May the best rival win
Auburn fans found themselves in an unusual place during the College Football National Championship game on Monday night. How do you pull for your greatest rival in such a contest? What do you do if both teams are your greatest rivals?
I moved to Georgia just a month after I graduated from Auburn University. For the next 45 years I said that the greatest thing about living in Georgia was that I did not have to listen to the Iron Bowl being replayed 365 days each year.
Today, I am thankful that I have moved back to Alabama so that I do not have to endure the endless banter from my many Georgia friends about being National Champs, though they have clearly earned the title. 41 years after the Dawgs’ last Natty, they have the right to celebrate all year long.
My family ties to Auburn go back to my great-grandfather, Ernest Ford, who graduated in Pharmacy in 1905. His diploma is proudly displayed in our den. My parents met near the famed Toomer’s Oaks on Samford Lawn. Yet, Mary Lou and I also have strong connections to both UGA and Bama.
My great-great uncles were the first Georgia graduates in my family. Several generations later, my brother followed his heart, signed a football scholarship to play for the Dawgs and never looked back. My sister followed my brother to UGA and then married a Georgia graduate. Their son later came to Auburn. My side of the family has divided loyalties, though the rivalry has generally been friendly.
At the same time, I married a girl with a solid Alabama pedigree. Mary Lou did not attend Bama, but her mother and her brother did. I had a cousin that played for Alabama when Bear Bryant first arrived as coach in Tuscaloosa. Our nephew is currently a top-ranked golfer on Alabama’s golf team. I pull for him, but do not wear crimson and white, and certainly do not say “Roll Tide”, even if my nephew were to get a hole-in-one.
The tension between the Auburn and Alabama sides of the family is a bit more strained. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Mary Lou transferred to Auburn her Senior year. We graduated together and 40 plus years later moved back to the Loveliest Village on the Plains. Born and raised a Bama fan, Mary Lou became one of the most rabid Auburn fans I have ever known. I am not sure her parents ever forgave me for that.
We typically do not watch the games with our Alabama family and both sides try not to rub it in, one way or the other. But that under-
lying Auburn versus Alabama thing lurks under the surface, dating back to my childhood. Old habits die hard.
My parents knew Vince and Barbara Dooley from their days at Auburn, and my brother’s playing days at Georgia. Auburn’s football field is named for Pat Dye, a Georgia graduate, while Georgia’s football field is named for Vince Dooley, an Auburn grad.
Joel Eaves remains the winningest basketball coach in Auburn’s history. The Auburn Memorial Coliseum was renamed in his honor. Later, he became the longtime Athletic Director for the University of Georgia, even hiring a young Vince Dooley as head football coach.
A lot of family and institutional connections exist between UGA and Auburn, though the strain of big-time football, recruiting wars, and social media make it less a friendly rivalry than it once was.
There are not as many historical ties between the Auburn and Alabama teams, other than half the players have grown up with each other. The first two questions any newcomer to Alabama is asked are “What church do you go to?” and “Are you for Auburn or Alabama?” You might be able to get away with saying you do not go to church, but you must pick one of those two football teams if you live in Alabama, no matter where you went to college.
Tuesday night did give Auburn fans some consolation. Nothing like beating Alabama in basketball in Tuscaloosa, unless it is an Iron Bowl win, of course. Auburn plays Georgia next week.
But in the meantime, congratulations to both Alabama and Georgia. You do not get to the National Championship game by accident. Alabama took it to Georgia in the SEC Championship game and then Georgia came back when it counted the most.
I will leave you with these two thoughts. First, on this day and for this season the best rival won and deserves to be called champion. Second, wait until next year.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com