alabama. Who has more? Nobody. While that’s impressive, remember that Alabama leads the series with 55 wins. The Tide and the Vols each have the most SEC conference championships, with 26 and 13 respectively (Editor’s Note: Georgia has also crept up with 13 SEC titles since this piece initially ran). Some of the greatest to play the game of football have worn the Crimson or Orange: Peyton Manning, Broadway Joe, Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, Eric Berry, and Julio Jones just to name a few.
Both schools boast college coaching legends in General Robert Neyland and Paul “Bear” Bryant. Coincidentally, both stadiums are named for these illustrious figures. But, Tennessee fans are quick to point out that General Neyland defeated the Bear five times.
The Alabama faithful are equally as quick to point out that Bryant was at Kentucky during that span. Both coaches have earned the respect of every fan base, and now live as two of the most prominent figures in college football lore.
History is ready to be written every third Saturday in October. Tennessee fans fondly remember, and reenact, Phil Fulmer singing about how he “doesn’t give a damn about the whole state of Alabama” after a 1995 win. The Tide faithful can still remember watching as Mount Cody blocked a field goal to maintain a perfect season and a National Championship (I personally lost my apartment deposit during this game).
Any year, history could be made again. All bets are off, regardless of rankings and records. Another 5-OT game could be waiting in the wings, ready to shorten our collective lifespan. Every year, we tune in waiting for Ali-Frazier all over again. It’ll happen. It’s just a matter of time.
This weekend, the two flagships of the SEC collide again. Thousands of rabid fans will watch one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports. It’s 110 years of the most storied traditions in college football at its most intense. This is the reason college football was created.
It’s Crimson vs. Orange.
It’s Roll Tide vs. Rocky Top.
It’s the Third Saturday in October.
I live for this stuff.
Poppa Bear is the Lead SEC Analyst for the SoBros Network, and serves as our resident expert on the human anatomy, fixin’ stuff, and tomatoes. Follow on Twitter:@SoBroPoppaBear