The Iron Bowl

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This rivalry goes by the title of “The Iron Bowl.” The name conjures images of gritty blue-collar men working in blazing hot steel foundries. In fact, the name comes from the iron and steel industry located in Birmingham, the home of the rivalry for 44 straight games, and the intensity and heat associated with the rivalry make the name even more appropriate. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers battle one another to the death each season in the Iron Bowl game. Auburn College Football Hall of Fame coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan came up with the moniker before the 1980 contest. The venom and disdain that the fans from one side have for the other do not just commence during the days leading up to the game, as in most rivalries, but rage on every day of the year. Alabama fans refer to Auburn people as “Barners,” in reference to Auburn’s early years as an agricultural school, while Auburn fans claim that Alabama’s most famous graduate is Forest Gump.

Justin Hokanson, in a 2008 article for “bleacherreport.com,” breaks down the rivalry within families.

Brothers and sisters watch the game in separate rooms, maybe even separate houses,

because they don’t want to kill each other in the process. Parents and children don’t

talk to each other. There are even parents that don’t allow their children to go to one

school or the other simply because they graduated from the rival school.

Alabama leads the series 44-35-1. Auburn won the first two games in 1893 in Birmingham, then Montgomery. Alabama picked up its first win in 1894 in Montgomery while Auburn took the next two in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery. The series took a brief hiatus from 1896 through 1899 before resuming in 1900. The schools then met every year through the 1907 game, after which the series ended for almost 40 years. At that time, Auburn led the series 7-4-1 and the games had been played in Birmingham the last four years. Tuscaloosa is much closer to Birmingham than Auburn and Auburn officials demanded more per diem for the players. Auburn also wanted to allow more players to travel for the game and a different process for choosing the officials for the game. Alabama officials would not agree to any of Auburn’s demands and the series ended.

After pressure from the state legislature, the two school presidents agreed to re-start the series in 1948 in Birmingham because 44,000-seat Legion Field was the largest stadium in the state. Before the game, the presidents of the respective student government associations buried a hatchet in Woodrow Wilson Park to represent the end of the argument. Alabama proceeded to win the game 55-0, the most lopsided victory in the series.

The game remained in Birmingham through the 1988 contest, after which Auburn moved its home games to Auburn. Alabama continued to hold its home game in the series at Legion Field through 1998 but began hosting Auburn in Tuscaloosa in 2000 after the expansion of Bryant-Denny stadium to over 80,000 seats. The games have rotated between the two campuses since then. Alabama owns a 32-15 record in games played at Legion Field, while Auburn is 5-3 in Tuscaloosa and 8-5 in Auburn.

The winner of each game receives the Foy-ODK Sportsmanship trophy, named after James E. Foy, a former dean at both schools and the Faculty Secretary of  Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society at both schools. The trophy is presented at halftime of the winner’s home basketball game against the loser. After the presentation, the Student Government Association president from the losing school sings the winning school’s fight song. Granted, the singing sessions may have had many memorable moments over the years but probably will not top any of the memories from the gridiron battles.

The 1967 game at Legion Field became known as the “Run in the Mud.” With Auburn leading Alabama 3-0 in a torrential downpour in the fourth quarter, Tide quarterback Ken Stabler broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown that gave the Tide the lead and an eventual 7-3 victory.

The 1981 game, also at Legion Field, became the 315th career victory for Alabama Hall of Fame coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bryant passed Amos Alonzo Stagg for career wins for a Division IA coach.

Freshman Bo Jackson broke Auburn’s nine-game losing streak in the series in 1982. With the Tigers trailing 22-17 late in the fourth quarter, Jackson, on fourth-and-goal, took a handoff from quarterback Randy Campbell, then leaped on top of the Tide defense before stretching the ball over the goal line. Auburn broke the streak with a 23-22 victory.

For Auburn fans, the second most memorable game in the series may have occurred in 1989. With the addition of the west upper deck in 1980 and the east upper deck in 1987, Jordan-Hare Stadium reached a capacity of over 85,000 seats, the largest stadium in Alabama at that time. Auburn fans always felt Legion Field was a home-field advantage for the Tide. Now that the school had a stadium bigger than Legion Field, the time was right to move their home games in the series to Auburn. After the 1987 game, Auburn athletics director and coach Pat Dye requested that all future Auburn home games in the series be moved to Jordan-Hare. The first game in Auburn took place on December 2, 1989. With over 85,000 rabid Tiger fans in attendance, Auburn beat Alabama, 30-20. After the game, a member of the media asked Dye what it felt like leading the team on to the field. Dye responded, “I’m sure that (the scene) must have resembled what went on the night the wall came down in Berlin. I mean, it was like (Auburn fans) had been freed, and let out of bondage, just having this game at Auburn.”

The 2009 game in Auburn was a different story. Undefeated Alabama trailed a 7-4 Auburn team into the fourth quarter, but the Tide went on a seven minute, 15-play, 80-yard drive to take the lead, 26-21. Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy hit receiver Julio Jones four times during the drive and finished it with a four yard pass to running back Roy Upchurch for the go ahead touchdown with 1:24 on the clock. The Tide defense turned away a last minute Auburn drive to secure the victory. Alabama then beat Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship (SEC) game before besting Texas for the national title.

Finally, the most memorable game for Auburn fans and arguably the most memorable game in series history is the game known as the “Kick Six.” With the 2013 contest tied 28 all at Jordan-Hare, Alabama lined up for a 57-yard field goal with one second on the clock. A Tide victory would send Alabama to the SEC Championship game and a possible chance for a fourth national title in five years. Alabama kicker Adam Griffith’s attempt fell short and Auburn corner back Chris Davis caught it. As Davis began to run up the field, Alabama’s defenders seemed to be caught off guard, unsure if the play was still live. Indeed it was. Davis outran the few defenders trying to stop him for a 109-yard touchdown with no time on the clock. Auburn won the game 34-28, shocking the Tide and the rest of the college football world.

Intensity, heat, bitterness, and pride are some of the words that describe the emotions of the Iron Bowl. This rivalry is more than just a game. It is a way of life for people in the state of Alabama. For the victors, a certain satisfaction and euphoria permeate their souls for the next 365 days. For the vanquished–bitterness, rancor, and a sense of doom live with them until the possibility of redemption associated with the next game. Of all the great Deep South rivalries, the Iron Bowl may be the greatest of all.

 

 

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

 

 

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The schools stand about 170 miles apart.  Men have played at one school and coached at the other.  The first meeting between the two schools took place in 1892 and spawned a legend.  The schools have played every year since 1898 except for the war years of 1917, 1918, and 1943.  The series stands at 56-55-8,.  The oldest rivalry in the Deep South belongs to the Auburn University Tigers and the University of Georgia Bulldogs.  Pat Dye played at Georgia and coached at Auburn.  He says this about the rivalry, “It’s a unique thing.  It’s like playing against your brother.  I don’t think anybody who plays in that game can ever forget it.  It just doesn’t matter much where it’s played or what somebody’s record is.  It’s so intense and tough, but at the same time, it’s family.”  Will Muschamp also played at and graduated from Georgia.  He became a graduate assistant at Auburn and earned his master’s degree in education from there.  He had two stints as Auburn’s defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at the University of South Carolina this year.  Muschamp has great respect for both Georgia and Auburn, “Both programs, in my opinion, have cut their teeth on the same values.  The leadership in this program (Auburn) and at Georgia has been very similar.”

Dye used the term family to describe the series.  Certainly, several famous people can claim ties to both schools.  Georgia’s College Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley played and graduated from Auburn before his illustrious career on the sidelines at Georgia.  Hall of Fame Auburn coach and graduate Ralph “Shug” Jordan was an assistant coach at Georgia and head coach of the men’s basketball team before returning to Auburn.  Current Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner coached at Georgia for 15 years while current Georgia defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was a two-time All-American at Auburn.  So maybe the rivalry can be compared to two very competitive brothers trying to one up the other.

Make no mistake though this rivalry is intense and as closely contested as the series record indicates.  Currently, Georgia leads the series and the margin of victory is as close as the series record.

The Bulldogs have scored an average of 16.7 points to Auburn’s 15.5.  The battles have been fought in Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Columbus (from 1920 to 1928 and again from 1930 to 1958), and Montgomery.  The series began its campus to campus rotation between Athens and Auburn starting in 1959.  Auburn has a winning record in Athens, 18-13, while Georgia is 16-11-2 in Auburn.  Georgia has won 10 out of the last 14 games.  As one might imagine the rivalry has witnessed its share of magical moments.

The first game in the rivalry took place at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park where Auburn won 10-0.  It was that game that spawned the legend of the War Eagle.  Supposedly, a former Confederate soldier and Auburn faculty member, at the time, attended the game with his pet eagle that he found on a Civil War battlefield.  As the Auburn team was driving for the clinching score, the eagle escaped the hold of its owner and began to fly around the field.  The excited Auburn fans began yelling “War Eagle” as the team secured the victory.  As the game ended the exhausted eagle crashed to his death, or at least that’s how the legend goes.

Georgia won the national championship in 1942 behind its two legendary Hall of Fame running backs, Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi.  The Bulldogs incurred one blemish on its record, a 27-13 loss to Auburn.  The Tigers came to Columbus with a 4-4-1 record and as heavy underdogs to the powerful Georgia team, but Auburn coach Jack Meagher developed an offensive and defensive plan that befuddled the Bulldogs.  For the first time all season, Auburn ran from the T-formation and amassed large chunks of yardage.  On defense, Auburn dropped its tackles while its ends rushed, thereby keeping Sinkwich and Trippi bottled up most of the day.

Georgia gained a measure of revenge in the 1959 game in Athens.  Bulldog quarterback Fran Tarkenton scored the winning touchdown after an Auburn fumble recovered by Pat Dye.  The 14-13 Georgia victory denied Auburn the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship. Instead, the Bulldogs claimed the title at season’s end.

Georgia entered the 1986 game in Auburn as 10 and 1/2 point underdogs and was forced to use its backup quarterback, Wayne Johnson.  Two more victories and Auburn would win the SEC championship.  Behind Johnson, Georgia forged a 20-16 upset and again denied the Tigers a chance at a conference title.  If the game itself wasn’t memorable enough, certainly the aftermath on the field will never be forgotten.  Georgia fans stormed the field after the game and some began to rip up part of the turf.  After refusing to leave the field at the request of Auburn officials, fans were drenched with water from the field sprinkler system and fire hoses.

The first SEC game to go into overtime occurred in 1996 in Auburn.  Down 28-7 at the half, Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo rallied the Bulldogs to a 28-28 tie at the end of regulation.  Georgia won the game in four overtimes, 56-49.  Georgia fans refer to the game as the “Miracle on the Plains” and also remember the game for UGA V’s lunge at Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker as he was going out of bounds after a reception.

Finally, Jordan-Hare Stadium became the venue for another miracle in 2013.  After 50 minutes in the game, the Tigers had amassed 29 first downs and led 31-17, but Georgia rallied behind quarterback Aaron Murray to take a 38-37 lead with 1:49 left in the game.  With 36 seconds remaining, Auburn faced fourth and 18 from its 26-yard line.  Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw the ball as far as he could downfield.  Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was in perfect position to intercept the pass but it bounced off his hands into the hands of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis who took the ball all the way to the end zone for a 43-38 lead.   With the seconds ticking away Murray led Georgia on a furious drive down the field, but to no avail  as the clock struck 00:00 for the Auburn win known to Auburn fans as the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”

Brotherly love takes on a whole different meaning when Auburn and Georgia wage war in Athens or Auburn every year in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. Legends and miracles have been part of a rivalry that offers further evidence as to why college football is unparalleled in the world of sports.

 

Alabama-LSU Football History

 

 

 

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                        Courtesy Gamezero05

When one thinks of University of Alabama Crimson Tide  and Louisiana State University Tigers football, his thoughts must certainly conjure up images of big, fast teams with strong defenses, power running games, and lots of future professional players (LSU has had 93 players drafted by National Football League teams since 2000 and Alabama has had 86). These two programs have arguably been the most powerful in the nation since the turn of the century. Alabama has won three Southeastern Conference (SEC) titles and three national championships since 2009 while LSU has four SEC titles and two national championships since 2001. Generally, the winner of the Alabama-LSU game positions itself for the SEC championship and the national crown on an annual basis, so the importance of the game has been well documented among the regional and national media. However, that has not always been the case. Alabama dominated the rivalry through the Paul “Bear’ Bryant era. Although the Tigers won the first game in 1895, 12-6, Alabama leads the overall series, 50-25-5.

The games have been played over the years in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. The schools began playing on an annual basis in 1964, alternating between Legion Field in Birmingham and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Alabama shifted its home games to Tuscaloosa in 1988. The visiting team has won an inordinate amount of the games in the series. The Tide is 25-9-2 in Louisiana while keeping the Tigers winless in Baton Rouge from 1971-1998. LSU has won 11 of 16 games in the state of Alabama since 1982. Four overtime games have been played with the road team winning each one. College Football Hall of Fame coach Bryant lost to the Tigers only three times from 1964-1982. After Bryant retired, the series became a true rivalry. Since then Alabama has won 19, including the 2011 national championship game, lost 14, and tied one. Future Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban has played a prodigious role in the recent series. Saban coached LSU from 2000-2004 and beat Alabama four out of five tries. Since taking over the Tide in 2007, he is 7-3 against the Tigers. The rivalry has produced some memorable stories and games.

Bear Bryant seemed to own the Tigers and was not the least bit intimidated by Tiger Stadium.  He had a pre-game ritual that would enrage Tiger fans and calm his players. Bryant would slowly walk towards the northwest corner of the field where the LSU students sat. His players dressed in suit and ties would then walk around the field while Bryant ambled on over to the left hash mark around the 10-yard line. The Bear, completely composed, would have a nonchalant conversation with a security guard or a member of his staff while the LSU fans were screaming and yelling all sorts of things at him. After about 10 minutes, Bryant would wave to the LSU students which prompted further abusive language and a chorus of loud boos. When leaving the field amidst the yelling and screaming, Bryant would walk right by Mike’s cage, the live tiger mascot. The purpose of this ritual was to show the team that playing at Tiger Stadium in front of 80,000 plus screaming, rabid fans was really not an issue. Bryant’s record against LSU in Baton Rouge proves the point.

When former LSU coach Les Miles and Alabama coach Nick Saban battled, their teams played to their respective strengths–aggressive, physical, smash mouth football. So it was unusual that a trick play helped to decide one of these games. Such was the case in 2010 when Number 6 Alabama met Number 10 LSU in Baton Rouge. With Alabama leading 14-13 with 9:26 left in the game, LSU had fourth and one at the Tide 26. Instead of trying a 43-yard field goal to take the lead,  Miles reached into his bag of tricks. He called for an inside reverse to a tight end who had never had a rushing attempt in his college career. DeAngelo Peterson took the hand off and ran all the way to the Alabama 3-yard line. The Tigers took the lead for good moments later and eventually upset the Tide 24-21.

The regular season game in 2011 in Tuscaloosa is a classic example of the smash mouth football so typical when the two teams get together. LSU came in undefeated and ranked Number 1 while Alabama was undefeated and ranked Number 2. This marked the first time in SEC history that two undefeated teams were meeting in the regular season ranked one and two in the country.  Before 101,821 rabid fans, LSU won the game 9-6 in overtime. LSU kicker Drew Alleman made all three of his attempts, including a 30-yarder with 1:53 to go in regulation. His 25 yard field goal won the game in overtime. Alabama’s kickers made only two of six of their attempts, but the real story were the defenses. Alabama gained only 295 yards while LSU gained a paltry 239. Alabama would gain a large measure of revenge and the national title with a 21-0 victory over the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January, 9, 2012.

Alabama gained the rematch with LSU but not without controversy. Many writers and fans believed Oklahoma State, the number two team in the computer rankings, deserved a shot at undefeated LSU since the Tide and Tigers had already met. However, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) decision makers believed a one-loss Alabama team a better foe than anyone else in the nation. The game marked the first and only time in the BCS era that two teams from the same conference met for the national title.

The defenses once again dominated the game. Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley made three of four field goals to give the Tide a 9-0 lead at the half. LSU could muster only one first down and never crossed the 50-yard line in the first half. The second half was much the same. LSU compiled four first downs and crossed the 50 only once. Shelley kicked two more field goals and running back Trent Richardson added a 34-yard touchdown run with only 1:39 left to account for the final score. While LSU won the SEC championship, Alabama won the national title.

The Alabama-LSU rivalry ranks as one of the Deep South’s best. Conference and national title aspirations normally accompany the battle. Two southern behemoths line up facing the other with muscles flexed, helmets strapped on tight, and a collective iron-sharpened will and determination to vanquish its foe. This is Alabama-LSU football. This is college football at its best!

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

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The moniker for the University of Florida Gators-University of Georgia Bulldogs football series came from Florida Times-Union sportswriter Bill Kastelz in the 1950s.  He remembers walking in Jacksonville near the Gator Bowl, now EverBank Field, before one of the games and seeing an inebriated fan offering a policeman a drink. Kastelz also noticed fans using binocular cases to carry a flask and that many fans were openly drinking adult beverages while being ignored by police and other authorities.  In front of his typewriter after the game, Kastelz thought the appropriate name for the annual affair was, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”  While the party roars outside the stadium and in the stands, the teams wage a war on the field reminiscent of the days of the Roman Empire—fierce, tactical, and merciless.

One of the great Deep South rivalries finds Georgia leading 49-42-2, but Florida currently holds the victor’s trophy, the Okefenokee Oar.  The longest winning streak in the series for both schools is seven:  Florida from 1990-1996 and Georgia from 1941-1948.

Georgia dominated the series before the 1950s.  Led by Bulldog greats such as Bob McWhorter, David Paddock, Tom Nash, and Chick Shiver, UGA outscored the Gators in six games from 1915 to 1927, 190 to 9.

The Gators recorded their first two victories over Georgia in 1928, 26-6, and 1929, 18-6, but the 1930s witnessed total Bulldog domination.  Led by Coach Harry Mehre and College Football Hall of Fame players Vernon “Catfish” Smith, Frank Sinkwich, and Bill Hartman, the Bulldogs won eight of nine contests.  Also during this decade, Jacksonville became the permanent home of the series (1933).   College Football Hall of Fame coach Wally Butts continued the Bulldog supremacy through the 1940s with victories in seven of the nine games.

Under Mehre and Butts in the 1930s and 1940s, UGA enjoyed some of its greatest success on the gridiron.  Georgia dominated Florida and the rest of their opponents, compiling a .640 winning percentage.  UGA also won three conference titles, one national championship, and had twelve All-Americans on these teams.  Florida, on the other hand, was in disarray during this same time period.  None of UF’s five coaches stayed more than five years.  The school won no titles and had no All-Americans.  However, Florida changed its gridiron fortunes beginning in the 1950s.

Florida governor and grad Fuller Warren spearheaded a campaign to improve the plight of the UF football program in 1950.  The school hired away Bob Woodruff from Baylor to become head coach for $17,000 a year, the highest salary of any state employee at that time.  Woodruff convinced the administration to increase Florida Field capacity to 40,000, increase the salaries of assistant coaches, and allow the athletic department to be fully autonomous.

As Woodruff recruited better football players—Charlie LaPradd, Joe D’Agostino, John Barrow, Vel Heckman, the Gators began to turn the tide in the Georgia series.  Florida won the series against the Bulldogs in the 1950s with a 6-4 mark.  The rivalry was now on.

Neither school enjoyed much success on the gridiron from 1960-1965, but the 1966 game marked the first time both schools had title aspirations.  Under Hall of Fame coach Ray Graves and a young quarterback by the name of Steve Spurrier, the Gators came into the Georgia game undefeated and ranked number seven in the country.  The Bulldogs, under third-year Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley, had lost only to the University of Miami by a single point.  Georgia boasted a ferocious defense led by Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill and George Patton.  UGA harassed Spurrier and the favored Gators the entire first half but trailed 10-3 at halftime.  The second half belonged to the Bulldogs.  Georgia’s defenders began to sack Spurrier and the offense mounted a lethal ground game.  Georgia waltzed off the Gator Bowl field with a 27-10 victory.  As Spurrier walked off the field, a Bulldog fan barked to the future Heisman trophy winner, “There he goes, Mr. Quarterback. Some quarterback.”

With both programs sporting perennial winners, the series saw the Gators take the 1960s with a 7-3 record while Georgia won the 1970s with the same record.  Georgia continued to beat the Gators in the 1980s under Vince Dooley and such superstars as Herschel Walker, Terry Hoage, Jimmy Payne, Kevin Butler, and Tim Worley, as the Bulldogs won eight out of the ten meetings.  Arguably, the most exciting game in the decade and the entire series took place in 1980.

With about one minute and twenty seconds left in the game, Florida led Georgia 21-20 and had the Bulldogs backed up to their own 7-yard line.  Georgia quarterback Buck Belue rolled out, dodged a couple of defenders, and hit receiver Lindsay Scott with a pass.  Scott reversed his field and eluded the Gator defense for a 93-yard touchdown that gave Georgia the lead and eventual victory, 26-21.  Legendary Bulldog broadcaster Larry Munson became famous for his “Run, Lindsay, run…” call of the play.  The victory over the Gators maintained Georgia’s undefeated record on the way to the national championship.

The series began to turn the Gators’ way when future Hall of Fame coach Steve Spurrier took the helm in 1990.  The Gators dominated the decade with nine wins out of ten against the Bulldogs. Before leaving to coach the Washington Redskins after the 2001 season, Spurrier compiled an 11-1 record against Georgia coaches Ray Goff, Jim Donnan, and Mark Richt.  Many of these games were Florida blow outs. However, the 1993 game proved to be one of the more dramatic ones in the Spurrier era.

Georgia entered the game against the nationally-ranked Gators with a mediocre team led by quarterback Eric Zeier and future All-Pro running back Terrell Davis.  UF freshman quarterback and future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel struggled with the football in the rain.  Backup Terry Dean led Florida to 10 unanswered points for a 23-20 halftime lead.  The Gators maintained the lead throughout the second half and with the score 33-26 Zeier led UGA to the Gator 12-yard line with five seconds left.  The Bulldogs thought they had scored a touchdown on the next play but the referees ruled Florida defensive back Anthone Lott had called timeout.  During the next play Lott was called for pass interference, but on the last play of the game Zeier threw incomplete to cement the Gator victory.

As the century changed, the Bulldog fortunes in the series remained the same—defeats to Florida.  The Gators amassed a record of 9-1 against Georgia from 2001-2010.  Florida struggled under Coach Ron Zook to win games, but Richt could only beat him once in three tries.  UF terminated the embattled Zook after three seasons and hired another future Hall of Fame coach, Urban Meyer.  Meyer lost to Richt once in six contests.  One memorable Florida victory under Meyer took place in 2008.

Georgia entered that season as the number one ranked team in the country led by such superstars as quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno, and receiver A.J. Green.  The teams entered the game with one loss apiece.  Stafford threw three interceptions after halftime and Florida scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half to cruise to a 49-10 win.  Meyer called two timeouts with less than a minute remaining to allow his players more time to celebrate.  According to Martin Gitlin, author of The Greatest College Football Rivalries of All Time, Meyer called the timeouts in response to Richt ordering his players in the 2007 game to take an excessive celebration penalty after the Bulldogs’ first touchdown.  Meyer, according to Gitlin, had not forgotten that Bulldog celebration and wanted the team to avenge the loss in the way that they did.

Georgia leads the series in the current decade three games to two, and this year’s battle will be the first between first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart and second-year Florida coach Jim McElwain.  The coaches and players change but the rivalry continues to rage on.

As the teams embark on another chapter of the game by the St. John’s River, let’s raise our cocktail glasses to salute one of the Deep South’s classic gridiron rivalries.  Here’s to the players, coaches, and fans who make college football the greatest game in the world—Salute!, Sante!, Prost!, Cheers!

 

 

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Third Saturday in October: Alabama-Tennessee Rivalry

 

 

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The Third Saturday in October can only mean one thing: the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (Tide) and the University of Tennessee Volunteers (Vols) are about to strap on the helmets extra tight in anticipation of another physical, blood-letting battle on the football field. One of the fiercest rivalries in the Deep South used to take place on the third Saturday in October but when the Southeastern Conference split the league into two divisions in 1992, the game began to gravitate among dates somewhere between the middle to late October. For decades Alabama and Tennessee fans have had a saying: Don’t get married on the third Saturday in October. Sports journalist Beano Cook added, “Don’t die on the third Saturday in October, since the preacher may not show up.”

Alabama officially leads the series 52-38-7. The National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA) forced Alabama to forfeit the 1993 game, a 17-17 tie, and vacate the 2005 game, a 6-3 Alabama win, because of rules violations. The series has been marked by winning streaks on both sides, and generally, those were directly correlated to the side that had the College Football Hall of Fame coach at the time.  The first game in 1901 between the two schools ended in a 6-6 tie in Birmingham. From 1903 through 1913, Alabama forged an 8-1 record against Tennessee while holding the Vols scoreless. The series took a hiatus until 1928.

Alabama Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade led the Tide to three national championships from 1925-1930 while Hall of Fame coach Robert Neyland, known as the General, began his tenure at Tennessee in 1926. The coaches became friends and agreed to re-start the series in 1928, a 15-13 University of Tennessee (UT) win. Neyland’s Vols won a tight 6-0 victory over Wade’s Tide in 1929 but Wade gained a measure of revenge with an 18-6 triumph on the way to the 1930 national championship. Wade left for Duke University after that memorable 1930 season and the series pendulum swung in Neyland’s and Tennessee’s favor. Neyland coached at Tennessee from 1926-1952, with the exceptions of 1935 and 1941-1945. His record against Alabama was 12-5-2.

Alabama won the 1935 game, 25-0. In that game, senior end Paul “Bear” Bryant played the entire contest with a broken leg. After the game, Bryant shrugged it off stating, “It was one little bone.”

Such toughness inspired the University of Kentucky to hire Bryant as its head coach in 1946. Kentucky played Neyland’s Volunteers seven times during Bryant’s period as coach, but the General outflanked the Bear winning five times, with no losses, and two ties. In his book Third Saturday in October, Al Browning stated that those losses to Neyland fueled Bryant’s intense desire to defeat Tennessee while serving as Alabama’s head coach.

Bryant took over the reins at Alabama in 1958 and coached there until his retirement after the 1982 season. The Hall of Fame coach swung the series pendulum back to Alabama. Bryant’s teams struggled against Tennessee from 1958-1960 as the Volunteers tallied a 2-0-1 record against the Bear. However, the Tide broke through in 1961 with a resounding 34-3 victory. After that game, Alabama trainer Jim Goostree, a UT graduate, started a tradition that continues today. Goostree dispensed cigars to the players and coaches to celebrate the victory. After every game since then, the winning team has broken out the cigars. The NCAA considers this practice a violation of its rules, so the winning team immediately reports itself afterwards.

Under Bryant, Alabama dominated the series with 16 wins, seven losses, and two ties and won 11 in a row from 1971 to 1981. The Bear used the games against Tennessee as a barometer for his teams. According to Browning, the Bear once declared, “You found out what kind of person you were when you played against Tennessee.”

From 1983 through 1991, Alabama won six of the nine games. Tennessee coach Johnny Majors beat the Bear in 1982 but proceeded to lose six out of the next eight, which directly led to his termination. The pendulum swung back to Tennessee when Hall of Famer Phillip Fulmer took over as coach in 1992.

Fulmer compiled an 11-5 record against the Tide, including the forfeited 1993 tie and the 2005 vacated Alabama win. During Fulmer’s tenure, the Vols won nine of 10 versus Alabama from 1995-2004. Arguably, his most memorable game facing the Tide came in 2003 when the Vols beat the Tide in five overtimes, 51-43. Fulmer had great respect for the rivalry, “It’s important for our players to realize that the guys on both sides that have worn the orange and white or the crimson and white forever look at this third Saturday of October as being special.”

When future Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, the pendulum swung hard back to the Tide. Saban has led the Tide to nine consecutive victories over the Volunteers by an average score of 34-12.

The games played on or close to the Third Saturday of October have seen Hall of Fame coaches strolling both sidelines, gutty performances on the field, and an intensity only a few rivalries in any sport can claim. This rivalry symbolizes everything that people love about college football. So whether you are a fan of Alabama or Tennessee or some other school, light up a victory cigar to celebrate all those people who have given their all or who will give their all on the Third Saturday of October or any date during the college football season.

 

 

Florida State-Miami Football Rivalry

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One of the greatest football rivalries in the nation takes place every year in Florida.  Both schools carry storied traditions, big-time players and championship coaches.  One school boasts Chief Osceola and Renegade, the war chant, and the proud nickname of the Seminoles.  The other boasts Ibis, the U, and the nickname Hurricanes.  One school proudly claims consensus All-Americans such as Fred Biletnikoff, Ron Simmons, Deon Sanders, Derrick Brooks, and Charlie Ward.  The other counters with such greats as George Mira, Ted Hendricks, Russell Maryland, Gino Torretta, and Ed Reed.  Coaching icons such as Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher, Howard Schnellenberger, and Jimmy Johnson all roamed the sidelines during the rivalry.  When the Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Miami Hurricanes get together, you can throw out the records. These two teams do not particularly like one another and have played some of the most intense games in the history of college football. On numerous occasions, the outcome of the game ended the national title hopes of the loser while giving the winner an inside track to the title.  Florida State has won three national championships and 18 conference titles, including 15 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) crowns. Miami owns five national championships and nine Big East Conference titles.  Both schools currently reside in the ACC.

Miami leads the series 31-29, but Florida State has won the last six games.  The two schools first met in 1951 (Miami won 35-13), four years after Florida State fielded it first football team.  For years Florida State had an all-female student body and men did not matriculate at FSU until 1946.  Florida State credits the Hurricanes with giving the fledgling Seminole program its first chance to compete against a legitimate, well-established program.  The University of Florida would not play FSU until 1958.  The Seminoles and Hurricanes played most years from 1951 through 1969, when the universities agreed to play every year.  FSU and Miami have battled as members of the ACC every year since 2004. Miami has won all seven games that were decided by one point.  As you might imagine, these teams have had some very memorable games.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

  1. 1987 Miami 26-25

Number 4 Florida State led Number 3 Miami 19-3 late in the third quarter when the Hurricanes began their comeback.  Miami quarterback Steve Walsh hit Melvin Bratton for one touchdown and Michael Irvin for two, including a 73-yarder that gave Miami a 26-19 lead with just over two minutes to play.  The Seminoles marched down the field to score a late touchdown but Bobby Bowden’s decision to go for two cost FSU the game.  Bowden’s decision to go for the win instead of the tie is admirable.  Overtime in college football did not begin until 1996.

 

  1. 1989 Florida State 24-10

College football experts believed the Hurricanes were destined to win the national championship that year.  UM did but not before losing to a two-loss FSU team in Tallahassee for the first time in ten years.  The Gino Torretta-led Miami offense turned the ball over six times and committed 11 penalties.  To this day in the Seminole record book under “Most Penalty First Downs in a Game” Miami’s 13 total penalties leads the category.

  1. 1991 Miami 17-16

In the first of the Wide Right games, FSU led Miami 16-7 in the fourth quarter.  Miami battled back to take a 17-16 lead with 3:01 left in the game behind a Carlos Huerta field goal and a Larry Jones touchdown run.  FSU marched down to the UM 17-yard line and with 29 seconds left Seminole kicker Gerry Thomas came on to attempt the go-ahead 34-yard field goal.  He had already made kicks from 25, 31 and 20 yards.  The kick sailed wide right by the length of a football.  Interestingly, before the 1991 season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reduced the distance between the uprights by four feet, 10 inches.  After the game, Bobby Bowden stated, “They’re going to chisel on my tombstone, ‘At least he played Miami.’ ”

  1. 1992 Miami 19-16

The second installment of Wide Right took place in this game.  FSU entered Number 3 in the nation while Miami stood at Number 2.  Behind future Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward of FSU and Torretta, the game stood at 16-10 with nine minutes left.  Torretta then led UM to the go ahead score, 17-16.  The Hurricane defense would add a safety to make the count 19-16.  After the FSU defense held, Ward led the Seminoles down the field in the closing seconds.  Bowden sent Dan Mowery into the game to attempt a final play field goal that would tie the game.  Just like the year before, the FSU kicker missed the field goal, from 39 yards this time, wide right.

  1. 1993 Florida State 28-10

Number 3 Miami entered this contest with a 31-game regular season win streak, and Number 1 FSU would win the national championship this season.  The game was never in doubt.  The Seminoles led 21-7 at the half and put the game away when FSU safety Devin Bush picked off a Frank Costa pass and returned it for a touchdown.

  1. 2000 Miami 27-24

This is the final Wide Right game.  Miami was coming off NCAA probation for rules violations but had its most potent team in years.  FSU owned a five-game winning streak against the Hurricanes but trailed 17-0 at halftime.  However, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke rallied the Seminoles to cut Miami’s lead to 20-17 with 3:15 to go in the game.  After a Miami fumble, Weinke led FSU down the field and hit Atrews Bell with a29-yard strike to give the Seminoles a brief 24-20 lead.  Not to be denied, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey marched the Hurricanes back the other way and completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 46 seconds to go for the final margin.  FSU took the ensuing kickoff and Weinke led his team down to the Miami 32-yard line for a field goal that would tie the game and send it to overtime.  FSU kicker Matt Munyon kicked it well but the ball sailed wide right as the final horn sounded.

  1. 2005 Florida State 10-7

Experiencing a small measure of revenge, the Seminoles won this game on a Miami kicking miscue.  The Hurricanes worked their way down the field in the fourth quarter to set up a 28-yard field goal that would tie the game.  With just under three minutes to play the Hurricanes set up for the kick, but holder Brian Monroe mishandled the snap.  The kick was never made and the Seminoles held on for the victory.

 

Florida State and Miami are two of college football’s elite programs.  They own eight national championships and 27 conference titles between them.  When the two meet, fierce battles often ensue that are decided by the slimmest of margins.  Add in the traditions of Osceola, Renegade, the war chant, Ibis and the U and you have all the ingredients that make this one of college football’s greatest rivalries.

Clemson-Georgia Tech Gridiron Memories

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The Clemson University Tigers and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Tech) Yellow Jackets have played 79 football games against the other, the first taking place in 1898. Tech leads the series 50-27-2. For some undocumented reason, the schools played 29 games in Atlanta from 1902 through 1973, and after one game in Clemson in 1974, the series returned to Atlanta the next three years. The series ended briefly after 1977 but resumed in 1983 when both schools competed as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Tech and Clemson have met every year since then with each winning 16 games. The two schools actually met in the ACC Championship game in 2009 but the National Collegiate Athletic Association vacated Tech’s victory and ACC title after it found Tech used an ineligible player during the last three games of the season. The Tech-Clemson rivalry ranks as one of the South’s oldest and has produced some poignant memories.

In 1902, for example, Clemson coach, John Heisman, played a ruse on the Tech program worthy of a Broadway production. The day before the game between the two schools, Heisman sent a group of Clemson students by train to Atlanta with the instructions to pose as football players and conspicuously party the night away. The day of the game, members of the Tech program received word of the actions of the fake Clemson players and assumed they would be in no shape to compete on the gridiron. Unbeknownst to Tech, Heisman had his real players stay at a hotel in nearby Lula, Georgia. Much to the surprise and chagrin of the Tech team, the well-rested Clemson boys routed the Yellow Jackets, 44-5.

After the 1903 Clemson team routed Tech 73-0, the largest margin of victory for either team, Tech lured Heisman to Atlanta with a 25 percent pay raise. Heisman coached on the Flats for 16 years, overseeing 102 wins, three undefeated seasons, the 1917 national championship, and the beginning of Tech’s 15-game winning streak over the Tigers.

In 1977, Tech officials announced the series would end after the game that year. According to an SB Nation article, Clemson faithful bemoaned the thought of not staying in and enjoying Atlanta, at least every other year. Clemson booster George Bennett concocted a plan that he hoped would convince Tech and Atlanta officials that a game with the Tigers in Atlanta would be an economic boost for the city. For the 1977 game, Bennett encouraged Clemson supporters to pay all of their expenses in Atlanta with two-dollar bills stamped with tiger paws. While the plan did nothing to change the minds of Tech or Atlanta officials, it did spur a road/bowl tradition—the Two Dollar Tiger Bill.

After Tech joined the ACC in 1983, Clemson won four out of the first seven games. The 1990 game marked only the third time in series history that both schools were ranked in the polls (1959 and 1984 were the previous encounters), Clemson 15th and Tech 18th. Tech led 14-3 at halftime on two touchdown passes from Tech quarterback Shawn Jones but the Tigers repeatedly moved the ball in the second half only to settle for field goals. With the score 14-12, Tech’s Kevin Tisdel returned a kickoff 87 yards to set up a T.J. Edwards touchdown run to make the score 21-12. Clemson took the ensuing kickoff and drove all the way to the Tech one-yard line before the Tech defense held on fourth down. After a Tech fumble on the Tech 41-yard line, Clemson scored on a DeChane Cameron 3-yard run with 3:27 left in the game to make the score 21-19. After Tech punted, Clemson had one last chance, but All-American kicker Chris Gardocki missed a 60-yard field goal at the end of the game. Tech’s win that day proved pivotal as the Jackets would become the United Press International’s national champions at season’s end.

Six games from 1996-2001were all decided by three points, Tech won four of those. Clemson came to Atlanta in 2001 ranked 25th to face off against the 9th ranked Yellow Jackets. Both offenses marched up and down the field but Tech had no answer for Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler. With 15 seconds before halftime, Dantzler scored on a 38-yard run that became known in Clemson annals as the “Hail Mary Run.” Regulation ended tied at 41, and after a Tech field goal in overtime, Dantzler worked his magic again by scoring from the Tech 11-yard line on third-and-six for a 47-44 Tiger victory.

Clemson’s last victory in Atlanta came in 2003 when Coach Tommy Bowden led the Tigers to a rout of the Chan Gailey-coached Yellow Jackets, 39-3. Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst passed for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The rout marked Clemson’s largest victory over Tech subsequent to the Heisman-led 73-0 pasting in 1903.

Since 2003, Tech has won eight out of the twelve games, including the 2009 ACC Championship contest. In the 2014 game at Grant Field, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Tigers’ offense left the game with a first-quarter knee injury. The Tech defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns, held the Tigers to 190 yards of total offense, and the Yellow Jackets cruised to a 28-6 win.

One of the South’s oldest rivalries will add another chapter this Saturday in Death Valley. The oddsmakers favor Clemson by more than a touchdown but don’t be surprised if the outcome of the contest comes down to a final bit of trickery. John Heisman would not have it any other way.

 

Alabama-Georgia Gridiron History

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Courtesy of Beussery at English Wikipedia

Courtesy of Beussery at English Wikipedia

While the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia do not play football against the other every year, the games seem to have conference and national implications when they do meet. In 2015, both schools rank highly in the Coaches’ Poll, Georgia sixth and Alabama 11th.  Alabama lost to Ole Miss earlier this season and another loss would keep the Tide out of the college football playoffs. Georgia wants to remain undefeated, thereby keeping alive its goals of conference and national championships. The game will mark the 67th meeting between the two schools; Alabama leads the series 37-25-4 while averaging 16.5 points per game to Georgia’s 12.1.

The series dates back to 1895 when Georgia defeated Alabama 30-6 in Columbus, Georgia. Alabama earned its first victory over the Bulldogs in a 1904 game in Tuscaloosa with a 16-5 victory. The two schools, between 1895 and 1930, played in six different cities—Athens, Atlanta, Birmingham, Columbus, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. Interestingly, Georgia was Alabama’s first opponent in the Birmingham Fairgrounds (1905), Cramton Bowl (1922) in Montgomery, and Legion Field (1927) in Birmingham.  Alabama was the home team for 21 of the first 25 games. Beginning in 1934, the schools began a regular home-and-home series.

Many of the games have been memorable. Joe Namath made his debut against the Bulldogs in 1962, a 35-0 win at Legion Field. Georgia executed a hook-and-ladder play to defeat the Tide in 1965 in Athens by the score of 18-17. Alabama quarterback Jay Barker dueled with Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier in the 1994 game won by the Tide in Tuscaloosa, 29-28, and Georgia kicker Billy Bennett hit a game-winning field in 2002 for Georgia’s first victory in Tuscaloosa, 27-25. The last time the Bulldogs and Tide met in Tuscaloosa, 2007, Matthew Stafford hit Mikey Henderson for a 25-yard touchdown in overtime to lift Georgia to a thrilling 26-23 victory.

Yet arguably the greatest game in the series, and the one with the most at stake for the teams, took place in 2012 during the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Alabama was ranked second in the polls while Georgia was third. The Tide took a 10-7 lead into halftime behind a Jeremy Shelley field goal on the last play of the half. The game appeared to be a tough SEC defensive battle, then the second half unfolded as an offensive display of power from the two behemoths. Georgia took the second half kickoff and marched down the field.   Bulldog running back Todd Gurley ran the ball seven times, including the final three yards. Georgia led 14-10. Next, the Tide held the ball for more than five and a half minutes before calling on Cade Foster to boot a 50-yard field goal, but Georgia’s Cornelius Washington blocked the kick and teammate Alec Ogletree returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown. Georgia led 21-10. Alabama then drove the field behind the passing of quarterback AJ McCarron and the running of T.J. Yeldon.  Yeldon bulled his way the final 10 yards to the end zone and carried again for the 2-point conversion that pulled Alabama within 21-18.

After Georgia punted on its ensuing drive, Alabama used running backs Eddie Lacy and Yeldon to march to the Georgia one-yard line as the third quarter ended. On the first play of the final period, Lacy covered the final yard that gave the Tide a short-lived 25-21 lead.

During Georgia’s next possession, quarterback Aaron Murray hit receiver Tavarres King for 45 yards and Gurley scored from the 10-yard line to put Georgia back ahead, 28-25. The drive took less than two minutes.

McCarron gave Alabama the lead for good at the 3:15 mark after a 45-yard scoring strike to Amari Cooper. Down 32-28, Georgia summoned the red and black spirits of past gridiron greats and marched back down the field through and over the Tide defense. Murray hit Arthur Lynch for 15 yards, then 23 to King, and again to Lynch for 26. The ball rested at the Alabama eight-yard line as the clock ticked down and the Bulldogs out of timeouts. With nine seconds to play, Murray dropped back looking for the end zone and a victory that would go down as one of the greatest in Georgia history. Instead, a defender tipped Murray’s pass and Chris Conley caught the ball before falling at the five-yard line. As Murray hurried his teammates to the line for another play, the clock struck zero. Alabama escaped and later destroyed Notre Dame for the national championship.

The 67th installment of this great series takes place Saturday “Between the Hedges” in Sanford stadium in Athens. Odds are that fans on both sides will be breathing heavily and have hearts racing by game’s end.

 

Clemson-Georgia Football Rivalry

“Like going to war” describes this college football series.  Names like Herschel, Perry, Dooley, and Ford evoke memories of classic battles that propelled the winner to a magical season.  The latest battle between Georgia and Clemson will take place under the lights in Death Valley on August 31.  Field Generals Aaron Murray and Taj Boyd will try to lead their respective teams to victory.  The winner will certainly be in the mix for the national championship while the loser will have an uphill battle to remain in the hunt for a BCS bowl game.  Before we settle in to watch this game, let’s take a quick look at the 1980 and 1981 games that led to an undefeated and national championship season for the winner.

The 1980 game can be called the Scott Woerner show.  Woerner started on the Georgia bench, but with less than two minutes into the game he fielded a punt on his own 33 yard line and outran the Clemson defenders to give Georgia a 7-0 lead.  Clemson moved the ball on Georgia for most of the first half.  After a 13-play drive ended in a missed field goal in the second quarter, Clemson began an 11-play drive that secured the UGA 11 yard line.  On the 12th play, Woerner jumped in front of a Homer Jordan pass and raced 98 yards to the Clemson 1 before being tackled.  The subsequent touchdown gave the Dawgs a 14-0 lead at the half.  Georgia would never relinquish the lead in securing a 20-16  victory between the Hedges.  Clemson outgained Georgia by over 180 yards but could not contain Scott Woerner.   Woerner and his teammates finished the season 12 and 0 and earned the national championship with a win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

In 1981, Clemson exacted a measure of revenge.  Clemson forced nine turnovers in the 13 to 3 Tiger victory.  An interception by Tim Childers set up the only touchdown of the game…an eight yard pass from Homer Jordan to Perry Tuttle.  Clemson kicker Donald Igwebuike kicked a field goal in the second quarter and another in the fourth.  Georgia kicker Kevin Butler accounted for the lone Georgia score with a field goal early in the third quarter.  Georgia out gained Clemson but could not overcome the nine turnovers.  Clemson finished the season 12 and 0 and was anointed national champions with a victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

I hope this whets your appetite for the latest battle between the Dawgs and the Tigers.  And in the immortal words of broadcaster Keith Jackson–“These two teams just don’t like one another.”