Before a few random thoughts about Alabama and Auburn, Happy Thanksgiving to all…
Looking back at the season, the most intriguing game in the SEC West might have been Auburn’s September loss to LSU. That doesn’t necessarily mean the most impactful — Alabama has clinched the division title without any drama at all, and that might have been the case regardless of any other outcome anywhere. But when the two Tiger teams met, Auburn — which had managed to get past Washington in its opener — was still viewed as a national contender.
That doesn’t mean Auburn was without issues, and those issues may well have manifested themselves eventually. But LSU needed some good fortune and a particular definition of pass interference (not saying the calls were bad, just that different crews have different definitions on judgment calls, some more strict than others) to pull out a win.
Psychological factors do matter sometimes, and there is no arguing that LSU and Auburn went in different directions after that game. Perhaps that loss increased some tensions at Auburn. Perhaps it rattled some confidence. One can argue Georgia and Mississippi State were just better than AU, but Tennessee? At home? Who foresaw saw LSU and Tennessee as home losses for Gus Malzahn, when a few months earlier, Jordan-Hare Stadium was a house of horrors from which neither participant in the eventual College Football Playoff Championship could escape?
Yet Alabama-LSU became the Crimson Tide’s most hyped game of the year by a vast margin, and Alabama-Auburn, while still a rivalry, will be of national interest only for as long as it looks like Auburn can create some chaos — all because of the narrowest of margins in September.
Nick Saban was asked, as he is perennially asked, about when he “knew” that the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, was special.
“I don’t think you really appreciate what’s involved in this rivalry until you play in this game,” Saban said. “The first one I played in … was sort of the moment for me.”
Of course, by “played,” Saban meant “coached,” and only the most miserable of word parsers would make a distinction. But if you want to know just how fierce a rivalry this was in the 1980s, there was a huge hubbub when Ray Perkins — a master of throwing shade — said that you couldn’t really understand the Alabama-Auburn game if you hadn’t “played in it,” which Georgia graduate Pat Dye had not (even though he had been deeply involved as a coach for both teams.) Fans thought deeply about things like that at the time and, with all due respect to Perkins’ powerful pot-stirring, Paul “Bear” Bryant never technically “played” in an Alabama-Auburn rivalry, either — but he not only understood it, he defined it for 25 years. So, like Saban, I think “coaching” is more than enough to understand the importance.
A parting Thanksgiving thought from the social media account of Alabama running back and Hillcrest High graduate Brian Robinson Jr., a player good enough to start at many SEC schools:
“I may not be in the position that I wish I was in right now, but I’m thankful to be where I am.”
Wise words, Brian. And again, Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.