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Be civil, even during rivalry week

With the 2020 Iron Bowl in our rear-view mirrors, I think its time that we paused to take a look at the rivalry.

The Iron Bowl is the defining moment in the social history of any Alabamian.  The issue is simple:  do you root for the University of Alabama, or do you root for Auburn University.  Having made that decision, having chosen your side, you have begun imposing impose order on your world.  Most of us move directly from that decision to confirmation bias—we look for and see evidence that supports our position.  Having found evidence as to why our school is wonderful and our opponent is not, we then assign claims mythic properties to our chosen clan. The other side becomes a sort of villain. 

But all in good fun. Or so they say.

History tells us that this is nothing new. The game was first played in 1893, 127 years ago. The University of Alabama was founded in 1831, and it fielded its first football team—they were called the Cadets—in 1892.  Auburn University was founded in 1856, and it also fielded its first football team in 1892.  Only Auburn and Georgia have been rivals longer, beginning in 1892, one year before Alabama and Auburn began.

The rivalry has always been heated.  Play was suspended between them between 1907 and 1948 after a dispute over $34.00. 

During this hiatus, both teams did well.  No one scored on the 1914 Auburn Tigers, yet they managed only an 8-0-1 record after tying Georgia 0-0.   The Tigers won conference championships in 1913, 1914, and 1919.

By 1927 Alabama had already claimed its third national championship in four years under legendary Coach Wallace Wade.  The Tide was off to the races.

They attempted to revive the game several times.  In 1923 Auburn University President Dr. Spright Dowdell, according to AL.com (to which I owe much credit for the facts in this column), refused to reinstate the rivalry for fear that it would make “other games, contests and events subservient to the one supreme event of the year”.   He had a point.

In 1944 it was the University of Alabama’s turn to refuse to re-start the rivalry when its board of trustees thought that the pressure to beat the cross-state rival would make it difficult for either team to hire a head coach “of high  character and proven ability”.  I’ll let ya’ll debate that one.

The state legislature even attempted to mandate the teams play, and both schools rejected the attempt. 

The series resumed in 1948 after the presidents of the two colleges attended a meeting in Birmingham, and Alabama President John M. Galallee suggested to Auburn President Ralph B. Draughon that there was no reason the two teams should not play.  The Auburn president agreed, and the game began again after the student body presidents from both colleges ceremoniously met at Woodrow Wilson Park in Birmingham, Alabama, where they literally buried a hatchet.

The pesky hatchet would not stay buried.  In fact, it was immediately resurrected, and the rivalry has now become, in some quarters, the most bitter in all of football.

I think we can all agree that Facebook brings out the worst in people. And no matter which team wins, let’s just say a significant number of posts are less than gracious. 

Let me take a guess: no matter which team you pull for, you have said this: “Most of THEIR fans couldn’t even find that school on a map”.  And this old chestnut: “Most of THEIR fans didn’t even go to that school”.  I heard that said once by a man who himself never attended either school, and who, I suspect, should have spent less time worrying about the Iron Bowl and more time worrying about learning the word “irony”.

I, too, have a favorite when these teams play.  And I pull hard for that favorite.  But can we ever remember that this is just a game, and can we please try to remember that we don’t play in it.  It has gotten to the point that national correspondents use the word “hate” to describe the rivalry.   

I have degrees from both schools, and I have friends and colleagues who attended each of them.  Both are fine schools. Without either of them, the State of Alabama would be a much poorer place. So would I.

How about we trying being civil.  If your team won this year—congratulations; if your team lost this year—good game. The world is not in a good place now.  College football can be a lot of fun. How about we try not to mar it too badly.